Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

As Buhari’s 90-day ultimatum on flood disaster expires 10 May 2023

It has been over six months since President Muhammadu Buhari gave a 90-day ultimatum to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to work with the ministries of Environment and Transport as well as state governments to develop a comprehensive plan of action for the prevention of flood disaster in Nigeria. The order was to prevent a repeat of the devastating outcomes of last year’s flooding episodes which displaced about 2.4 million people, resulted in 662 deaths, and caused injuries to another 3,174 people in different parts of the country, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Thousands of houses and several hectares of farmlands were submerged in the floods, worsening food insecurity, and escalating the prices of food items as agricultural activities were greatly affected. But another rainy season is here, and the country still does not have a comprehensive flood prevention or management policy.

Over N55 billion has been expended on “preserving the environment” since 2019 by both ministries of Water Resources and Environment. Whereas the Ministry of Water Resources describes “Preservation of the Environment” as “Water Pollution Prevention and Control”, the Ministry of Environment captures it as “Erosion and Flood Control”. It was alleged that both ministries presented a budget proposal of N50.3 billion for 2023 to the National Assembly to combat issues surrounding preservation of the environment particularly flood and erosion control. The Ministry of Environment presented approximately N48.6 billion which was 50 percent higher than its previous budget for the activities while the Ministry of Water Resources presented about N1.7 billion.

In March, NEMA issued warnings based on the information released by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency and the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) that the country will experience severe flooding again this year. Unfortunately, many of the communities affected by the floods of last year are yet to recover from the losses but fresh episodes of floods could be lurking around. The NIHSA predicted that 178 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in 32 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) might experience ‘serious’ flooding during the wet season this year while 224 LGAs in 35 states including FCT fall within the ‘moderate’ flood risk areas.

The country must as a matter of urgency prevent the loss of about N700 billion recorded last year in economic value due to damages caused by the disaster. The losses also included up to 8.4 million tonnes of 14 crop varieties with output worth N384.4 billion, N100.2 billion in the fish sector, and over N93.04 billion in livestock sector.

Earlier in February, which marked the end of the 90-day ultimatum, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, stated that work has been underway to ensure improvements on the response to the flooding events of 2022. He called on stakeholders, policymakers, and concerned agencies to provide appropriate measures to reduce flood disaster. However, the main approach of the ministry itself would be to issue predictions every five days beginning in June. This commitment is grossly inadequate. Flood forecasts or early warnings, which cater to the preparedness stage of flood disaster management, are important to enable concerned organisations and individuals take action. This has already been undertaken by NEMA, Ministry of Water Resources, and other agencies. But to tackle the annual flood menace in Nigeria, we need more than predictions or forecasts. Since the predictions are envisaged to be similar to those of the previous years, a flood prevention and control policy should have been enacted by now before the new wet season. Structural and physical measures to minimise or prevent losses are much needed.

The country cannot mitigate floods except adequate actions are taken. For instance, the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa, which was to collect excess water released from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, has remained uncompleted. Whereas the dam in Cameroon was completed in 1982, it was expected that the Nigerian dam would be completed by March 2023. Other dams that should have been constructed to curtail flooding in Nigeria also suffer similar fate.

The challenges to effective flood and erosion control in Nigeria are multifaceted. Drainage systems in both urban and rural areas are blocked with refuse dumped on roadside and waste materials from market. Residential and commercial buildings are constructed in inappropriate places, causing obstruction to easy flow of excess water when it rains heavily.

To be sure, natural causes of flooding such as rise in sea level due to excessive rainfall, rising tides in coastal areas, and storm surges contribute greatly to flooding. The increasing intensity and regularity of these extreme weather events have been associated with climate change. But poor spatial planning and inadequate solid waste management in different parts of the country are further aggravating the impact of these climate events. Therefore, as a mitigation action, strict laws and penalties must be enacted to change behaviours and practices that routinely aid flooding. State and local government authorities also need to provide efficient waste management systems. On their part, citizens must become more aware of how their behaviours put them at risk and how to stop the risky practices.

Mitigation strategies of these kinds are essential to significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of flooding before it occurs. However, for a comprehensive flood management plan, response strategies must also be included. This covers immediate assistance such as emergency relief and rescue of people if they still get trapped in flood prone locations despite the warnings. Support for such communities, particularly food producing ones where it might be difficult for farmers to evacuate their farm produce, animals, poultry birds, and fishes completely, could go a long way to minimise food shortages or increments in food prices during and after flooding events.

Farmers are one of the major vulnerable groups when disasters such as flooding happen. Insurance scheme to support food crop farmers at different levels should be promoted with increased awareness and made accessible and affordable to them. Flooding insurance scheme should cover major components such as farm machineries including large equipment like tractors, farm vehicles, and smaller implements which may have been damaged or lost during flooding episodes. Livestock losses as a result of drowning in flood water should also be covered by insurance. Grains, forages, stored feeds, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and other farm inputs soaked or washed away by flood should as well be covered by insurance.  

In the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, about 299 smallholder farmers in four states – Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, and Gombe – were to receive N6.9 million as insurance payout claims to compensate for yield losses in the aftermath of the 2022 floods. More of such support should be readily available to all farmers across the country. Appropriate insurance services are imperative for aquaculture farmers as fish farmers also suffer great losses when their ponds and tanks are overtaken by flood.

There is need for concerned agencies to create more awareness especially in flood prone areas through physical information dissemination to populations that could be affected by the flood. Some of the locations where the most vulnerable people live may not have access to media information; others may be communities with low literacy. Relief agencies should also work closely with such communities to minimise losses during and after floods.

As rightly requested by the President, a comprehensive plan, which includes policies and concrete strategies to minimise or completely eliminate reoccurring floods in the country as well as rapid implementation of the plan, is crucial for flood management. Proper management of this natural disaster by working directly with affected communities and the general public would save life and property and limit the threats to food security in the country.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.