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Nigeria: States need to use lessons learnt from the flooding of 2022 to tackle and mitigate the floods and thunderstorms predicted for Q2 2023 by NiMET – Agatha Ogbe

Sometimes in May, 2023, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) issued a warning to 12 states in the country on flooding and thunderstorms. In this interview, Dr. Agatha Ogbe, the Research for Innovation Manager at Opolo Global Innovation spoke on the warning and advised states in Nigeria on how to mitigate the effect of the flooding on food security and livelihood of the people. Here are the excerpts of the conversation.

Susa Africa: Recently, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) issued a warning of likely flooding in selected states of the federation. What is your take on this?

Ogbe: According to NiMET, Nigeria will see an early onset of rainfall (beginning in March) accompanied with flooding, with coastal areas in the South-South (Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers) experiencing downpour. Using the experience of 2022, which affected 33 states, there is a call for early measures to avoid the harm that is likely to result from flooding in the areas and other parts of the country.

Susa Africa: You call for early preparations to avert flooding and suggested evacuation of people along coastlines, in practical terms, what are those things government in other flood-prone states up north and southern part must do to prevent flooding?

Ogbe: There are several dams in Nigeria and if this were properly maintained with respect to dredging and de-silting of canal and other water channels, the flood scenarios experience could have been averted or the number of death and loss of properties could have be reduced to the barest minimum. The government of these flood-prone states in the northern and southern parts of Nigeria could move from being reactive and adopt proactive measures by funding and mandating the relevant authorities in these states to take charge and adequately plan, prepare and put proactive measures to clean up water channels to avert flooding. Alternatively, plans could be put in place to relocate residents in flood-prone areas.

Susa Africa: Flood prevention is a stakeholder process, on the part of the residents, what do you expect them to do?

Ogbe: Flood prevention is both the task of stakeholders and citizens in Nigeria. On the part of the stakeholders (government – LG, States and FG), they should ensure proper dredging of rivers, de-silting of canals to allow free flow of floods. In areas where much of these cannot be achieved, stakeholders through relevant authorities’ should plan for accommodation to relocate citizens living in lowland to preserve lives. On the part of citizens, they are required to ensure proper waste disposal and that drainage are not blocked by refuse or any form of waste. Open drainage allow proper flow of flood water.

Susa Africa: As an expert in food security, what are the likely implications of this warning in Q2 of 2023?

Ogbe: Continuous flooding, in general, affects the ecosystem and disrupts agricultural activities such as crop production and livestock rearing. If this warning is not properly planned for, it will have serious consequences for food security. Let me begin by explaining what food security is. Food security is defined as all individuals having physical and economic access to enough safe and nutritious food to live an active and healthy life at all times. Food security has four pillars: availability, access, utilization, and stability. Flooding not only affects the planting season but also the harvest, resulting in food deficit. When there is a food scarcity, the availability and access pillars of food security is affected. For example, floods leads to loss or damage of crop and livestock which directly reduce the quantity of food available to household, and indirectly reduce the amount of household income especially for farm household to access food. It is also important to know that floods may damage infrastructural facilities (roads and storage facilities). These prevent farm households from accessing markets to sell their produces and buy food supplies. Also, some farm households lose their source of livelihood during flood situation especially fisherman due to displacement which impact on the income level of the household at that moment.

Susa Africa: In your opinion, are the states ready to mitigate the effect of the predicted flooding?

Ogbe: There is no denying the fact that it has been predicted that there is an indication that Nigeria will experience severe flooding in 2023, however, one cannot categorically state the level of preparedness of the states to mitigate the effects of the predicted flood. It is evident that lessons were learned from year 2022 flood experience and states should not disregard the timely warning issued by NiMET. It is important for states to take cognizant of specific location in the state that is prone to flooding and do the needful regarding those areas. I am pretty confident that following from 2022 flood experience, states would adequately prepare themselves to avert potential damages if the nation is hit severely by flood again this year 2023.

Susa Africa: What do you think state governments and the FG should do to avert the impending losses that are likely to occur as a result of the flooding?

Ogbe: Adequate preparedness is the watch word in this regard. Flood around coastline are not easily prevented, however, it lies in the hands of the authority to make provision to evacuate coastline areas before the flood hit again. Effort should be made to plan and provide necessary accommodations and other basic necessities of life (such as relief materials) catered for eventuality. Relevant authorities in states in charge of this kind of situation should be funded as the case maybe to plan and adequately prepare.

Susa Africa: In 2022, floods were said to have been responsible for 662 deaths and displacement of over 2 million Nigerians across 33 states with the national economy losing N4.2 trillion. How does this tie in with climate change?

Ogbe : As we all know, flood is the accumulation of water over dry land. This is typically generated by the overflow of inland water (such as rivers and streams) or tidal water or unusual accumulation of water from sources like dams or rains. It is therefore a tricky task attempting to connect climate change with flood scenario. It is crucial to remember that climate change may not directly cause floods, as some believe; nonetheless, climate change may exacerbate the elements that cause floods. Rise in temperature directly causes increase in evaporation from land, rivers and other water bodies, as well as a change in the frequency of heavy precipitation. Also, the increased rise in sea level and global warming, may have directly contributed to the increased flooding scenarios experienced. There are man-made factors that could contribute to flooding too. The improper disposal of waste and refuse in drainage and water channels especially in most urban centers affect the free flow of water when there is heavy downpour causing urban floods.

Susa Africa: What approach should the country use to tackle and mitigate the effect of climate change?

Ogbe: Mitigating the effects of climate change entails taking steps to minimize climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy, land and other energy sources or eliminating those gases from the atmosphere. Coastal wetlands protection, lowering or ending deforestation, fostering sustainable afforestation to absorb more carbon, reducing household dependency on fossil fuels (reducing fossil fuel burning) are all beneficial in mitigating climate change. Nigeria must take proactive steps to implementing the commitments made at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow. The country need to make efforts at implementing the elements contained in the Climate Change Act 2021.

Susa Africa: How do we permanently tackle the problem of flooding in Nigeria?

Ogbe: Flood incidents are overwhelming and have affected human lives, properties, livelihood, and food production. Flood can be controlled and it occurrence minimized to a minimum. Efforts are available to reduce potential damage caused by flooding. Among these are adequate drainage system maintenance, restriction of (to some extent) coastal activities (to reduce loss of lives) and establishment of a benchmark regarding the distance for coastline habitant. States around the major rivers in Nigeria with shallow and silted depths could be de-silted to accommodate the volume of water that flows from these flood-prone areas.

Susa Africa: From your observations, will you say Osun State government has done enough in preparation, or the state was not listed among flood-prone States? 

Ogbe: Osun State is listed as one of the 32 states of the federation that fall within the highly probable flood risk areas. However, I cannot categorically say the level of preparedness of the state to mitigate the effects of the predicted flood. One test to preparation level is the rapid responds to disaster. Preparedness of Osun State can only be measured by the way the government and other stakeholders will handle, respond and manage this year’s flood scenario in the state. The government should first identify the areas in the state that is highly prone to flood, design the approach to address flood that will protect lives (human and livestock), reduce loss of properties and ensures that residents’ livelihood in those areas is not entirely lost.

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