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Nigeria: A Nation Underwater – OpEd

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Discussions on climate change have been a major issue in the global North and with political parties solely formed to advance the cause of climate change. According to the Human Development Report of 2020, the causes of global warming can be identified in human economic activities, which release enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. The global north is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas and as such makes disproportionate contributions to climate change. The effects of climate change have been brought closer home with the recent torrential rains that have led to flooding across the country. The recent flooding has been of catastrophic proportions. Hundreds have been killed, homes submerged, farmlands swept away and roads turned into rivers. Millions are fleeing from their homes, barely managing to escape from the devastating floods only with the clothes on their backs. 

Now climate change is associated with long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle. In general, human activities have been the main cause of climate change, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, all leading to global warming.

According to the United Nations reports, burning fossil fuels generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising temperatures. Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Clearing land and forests can also release carbon dioxide. Landfills for garbage are a major source of methane emissions. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the main emitters. Greenhouse gas concentrations are currently at their highest levels. The last decade (2011-2022) was recorded as the warmest.

Though the generality of the people believe that climate change mainly means warmer temperatures. But the rise in temperature is only a part of the story. Basically, the Earth is a system, where everything is connected, hence changes in one area can influence changes in all others. The consequences of climate change now include, among others, intense droughts, water scarcity, severe fires, rising sea levels, flooding, melting polar ice, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity, the UN report further observed.

The effects of climate change reveberated across the world with floods that ravaged Pakistan recently. Since June floods in Pakistan have killed 1,717 people. The floods were caused by heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers that followed a severe heat wave, all of which are linked to climate change. It is the world’s deadliest flood since the 2020 South Asian floods and described as the worst in the country’s history. Thus Pakistan declared a state of emergency because of the flooding. The government of Pakistan has estimated losses worth US$40 billion from the flooding.

That’s why the recent floodings in Nigeria have opened up the opportunity to interrogate politicians on their plans for climate change. Much as man is a political animal and politicians are busy on the hustings, still it is right that we spare a thought for our compatriots who are bewildered and overwhelmed by torrential rains that have led to flooding and have rendered millions homeless across the nation. Apart from that, many farmlands have been swept away and destroyed by the heavy flooding, which poses a major risk to food security. For example, Olam Farms based in Nasarawa State and one of the biggest rice farms in Nigeria suffered ernomous damage as 10,000 acres of rice farms were devasted by the floods. Increasingly, a link is being made between increasing flood incidences and climate change.

In this regard, the federal government says the current flood situation in the country has claimed over 600 lives, affected 2.5 million persons, displaced 1.3 million; and injured 2,407. Sadiya Umar Farouq, the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, said 121,318 houses have been partially damaged and 82,053 others completely destroyed, as well as 332,327 hectares of farmlands damaged. Plus, 332,000 hectares of roads and infrastructure have sustained damage. Indeed the flooding have been of catastrophic proportions. 

Indeed both literally and methaphorically it would be safe to say Nigeria is currently underwater. The massive effect of climate change and other environmental challenges have been most devastating this year. The losses are in billions of naira. At least 31 states are inundated by floods with hundreds killed and millions displaced by flooding. Though many consider those official figures conservative considering the ernomity of the damage caused by the heavy downpour across the nation. 

According to reports, many communities have been submerged leading to overwhelming humanitarian crises. Both Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa and his Kogi State counterpart Yahya Bello have called on the Federal Government to declare Bayelsa and Kogi national disasters. For instance in Bayelsa State over 300 communities have been submerged as a result of heavy downpour and the attendant flooding while more than 700, 000 people have been displaced. In fact, Bayelsa is cut off from other parts of the country and may be running out of essential supplies and medicines. The only access for now is through the Atlantic Ocean. Even the east -west road in the South south has been cut off by flooding. In Anambra State more than 76 people escaping in a boat from their flooded communities were killed when their boat capsized. Also 200 families have been declared missing in Anambra as a result of the flooding, while over 650,000 people have been displaced by the floods. In Jigawa State about 200 people were killed as a result of flooding in September. More than 200,000 homes have been completely or partially damaged, the ministry of humanitarian service has confirmed.

Mostly affected are Kogi, Niger, Kwara, Benue, Edo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross River, and the northeast region states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe. Also, Jigawa, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kano and Kebbi states in the northwest and the FCT, Abuja are equally devastated by the flooding. In addition, the effect of the flooding has been gravely pronounced in Kogi State which is at the confluence of river Benue and river Niger. Communities have been submerged and the Abuja-Lokoja road cut off as a result of heavy flooding. This has affected petroluem products supplies to Abuja and other parts of the north. 

At the same time, the Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas Company LNG on Bonny Island has been forced to declare a force majeure as a result of flooding which has affected supplies of gas from its upstream partners. There are fears that disruptions in supplies might have implications for gas prices and supply.

Flooding has been a recurring decimal for the past several years with little or nothing done to ameliorate the situation and yet the situation keeps recurring year in year out with no clear and coherent national plan for flooding and post flooding management.

Notwithstanding, government agencies such as the National Emergency Management Agency, Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency and Nigerian Meterological Agency had sounded a note of warning, giving states and various communities enough time to vacate their current locations. In fact, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency had warned of catastrophic flooding for states located along the banks of the Niger and Benue rivers, noting that three of Nigeria’s overfilled dams were expected to overflow. NEMA Director-General, Mustapha Ahmed declared that the release of excess water from Lagdo dam in Cameroon had contributed to the flooding. While many parts of Nigeria are prone to yearly floods, flooding in certain areas has been more severe than the last major floods in 2012. 

