The flood warning
THE flood alert just issued by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is timely and should not be ignored as early warning is critical to the management of natural disasters. NEMA’s warning followed the announcement by the authorities in Northern Cameroun of plans to release excess water from the Lagdo Dam on the upper reaches of River Benue, located 50 kilometres south of Garoua in Cameroun. The flood waters, when released, will affect all communities on the banks of the River Benue and the River Niger down to the Niger Delta area.
The Dam, which was completed in 1982, supplies electricity to Northern Cameroun and whenever water is released from its reservoir, flooding occurs as water is emptied into the River Benue, with disastrous consequences for Nigerians.
As against what happened in 2012, when the Rivers Niger and Benue overflowed their banks and caused unprecedented flood damage to many communities and farmlands, the authorities and emergency agencies along the 1,400 kilometre (870-mile)-long Benue River, which is the main tributary of the River Niger, should take proactive measures and prepare for the flooding. It might even be necessary to evacuate highly vulnerable communities, especially, people living on the flood plains, out of the danger zone.
According to NEMA, the Camerounian authorities indicated that water from the Lagdo dam would be released anytime between now and November. Since no specific date was given, this might coincide with the second rainfall peak that should occur this month making the volume of water to be coped with a very huge one. Especially during the rainy season, there is routine release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam as its reservoir swells and communities on the Nigerian side of the River Benue have always borne the pains. The problem climaxed in 2012 when all the states along the River Benue, down to the Niger Delta, were submerged as a result of the flooding, which caused loss of many lives and property.
Consequently, in 2013, an agreement was reached between Cameroun and Nigeria in which Cameroun is required to give early warning notice to enable Nigeria put in place proactive measures. With the alert now issued, it is up to the authorities in Nigeria to act to avert the kind of disaster that occurred in 2012. Bayelsa State for instance, has reportedly taken measures to forestall any ugly development. The Bayelsa State Emergency Management Agency (BSEMA) said it has set up Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in response to the flood alert and relief materials worth millions of naira have been procured and stored.
Bayelsa was one of the states devastated by floods in the 2012 flooding, so, all the flood-prone states should take a cue from that state and act accordingly. That Nigeria lacks experience in managing natural disasters goes without saying since the country has been so fortunate not to have experienced such devastated phenomena: hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, earthquakes and forest fires as other countries do to the eternal agony of their people. This fortune has, of course, bred a certain complacency in Nigeria and Nigerians which accounts for poor management of even the slightest discomfort occasioned by nature.
Given the phenomenal changes in the climate, more destructive torrential rains could wreak havoc on lives and property and no preparations are in place to stem disasters from these possibilities. Burst pipelines, building collapse, flash floods, and other things due to human error have been the worst this country has been afflicted with. Even at those, Nigeria’s emergency services often prove incompetent as their state of unpreparedness is exposed.
Since 2012, when the Niger-Benue River system burst its banks and submerged communities with the attendant loss of lives and their economic livelihood systems, what has the government at all levels done to forestall future disaster? What structures have been put in place to deal with another accident or incident? Elsewhere, levees and embankments would have been erected to check flood waters and protect communities. Floods have their recurrence interval periods during which they recur. Flooding of the magnitude Nigeria witnessed in 2012 has a one in 100 chances of occurring in any year. That is to say, the disaster would happen again sometime and preparation is needed.
So, there should be public enlightenment at all levels especially at the community level to sensitise the people in preparation for natural disasters. The Benue River flood warning has been issued and it should be a wake-up call on Nigeria to deal with its expected consequences.