As we approach the rainy season, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has warned of possible heavy rainfall this year. Last year NIMET also warned, but this seemed not heeded. The cost in terms of human and materials losses were very severe, and we are still studying to understand the dimensions of the loses in health, housing and infrastructure, human lives and livelihood, man hours in terms of work and schooling, and losses to Gross Domestic product, hence compromising human welfare, worsening poverty and health.
In 2012, flooding occurred along the inland valleys around the Niger and Benue Rivers, down to the low lying planes of the Delta and coastal areas of Nigeria. Changes in rainfall regimes in the savanna regions of West Africa, including Nigeria’s neighbours posses challenges for the management of water resources, including dams on major West African waters. Human settlements, cities, and industrial/commercial properties and infrastructures, as well as agricultural production were impacted adversely. In the same year 2012 in Lagos, severe wind storms led to the fall of telecommunication masts which caused the death of humans and the destruction of infrastructure.
In 2011, the Lagos extreme rainfall events, with precipitation per unit time beyond naturally geologically tolerable thresholds led to severe negative impacts on human settlement, infrastructure, and livelihood.. Ibadan in the same year 2011 experienced a similar extreme rainfall event, with more losses in human lives, though with less significant precipitation volume.
In 2010, extreme rainfall in the Sokoto and Maiduguri axes, accompanied by flash floods, resulted in losses in human lives and livelihood, as well as infrastructure, including the well publicized collapse of the intra- University of Sokoto Bridge.
The locations impacted by these events in 2010, 2011, and 2013, recommend that Nigerians should prepare ahead, and take the warning by NIMET very seriously.
What science tells us
Studies under the Building Nigeria’s Response to Climate Change (BNRCC) project by NEST with support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), tells us that climate change is manifesting in changing rainfall patterns all over Nigeria among other parameters of climate change. These manifest as increased frequency of occurrence of extreme rainfall with heavy amount of precipitation occurring in a relatively short period of time. Reduced number of rainy days in the southern rainforest and coastal states but with little or no change in total annual precipitation portends risks all over the country. The National Adaptation strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change for Nigeria (NASPA-CCN) developed under the BNRCC charts the pathway for the country, defining sectoral priorities and roles for various stakeholders including the Federal, State, and Local Governments, as well as non-state actors. As common in Nigeria, this deeply and elaborately developed guide is asking for serious and sincere attention from those who should.
What we should be doing now
All stakeholders, including governments at every level, and Non-state actors should commence awareness campaigns and keep citizens at alert.
Media houses should engage in creating awareness on the challenges of extreme rainfall events, and areas very much at risk.
Attitudinal changes in waste management are required of the citizens. This is especially to keep drains (where available) free from refuse.
Water channels need to be freed of all blockages. Dredging and de-silting of streams and rivulets are required now. Private sector operatives can support these as part of social corporate responsibility.
There should be demolishing of structures illegally constructed which blocked drains and access roads in case of emergencies. Building approving agencies should update and enforce regulations.
The lessons of the Lagos and Ibadan floods recommend that unless under immediate danger, citizens should remain where they are when floods commence rather than risking unsure and unsecured paths that expose them to flood and drowning.
The emergency management agencies such as the National Emergency management Agency (NEMA), and the state counterparts, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the fire service, and security agencies need to be sensitised and equipped and be ready to go when requested.
Ministry of Health has to have ambulances, and emergency supplies and needs handy and ready.
Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba is the Executive Director, Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST), Ibadan, Oyo State