Nigeria has faced floods in recent years, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. Preliminary assessment confirms death of thousands of people mostly women and children and so many others trapped.
According to a preliminary assessment report by Red Cross Society of Nigeria, over 2,321,592 people were affected by floods, leaving an estimated 722,741 people internally displaced and 351,236 people in need humanitarian assistance in 12 states. The report added that as at mid August, about 25 states were affected by floods damaging lives, property, critical infrastructure and livelihoods.
The gloomy situation appears similar to Nigeria’s experience in 2012, which remains the worst in history. The unprecedented flood disaster that year affected more than half of the 36 states, with 21 million people displaced; 597,476 houses destroyed or damaged; over 363 people were killed and an estimated loss of USD 19.6 billion, according to an assessment conducted by NEMA and supported by the World Bank in 2013.
The Nigeria Hydrological Agency had accused state governments of failing to heed to several warnings on floods released to them. Building permits issued by states agencies are reportedly enmeshed with corrupt practices with high disregard for laid down procedure and best practice.
However, beyond blame games, Nigeria seems not to have learnt from these tragedies; While governments at all levels perpetually resort to relief provision rather than proactively acting before it strikes, the people on their part, build on flood plains and block water ways yet shameless blame nature for their recklessness. And this sparks an increasing debate on whether or not disasters like flood are natural or man made.
A renowned group based in the United Kingdom with growing spread across the world #NoNaturalDisasters, argues that the term ‘natural disaster’ is ubiquitous as widely used by the media, government and humanitarian groups. While natural hazards like flood are inevitable, it is misleading to say the devastating impacts are natural. The bane of contention is whether or not humans have control over the effects of hazards when they occur.
It is instructive however to note, while it is impossible to stop natural hazards, the risk can be reduced or mitigated. And to achieve this noble objective, every one must play their roles; Government at all levels, the media and other key actors.
The newly appointed Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management & Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq must take a lead. We expect that she brings to bear her enormous experience from the Refugees Commission. The Federal Government through the new ministry must provide policy direction on disaster risk reduction and effective early warning systems with a robust flood response plan.
Additionally, it is also absolutely necessary to launch a people-driven attitudinal change campaign on risk reduction in order to build a culture of preparedness, mitigation, response and community resilience to disaster in Nigeria. People must imbibe positive attitudes towards the environment and end the habit of building illegal structures on flood plains, waterways blockage and ensure prompt compliance to early warnings and respond promptly to red flags ahead of rains.
The state governments on the other hand must strengthen and empower various State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) into functional units that coordinates disaster response and coordination at the state levels. The enforcement and control of building structures is equally very important in line with acceptable standards.
Relevant government agencies must also engage with the media beyond issuing press releases or statement on early warnings and distribution of relief materials to victims of disaster. The media as the watchdog of the society has a role to ensure compliance to early warnings, evacuation and enforcement of land use act and building plans in both urban and semi urban settings.
No doubt, with careful planning and mitigative measures, we can alter the vulnerabilities to flood and invariably reduce the risks when it occurs. And to achieve this noble goal, we must all play our parts.