Moreover, it is distressing to note that residents of the states along the banks of River Niger refused to adhere to the early warning given to them. Zainab Saidu, head NEMA Minna operations office, said many communities affected along the tributaries of River Niger “turned deaf ears” to flood warnings contained in the Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) and the Annual Flood Outlook (AFO).

However, apart from environment challenges, blockage of drainages, building on flood planes, poor waste management, rapid urbanization, among others, the aftermath of the spillage from the Lagdo dam in northern Cameroon has further exacerbated the torrential downpour witnessed lately. It is important to note that in September, the Cameroonian authorities reportedly opened overflow spillways at its Lagdo Dam to relax the pressure on the dam as a result of the rising water contained in it. Rivers connected to the Lagdo dam such as the Benue River are affected by an overflow from this dam, a report by the United Nations International Organisation for Migration confirmed.

According to the IOM, unprecedented heavy rainfall, in combination with spillage when the Lagdo dam in northern Cameroon was opened to release excess water, has displaced over 39,500 people in Northern Cameroon. The effect of water released from this dam has a spillover effect on surrounding regions in states like Kogi, Benue, and some northeastern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. 

It’s worth restating that the construction of the Lagdo Dam located in northern Cameroon started in 1977 and was completed in 1982. There are reports that Cameroon and Nigeria were supposed to build two dams at inception, such that the Nigerian dam, a buffer dam known as Dasin Dam which was to be in Adamawa State, would contain water released from the Lagdo Dam at any point in time. The Dasin Dam was supposed to be two and a half the size of the Lagdo Dam, meant to supply 300MW electricity to the national grid and also aid irrigation for 155,000 farming communities. However, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu has debunked claims that there was an agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria on the construction of Dasin Dam. He declared that there’s no record to show of any such agreement. Though he disclosed to the Senate’s committee on Water Resources that government is in the process of building the Dasin Dam. He further claimed that Lagdo only contributes about one percent to the flooding in Nigeria.

Be that as it may, on September 19, NEMA had also warned of the release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon. NEMA’s DG, Ahmed, said that the warning became necessary as the Lagdo dam operators in the Republic of Cameroon had begun to release excess water from its reservoir, which would in turn flow into Nigeria. He added that some of the states were also expected to record heavy floods due to predicted above-normal rains, coupled with the combined waters from the Rivers Niger and Benue.

According to him, the Lagdo Dam operators in the Republic of Cameroun commenced the release of excess water from the reservoir by September 13.

“The released water complicates the situation further downstream as Nigeria’s inland reservoirs including Kainji, Jebba, and Shiroro are also expected to overflow between now and October ending, according to the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, Ahmed said.

Taken together, the opening of the Lagdo Dam and spillages from Kainji, Shiroro and Jebba dams have contributed in no small measure to the massive flooding in frontline states and communities along the banks of River Niger and River Benue.

According to experts, unlike some natural disasters, rainfall flooding can be controlled with proper planning and provision of necessary infrastructure. Nigeria’s flooding is mainly human induced with poor urban planning practices and inadequate environmental infrastructure being contributing factors. However, this time around, the water spillage from the Lagdo dam has had a devastating effect on the downstream rivers.

In 2012, Nigeria experienced its worst flooding recorded in recent history. Total losses were put at US$16.9 billion. But flooding threatens sustainability because it negatively affects the economy, health, social life and environment. Flooding constitutes a threat to Nigeria achieving the global sustainable development goals.

As states continue to feel the impact and pain of the flooding disaster, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) has said the south-east and north-central should prepare to experience more flooding in the days and weeks ahead. Mansur Matazu, director-general of NiMet, said while states across the country have been affected by the above-normal rainfall, the opening of dams and other water-holding facilities in the country could greatly affect the north-central and the south-east.

Due to the ernomity of the challenge and disaster, it is imperative that the Federal Government should step in to provide necessary support and assistance to the states that are already overwhelmed by the flooding. In addition, international aid agencies and multinational organizations, philanthropists and all men of goodwill should come to the rescue of states totally inundated by flooding. This time around the states are totally overwhelmed and would need all the support they can get both locally and internationally. 

In the short run, the Federal Government and especially the states on the path of Lagdo Dam should step up their game by being proactive and make arrangements for the relocation and resettlement of communities along the flood plains. Besides, state governments and all the federal agencies involved should sensitize the various communities about the impending flooding and the danger it poses. In additon, camps should be built in preparation for such natural disasters. Besides, town planning regulations should be strictly adhered to in order to prevent the spring up of buildings on flood planes. Most importantly, government should step up tree planting campaigns across the country. Plus, more engagement with Cameroon on the annual opening of the Lagdo Dam during the rainy season to mitigate the loss occasioned by the opening of the dam. In the long run, construction of Dasin Dam appears to be the final solution to flooding of the downstream due to release of water from the Lagdo dam. This will save several states and communities the disaster and deaths that have accompanied the opening up of the Lagdo dam.

Already, the Federal Government has taken the right step by initiating a bilateral discussion with authorities in Cameroon on the periodic opening of the Lagdo Dam, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Farouq had disclosed. 

As climate change becomes more pronounced, governments at all levels have to brace up to the challenges ahead. Today Nigeria is experiencing its worst humanitarian disaster in decades occasioned by massive flooding and the side effects of the Lagdo Dam. Therefore it requires all hands on deck to save the situation and bring succour to millions displaced by the flooding. Lastly, the global North should be held to account over its excessive output of greenhouse gas emissions.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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