International donor agencies wonder whatever happened to the huge sums in hard currency earmarked for preventive measures and sent to countries prone to flood disasters.
Ayo Oyoze Baje
With the increasing devastating effects of the seasonal, flushing floods beginning in earnest in both Ogun and Katsina states, “the time to start taking concrete, proactive measures is now. Not tomorrow. Not when the dams have overflowed their capacity and the rivers have swelled their banks, swallowing up the pot hole-riddled roads, homes, offices and shops. Not when casualty figures have risen to thousands before half-hearted, panicky measures are embarked upon by top government officials”.
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That was the candid warning given by yours truly in an opinion essay as published in some dailies on 21st May, 2013. Apparently, few, if anyone of substance in government has heeded the piece of advice freely offered over the past five years! Now, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has confirmed the initial assistance by NEMA, during his recent visit to the state, to meet with the governor, Alhaji Aminu Masari.
Meanwhile, the death toll has risen to 52, with 90 houses destroyed, over 260 livestock confirmed dead and several people declared missing. Property worth millions of naira were destroyed, as flood wreaked havoc in 10 communities of Jibia Local Government area of the state.
Before then was the sweeping tide of the devastating flood that claimed 12 lives and literally ‘swallowed’ 3,800 houses in Ogun state. Osinbajo has said that the Federal Government, along with the two states will look into the cause of the flash flood with a view to providing lasting solution so that such incident does not happen again! We must have heard this swan song years before, haven’t we? That is Nigeria for you.
A usual, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) has warned that many parts of the country are likely to experience flooding. According to the Director-General, Prof. Sani Mashi, this is due to a shift in rainfall pattern caused by climate change. We do fervently hope that other state governors have for the moment put their 2019 ambitions at the back burner and are prepared for the onslaught.
This is not the time for them to exhibit their cosmetic concern by paddling boats while visiting the voiceless victims to shed crocodile tears! And this is also not the period for some showbiz celebrities to cash in on the avoidable tragedy to boost their flagging profile.
Instead, enlightened Nigerians should be asking their state governors how judiciously, or otherwise they have spent their ecological fund. That is more so expedient as the international donor agencies too wonder whatever happened to the huge sums in hard currency, earmarked for the preventive measures and sent to countries prone to flood disasters. But those on the receiving end cannot but wonder why the policy makers, entrusted with the protection of their lives and property refused to heed the timely warning of NiMET.
Back in 2013, the agency had for months categorically warned that Nigerians should expect more rains that year, with increase in frequency and intensity. That also means that more damages to infrastructure (residential and office buildings, roads, wire cables) and of course, people should be expected.
Such early warning is commendable. Ordinarily, these should spur political leaders at both the state and federal government levels to begin to put in place measures and mechanisms to stave off the projected effects.
Here, communication through the mass media is an imperative towards finding such long-lasting solutions. Are the residents of the state fully aware about actions they should be taking to assist the government in minimizing the scourge of months of heavy rains, and in their own local languages too? Have they assisted in tree planting, clearing of the gutters and drainages, proper waste disposal of all manner of filth in their immediate environment? Do they know the importance of the days set aside for sanitation, or do they convert it to preaching the gospel, as has been prevalent in Lagos metropolis on Thursdays?
According to Muhammed Sanni, the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) such early warning should afford the policy makers the ample opportunity to monitor situations in their communities, so as to enable remedial measures to be initiated. This would also bolster effective relief through disaster preparedness actions. Again the crucial questions arise. Are the relevant government organs such as the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, Agriculture and Rural Development, Science and Technology as well as Transport equipped with the necessary information about the history of environmental disasters in affected areas?
Are they working in concert to articulate comprehensive solutions to the problems at hand? Or, are they dissipating their energy in different directions without achieving meaningful results? And are they well funded to discharge their onerous duties to the communities and the country? What roles is Information Communication Technology, ICT playing in information gathering, information dissemination, early warning systems and eventually in finding solutions to the environmental menace? The answers to these troubling questions will go a long way towards charting a master plan that could be relied upon in the event of future occurrences.
From the global perspective, there were Early Warning Conferences in 1998, 2003 and 2006 to analyze and examine methods that were working and those that were not. In fact, the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction, in Kobe and a similar one in Bonn, Germany made appreciable progress. What came to light was the need not to focus only on technically accurate warnings as much as the need to understand the risks and make an information link between the producers and consumers of the warning signals. The aim is to trigger actions that would mitigate the scourge.
Simply put, a people-oriented approach with more focus on the social and psychological aspects of early warning instead of concentrating on the science and technology is most desirable. And it must be emphasized; according to the Hyogo Framework that early warning on impending environmental disasters should be treated as a national priority.
The veritable platform to realize this goal is government’s pragmatic partnerships with the local government authority, civil society, scientific and academic community as well as the private sector; with the media as the effective vehicle for information dissemination on early warning.
Whether we like it or not, we are in the era of freaky weather changes – intense heat waves, increasing drought, desertification, thawing of snow, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, with their telling effects on the socio-economic landscape of the entire world. Now, food insecurity with escalating food prices are here with us.
Since early warnings by the worlds’ top environmental scientists on the thinning of the ozone layer, occasioned by the increasing emission of the green house carbon gases were not heeded, man has nowhere to run to but to face the dire consequences frontally. And Nigeria is no exception. The time for action is now!