2012: Year Of Flood And Tribulations

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Last week, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, at his year-end press conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, described the year 2012 as a ‘tumultuous year which is coming to a close’. That was in apparent reference to the various tribulations that humanity had to contend with. From human induced disasters that consumed thousands of life and property estimated in billions of dollars to natural disasters that equally took a frightening toll on lives and property.

Nigeria, for the first time in more than half a century was hit by an unprecedented flood.  The News of 20th October, 2012 described it as the Globalisation of floods and the start of hundred years of climate change in Nigeria. Another expert, Dr Kim of the Cable Network News (CNN) had earlier hinted that climate change was more threatening than people realize.

Indeed climate change and the advent of perennial floods are already reshaping civilization as we know it and very few countries will emerge intact from the impact of climate change, say experts. Nigeria is no exception. Countries with long coastal regions and many rivers, which hitherto had benefitted from water provided by rivers, seas and oceans will be the hardest hit.

It was in the 1980s that globalisation of markets became the mantra of the leading thinkers in management studies. “In today’s market you don’t have to go abroad to experience international competition. Sooner or later, the world comes to you”. “Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2002”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p75) That explains why no sooner a new product is released in America, Japan, China, etc, it is available in Nigerian markets.

Unfortunately, it is not products, services and ideas that are being globalised today; the miseries of climate change brought about mainly by the economic and social activities in the leading economies, USA, China, Japan, Europe, Russia, Brazil, and Asian Tigers are being visited on rich and poor countries alike. Experts say that Nigerian and other African countries, which account for less than three per cent of global output of goods, will pay a disproportionate share of the penalties of globalization of floods.

The 2012 rainy season in Nigeria has been worse than earlier years, and heavy rains at the end of August and the beginning of September led to serious floods in most parts of the country. The Nigerian authorities contained the initial excess run-off through contingency measures, but during the last week of September water reservoirs overflew and authorities were obliged to open dams to release pressure in both Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon and Niger. These led to massive flood that destroyed river banks and infrastructure, loss of property and livestock and flash floods in many areas. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) and the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF), by 29 Sep, the floods had affected 134,371 people, displaced 64,473, injured 202 and killed 148.

By the end of October, more than 7.7 million people had been affected by the floods, and more than 2.1 had registered as IDPs. 363 people were reported dead; almost 600,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. Also according to the UN office for the Coodination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), out of Nigeria’s 36 states, 32 have been affected by the floods.

The director-general, Niger State Emergency Agency (NSEMA), Alhaji Mohammed Shaba had declared then that “the flood has overwhelmed the state governments.”

The flood has also divided the country into two parts as the water flooded the Lokoja-Abuja road, making it impossible for travelers to move from the southern part to the northern part of the country.

Many travelers were shocked when on getting to Lokoja, they discovered that they could only get to the other side by canoe.

However the director general of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) Dr Anthony Anuforom, noted that “the worst was not over yet.”

NIMET warned of more rains which would likely cause more floods in different parts of the country and the rains actually came in great torrents pushing the flood devastation to the coastal states like Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers.

Rapid runoff caused soil erosion as well as sediment deposition problems downstream. Spawning grounds for fish and other wildlife habitat were quickly destroyed. High-velocity currents increased the damage as current flew in high velocity dawn South- Eastern Nigeria. Prolongation of the high floods, of course, resulted in the delay of traffic and interfered with drainage and economic use of lands. Bridge abutments, bank lines, sewer outfalls, and other structures within floodways were no doubt damaged. Also, navigation and hydroelectric power were impaired.

The devastating flood Nigeria experienced in 2012 is not a one-off event; neither did it start a few years ago. The events leading to this year’s catastrophe began hundreds of years ago and will probably escalate in intensity for several decades beyond this year. Without realizing it, 2012 marks the end of economic, social and perhaps political life as we know it for many Nigerians due to the flood devastation.

President Jonathan’s provision of N17.2 billion to the states most directly involved, as well as the administrators of the national response, is a step in the right direction. But, in reality, it amounts to pissing in the desert in order to provide water for irrigation systems. It does not even pay for the enormous challenges facing researchers who must very rapidly provide the master plan for our future survival as a nation under siege of water.

The announcement by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the co-chairman of the Fund Raising Committee, that the committee will aim for NI00 billion is a step in the right direction – as long as it is realized by all the governments of Nigeria that this is only a small step in a journey of one hundred years or more.

A commentator has rightly said that one hundred billion naira does not even begin to address the fundamental problems which perpetual flooding might throw at this nation. To make matters worse, we are not even in total control of our fate. Many parts of Nigeria would have been flooded even without the release of water from two dams. Experts insist that the Cameroonian dam which devastated further states along River Benue,  the dam in Guinea which added to the waters of the Niger and swelled its banks beyond areas hitherto reached by that river are still there and they have been constructed for maximum levels of rainfall far less than what we now experience in the region.

So next year, if the rainfall is as heavy as what we now experience, the dam’s waters will be released again and our territory will be inundated once more. It is difficult to imagine how N17.2 billion or even N100 billion will solve the enormous problems we will have to face henceforth.

At least, President Jonathan enjoys the sympathies of many Nigerians because he is confronted with this monster problem, relentless and ruinous floods, which no other leader had ever had to manage and which no leader worldwide was prepared to face so suddenly. At the same time, he can take comfort in the fact that the Chinese had long defined a “crisis” as a mixture of problems and opportunities.

Other commentators also say that the problems are here quite alright, in gargantuan dimensions; but, there is also a glimmer of hope that Goodluck Jonathan might have been provided with the opportunity to reshape Nigeria in a way no other leader has ever had to do. If Jonathan rises to the occasion, posterity will write his name in gold – irrespective of what the present generation of Nigerians says about his performance. If he fails; our civilsation, as we know it, might never recover from the calamity that will follow.

 

Desmond Osueke