By Dr. Peter Eguakun
The prevailing scourge of floodings in Nigeria lays bare the extent to which recklessness in the management of environmental hazards is a national trait. Trait here is defined as giving little or no thought to danger even where the danger has been foretold.
It is a trait because such indifference to early warning has become a feature of governance.
Considering how often incidents of this nature have occurred, it is clear that Nigeria has become a country fixated to a trait of reckless indifference.
The present flood disasters in some parts of the country are a handy and indisputable example of our trait of recklessness in the implementation of projects of potential national benefits.
It is no longer unexpected news to wake up to national alert that the popular and economic resource yielding Bar Beach in Lagos has overflown it’s banks. This has been a chronic and recurring situation over years.
Unfortunately, whenever it happens, the effects are so devastating as if none saw it coming, as if, to the authorities, it is a new and just-emerging phenomenon. Some even attribute it to the evil spells of political saboteurs.
Here are few occurrences of floods in the recent past:
Between July and October, 2012, the River Niger and River Benue experienced overflow of their banks causing serious economic and health problems to the inhabitants living in their banks.
In October, 2015, the River Benue overflowed its banks, leaving over 300 houses and huts submerged with many families rendered homeless in Makurdi area of the country.
However, in the face of the few flood incidents mentioned so far in the country, the most catastrophic incident ever experienced in the nation, with attendant physical and economic hardship to the people in the affected areas, occured this year, starting from September. This caused the death of over 600 people, displacing more than 1.3 million people in different parts of the country.
Most hit frontline states are Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kebbi and Kogi. In the Southern Axis of the country, the states worst affected are Edo, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, Anambra and Bayelsa.
It is important to highlight some perilous environmental hazards of such occurrences:
The ecosystem in the areas is seriously affected;
Most of the artificial sewers are blocked, while others are flooded with sewages that are heavily ladden with noxious substances, ranging from both solid and effluent matters such as: excreta, dead organic substances, deleterious gas emission, etc.
Houses and valuables are submerged in the floods;
Many people, animals and fishes die, with their corpses and carcasses floating on the flood water;
Underground pipes carrying water, gas and oil are affected;
Transportation is truncated with attendant socioeconomic hardship,
There are outbreaks of epidemics and related problems.
Principal among the causes of flooding in the country is lack of proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before project siting and post evaluation after project.
EIA is the tool used to assess the significant effects (mostly hazardous) of a project or development proposal on the environment.
This, among other things, makes sure that the decision makers of such a project take into consideration the likely effects of the project on the environment in which the project is to be sited at the earliest possible time. Thereafter, subsequent short term evaluations aimed to avoid, reduce or offset those effects should routinely be carried out.
Unfortunately, the situation at hand, with reference to the flood that started in September this year, suggests that EIA was compromised regarding the Lagdo Dam by Cameroon in its northern province.
From available records, the Dam, which is located 50 km south of the City of Garoua on the Benue River, started operating in 1982.
On her part, taking into consideration the long term hazards of the Cameroon Dam, with proper EIA of the Dam, Nigeria was expected to build a similar dam along the River Benue. The purpose of this was to curtail the effects of the downstream water released from upstream by the Lagdo Dam on nearby Nigeria’s North-East states of Borno, Adamawa and Taraba. However, this dam, which was to be sited in Dasin Village of Fufore Local Government Area of Adamawa State, was never built till date.
Rather, the best deal Nigeria could settle for, as in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Cameroon, was that whenever Cameron wants to release the dam’s water, to ease the pressure, Nigeria should be notified to enable it put in place makeshift arrangements for palliative remedies to people evacuated from the areas prone to the inevitable flooding.
If Cameroon could build a dam to benefit her people and the Nigeria’s states along the axis of the dam, Nigeria could not build just a bumper dam for preventive measure of her citizens.
This is an unacceptable demonstration of insensitivity to the welfare of her citizens as a nation.
Therefore, whenever the Lagdo Dam of Cameroon is opened to ease the tension of its water pressure, water cascades down to Nigeria from the dam through the River Benue and its tributaries. This inundates the nearby communities that have already been overwhelmed by heavy downpour and climate change.
It was little surprise for Nigerians to wake up on that faithful day in September of this year to be welcomed to the dilemma of ravaging floods, consuming large expanses of Nigeria’s land mass with attendant devastating socioeconomic losses alongside physical and health problems.
What steps need to be taken to avert the effects of the flood occasioned by the Cameroon Lagdo Dam?
The Federal Government should wake up to the responsibility of environmental control of the flood situation.
It is not enough to resort to administering palliatives to affected people — provide emergency relief materials; build makeshift brick walls; and sewers to cushion the effects of flood, etc.
The most cost effective action, backed by a strong political will, is siting of a solid bumper dam in Nigeria down the course of the Lagdo Dam to cushion the effects of the release of water from the Lagdo Dam.
The inhabitants prone to flooding along the course of the dam should be routinely educated on flood hazards and Emergency Preparedness (EP).
• Eguakun, a public health physician based in Benin City, is a retired Director/Chief Executove of Edo State Hospitals Management Agency