Raining for change
Category: Environment Written by Judd-Leonard Okafor
Silas remembers the moment floodwaters swelled through his home in Kabawa, Lokoja.
“Water don pursue me from my house,” he lamented. “Everything spoil.”
It was July—the height of Nigeria’s flood season last year. In minutes, his home was submerged, his property damaged, and his family left homeless.
His home and hundreds of thousand others—all submerged up to their roofs—made great aerial shots that appeared in the press and on social media long after that.
By October, one man’s tragedy became anguish for millions across 256 council areas.
Months since have brought endless squabbles over accommodation and relief materials on camps for displaced persons, along with resolve not to be caught off guard.
That isn’t looking likely as rains approach. Vaunted precautions talked about last year are not looking likely to be put in place. Relief donations from Thailand and Japan may make differences, but much more funds are reportedly trapped in official red tape—along with an important commission that “seeks to address how we respond to climatic threats,” says Hamzat Lawal, national coordinator, African Youth Initiative on Climate Change.
A bill for the Climatic Change Commission “sent to the [Presidency] since 2010, but up till this moment, no word has been said by the presidency,” Lawal adds. “Nigeria’s development is climate constrained, as it represents a clear and present danger to Nigeria’s national interest.”
Champion for climate
It is thought the CCC will address how Nigeria responds to climatic threats, providing leadership, coordination, information and resources to fully respond to the issue.
“Nigeria needs a champion to tackle the climate threat to agriculture, diversify the economy away from oil and gas flaring in the Niger Delta,” says Lawal, but most of the country’s present response to the issue is patchwork and instinctive. The absence of the CCC shows “lack of seriousness of our government to tackle the effects of climate change in Nigeria.”
Relief and disasters are the preserve of National Emergency Management Agencies. Already a draft agreement to tweak how NEMA runs is in the works and is being regarded as a major concern “due to the increasing frequency of disasters,” according to Ali Ahmad, who chairs the justice committee in the House of Representatives.
Silas was displaced in July but he didn’t lose his driving job. His company found him accommodation on higher ground. Not all displaced people are lucky, and national response to their plight is “constrained by lack of comprehensive legal and policy frameworks, technical, human, material and financial capacity,” Ahmad noted this week.
How much is known
The presence of environmental groups is an admission that the Nigeria is taking a battering from adverse weather phenomena.
“There has been a fundamental shift in weather patterns all over the world, most especially in Nigeria. Rivers are drying up; erosion is causing an ecological emergency in the south-east; and the vast investment along Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsula are under threat from rising sea levels,” says Lawal.
More than 7.7 million people were affected by the rains last year. Floods killed more than 360 people, left over 18,000 injured. Another 2.1 million were left homeless—registered as internally displaced within their communities.
Whether “climate change” becomes an official designation is uncertain, but the phrase creeps up now and again in public speech by government officials.
What to do about it is also uncertain. Other than the climate change commission, many are reluctant to implement measures that could save their homes or lives when another flood comes along.
NEMA’s online portal lists what to do before and during floods, as well how to prepare for possible evacuation. It also documents evacuation tips that could save lives and make crossing flooded plains less fatal.
Whether the country is prepared is a different matter.
A quick flood in January churned holes in that resolve when water released from Bakolori Dam in Zamfara flooded an area the size of 317 farmlands in neighbouring Sokoto. Four villages in Rabah, Sokoto—some 95 kilometres from the dam—were “ravaged”, according to reports.
What’s clear is that releasing Bakolori Dam was a plan to release water to “satisfy the urban water needs” at a water-treatment in Sokoto, according to the federal environment ministry; the resulting flood wasn’t.
The ministry blamed “sedimentation”—deposit of sand brought down by floods last year. The new lands changed water course across the area, attracted farmers but were hardly studied.
The ministry said it had funds in 2013 budget to study areas affected by “such new settlements” but it also warned communities downstream of the river to stay away from such “temporary siltation sites created by flooding and maintain their farming activities in the traditional locations where they had existed”.
Floods last year were the worst in Nigeria’s last 50 years of recorded history. They are a constant feature yearly—whether sweeping away homes and livelihood in Nasarawa, washing away bridges in Kaduna, flooding farmlands in Benue.
The entire community of Banda, on the edge of Lokoja, was displaced in last year’s flood.
Two years before, they didn’t have to leave their land, but their rice farms were completely overwhelmed, the year’s entire crop of rice and spices smothered under water that rose as high as their chest.
In 2012, they to be relocated into camps and scrambled for relief aid. Few are back on their land by the River Niger, whey they fish and farm. And the cycle is set to repeat itself.