For the past week, dangerously high floodwaters have inundated Southern and Northern Nigeria states. Dubbed the ‘Lokoja flood’ by media outlets, the tragedy has affected over 13 states including places like Lokoja, Kwara and Anambra. Currently, entire houses have been submerged under water and the human death toll is reported at 80 and is still climbing.
Unfortunately, the country is no stranger to floods. In 2021, states like Jigawa, Bauchi and Anambra were affected by severe flooding and in 2012, Nigeria recorded its worst flooding in recent history. Now, the 2022 Lokoja floods are set to break that record.
Government officials have been unable to provide a specific reason for these events but although inconclusive, there have been speculated to be at least 3—the first being climate change. In July 2021, Forbes made the link between climate change and the increased number of flooding events. This comes as no surprise seeing as human activity and carbon emissions have long been held responsible for extreme weather events.
Climate change in Nigeria has continued to remain a neglected subject and issues like inadequate financial resources, ignorance and poor governmental policies have put Nigeria among the top ten most vulnerable countries according to recent studies. The increased events of flooding are just one of the effects, and by 2050, it is estimated that we will experience additional deaths.
But one of the most persistent contributors to the recent floods across the country is poor urban planning practices and inadequate environmental infrastructure. Studies have provided the link between these two things and Nigeria is currently plagued by an urban planning crisis, especially in states like Lagos and Port Harcourt. Lax enforcement of planning laws has seen construction projects spring up on natural floodplains, waterways, canals and stormwater paths.
Reports state that people are neglecting the principles of development and sustainability by building on waterways where they are not supposed to. Many residential areas have no drainage system and rely on natural drainage channels. Increased urbanisation also means more areas are built with concrete and cannot absorb water, increasing runoff. Poor waste management is also a recognised factor and all these things have accumulated to make Nigeria extremely susceptible to floods.
The current Lokoja floods also coincide with the release of excess water from a dam in the neighbouring country, Cameroon. According to The National Emergency Management Agency of Nigeria, the release of water was bound to “complicate” Nigeria’s already disastrous flood crisis.
In a statement released on September 19th, the Agency said: “The Lagdo dam operators in the Republic of Cameroon have commenced the release of excess water from the reservoir by 13th September 2022. We are aware that the released water cascades down to Nigeria through River Benue and its tributaries thereby inundating communities that have already been impacted by heavy precipitation. The released water complicates the situation further downstream as Nigeria’s inland reservoirs are also expected to overflow between now and October ending. This will have serious consequences on frontline states and communities along the courses of rivers Niger and Benue.”
The Agency’s prediction was accurate and these frontline states are experiencing terrible devastation. Currently, 80 people have been confirmed dead while trying to escape the disaster and the figure is expected to rise in the coming days. In Kogi State, about 6 people—including a toddler—were reported to have lost their lives in the Ibaji Local Government Area.
Houses in these areas have been submerged under high water leading to the displacement of thousands of people. The wildlife in these areas is also in danger and hippos have been seen in the floodwaters trying to get to safety. Motorists and travellers are stranded on the roads and vehicles have broken down with no access to fuel trucks.
The Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) has blamed the current fuel scarcity in Abuja and other surrounding states on the inability of fuel trucks to access Lokoja roads. This comes after The Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) assured the general public that there was enough fuel stock.
Those roads were also used for the transportation of other economic goods like food produce and states like Kogi have reported a hike in the price of food products. This is not the only damage the agricultural sector has experienced. Farmlands like rice swamps have been washed away, costing their owners millions in revenue.
Victims have taken to social media to cry out for help, as some of them are stranded on boats in the middle of nowhere. Although rescue teams are working to help survivors, the government has done a poor job of mitigating this crisis. State governors have spoken out expressing sadness for this tragedy but there is a lot more that can be done.
Historically, Nigeria has been more focused on post-disaster flood response than control. Reducing and addressing exposure to flood risk is now a national priority in the Nigerian government’s disaster risk management agenda. Currently, there is no flood management policy in Nigeria and the lack of relevant legal and policy frameworks is an indication of the low importance given to controlling and managing floods in Nigeria.
The best time to do something was before any of these floods occurred and the next best time is now. If not, we will be back here next year saying the same thing about a different set of floods.