The annual large scale flooding experienced in Nigeria following the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon could have been curbed some 30 years ago had the authorities been proactive.
Since 1982 when the dam was built in Lagdo town on the Adamawa Plateau in the Northern Province of Cameroon along the course of the Benue River, lowland communities in north-eastern Nigerian states (of Borno, Adamawa and Taraba) especially those located downstream within the River Benue drainage basin are usually flooded whenever water is released from the reservoir.
Following an agreement involving both nations in 1980, the Nigerian government was supposed embark on a similar venture along the course of the river, ostensibly to contain the gushing water released upstream from Lagdo Dam and curb flooding and attendant destruction of property and loss of lives.
In 1981, a shock-absorber dam was designed. Tagged the “Dasin Hausa Dam,” the multi-purpose facility was, besides cushioning the effect of the Lagdo Dam flooding, supposed to generate some 300mw of electricity and irrigate about 150,000 hectares of land (and provide crop tonnage of 790,000 tons in Adamawa, Taraba and Benue states). Similarly, it was meant to provide employment opportunities for 40,000 families and make available navigational route of the Benue River to the Niger Delta.
The project site is the Dasin Village of Fufore Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
But, alas, the idea was taken by the government of the day with a pinch of salt. And, like several other viable proposals, was ignored. Consequently, the flooding and destruction of property and loss of lives continued needlessly – albeit for decades.
Until the carnage that occurred last month, which seemed to remind officials of the forgotten Dasin Hausa Dam plan – more so when Cameroon authorities insisted that, come what may, they would continue to release water to save their dam.
The most recent release of water from the Lagdo Dam several Saturdays ago submerged hundreds of settlements in Adamawa State, killing people and displacing thousands of families. Many were reportedly missing.
The entire upper and lower Benue River basin was extensively flooded.
Worst hit areas are in Fufore, Girei, Yola South, Yola North, Demsa, Numan, Lamorde, Shelleng, Michika, Guyuk and Ganye Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.
Additionally, seven LGAs in Taraba State were affected by the disaster. They are: Jalingo (the state capital), Ardo Kola, Ibbi, Karin Lamido, Wukari, Takum and Lau.
The flooding occurred at night while the victims were asleep, leaving them with no opportunity to salvage property.
Director-General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Muhammad Sani-Sidi, had said: “Reports reaching us from Adamawa State have confirmed that out of the 10,524 affected persons in 10 LGAs, 15 people have lost their lives. The steep elevation of Adamawa Plateau coupled with the sudden release of excess water on 24th August, 2012 has therefore created a great risk of inundation of the lowland communities of north eastern Nigeria especially those located within River Benue drainage basin.
“This sudden release of a large volume of cascading water from the reservoir has put so many communities in this area at risk, threatened human lives, disrupted socio-economic activities, led to environmental degradation and large scale ecological dislocation.”
The scale of the flooding this time around has apparently called attention to the proposal for Nigeria’s version of the Cameroonian reservoir, going by submissions made recently by the Director of Dams in the Ministry of Water Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Adanu.
He said, “It is now imperative for the Federal Government to build a bumper dam to cushion the effect of water released by Lagdo Dam. We are already taking steps to do the construction and we have started looking at how we can improve on the old design. The size of the dam we are looking at will take us 36 months to finish it but right now we know that the original feasibility study that was done in 1982 is a bit outdated.”
He admitted that the flooding that ended lives and sacked thousands from their homes was due to inadequate provision by the Nigerian government to contain the water from the Lagdo Dam. According to him, because of the location of the upper Benue River Basins, which is the primary outflow of the Lagdo Dam, in 1980 an agreement was reached that Nigeria should construct a buffer dam that would help contain water from the River Basins.
Adanu went on: “The Cameroonian government finished the construction of Lagdo Dam in 1982, but Nigeria is yet to develop its own dam. So anytime the Cameroonian government wants to release water from the dam, they always alert the Nigerian government so as to evacuate people to avert casualty.
“The proposed dam, when built, will be 1.4km long, 40mm deep and containing 16 cubic litres of water. Aside being used for flood control, the dam also has some economic benefits like its ability to irrigate 150,000 farmland and hold 20,000 tons of fish annually.”
He stressed that the release of water on the 24th of August following the alert given to the Nigerian government on the 23rd was because of a torrential rainfall that fell the previous night and caused the rise in the water level of the dam.
According to him, the water level of the dam rose dramatically and the spill was overflowed, so Cameroonian officials had to release water from the dam to avoid breakage of the dam which, he stated, would have been more disastrous.
“They released water in a large amount to ensure that the dam remains in one piece. It was not like they were not professionally behaved; they knew exactly the danger. It is our own responsibility to contain the water.”
He emphasised that the Cameroonians have strictly followed protocol wherein when the water level rose, they would inform Nigeria. “But, this time around, the water level of the dam was too high that they had to release water to prevent a dam breakage.”
Adanu stated that the new dam would take up to 36 months to build, adding that all hands must be on deck to achieve this goal. He said government is considering the idea of involving private sector players in the execution of the project.
But Saidu Njidda of the Foundation for Public-Public Partnerships Nigeria said that efforts to bring private investors on the board of the Federal Water Resources Ministry were being thwarted by government bureaucracy.
He said that since the release of excess water from Cameroon cannot be stopped, construction of the Dasin Hausa Dam remained the best option.
By Michael Simire & Laide Akinboade