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Why flood may still ravage Lagos

•Environmentalists, others warn that indiscriminate dredging activities, poor sanitation habits may cause fresh flooding

By Tessy Igomu

The month of July 2017 is over, but memories of the month would linger for a long while.

It would be remembered a month in which the rains came down in torrents, almost on a daily basis, forcefully pounding the streets and rooftops with undisguised ferocity. And it left a legacy of flooding, losses and devastation that cut across both rich and poor neighbourhoods in Lagos.

While the rains lasted, tales of woe  inundated various media platforms. Also, footages of submerged vehicles in garages and those that could not withstand the pressure of the swirling floodwater were everywhere. Even now, people living in rich neighbourhoods like Ikoyi, Lekki, Ajah, Banana Island and Victoria Island are still counting their losses, and they are aware that more flooding might be on the way.   

According to environmental experts, the flooding was a clear indication that Lagos, like other states, had not developed the capacity to face the challenges of the times posed mainly by changing climatic conditions, unhealthy human activities and uncensored urban development. 

As it stands, the problem of flooding is not likely to disappear soon. The Federal Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Water Resources and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) have predicted that there would be flooding in 30 states of the federation, Lagos inclusive, between July and November 2017.

The realisation that Lagos could yet be in for more unpleasant times through flooding is indeed troubling, according to residents.

Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, said there would be possible coastal flooding in places like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar, adding that the case of Lagos State was unique, due to its low-lying status and ongoing reclamation of wetlands, which ordinarily should be buffers for floods. He also lamented that the rapid urbanisation of the Lagos coastal areas had not been matched with robust drainage provisions and adequate seawalls/barriers along the sea stretch. 

An environmentalist, Niran Adesanya, asserted that for any sustainable development to be achieved in the state and not eroded over time, the issue of flooding must be properly and urgently addressed. 

In the face of troubling flooding incidents in Lagos, one major factor remains the indiscriminate dumping of refuse in drainages and water channels. This unhealthy habit leads to blockage of canals and manholes, causing severe flooding, experts have warned.

This habit could obviously explain the embarrassing sight witnessed at Akobi Crescent in Surulere during the flood. The street, which gained popularity overnight on social media platforms, was overtaken by tonnes of filth that floated uncontrollably, with helpless residents wading through the filth to reach their destinations.

The distasteful sight, according to many, showed that Lagos, despite its remarkable infrastructural advancement, was yet to tackle its waste problems. Even now, mountains of refuse have resurfaced on streets and major roads.

Adewale Sanni, a lawyer and human rights activist, was of the opinion that the uncontrolled infrastructural development accompanied by improper planning had become an albatross to the state and was likely to still cause serious flooding. He noted that the flow of stormwater from drainage system into lagoons and finally into the ocean has been altered to some extent by activities detrimental to the wellbeing of residents.

Sanni, who was also marooned with his family in his house in the Lekki-Ajah area during the recent floods, expressed fears that residents could be in for more trouble.

“It used to be easy for rainwater to easily find its natural course and recede with time. From all indications, the newly constructed roads and drainages in these areas have turned a curse as the drainages, which hitherto appeared perfect, showed serious flaws. What we saw cannot be the highest volume of rain for the year; there is less land to consume the amount of rainwater that inundated the area. People can now see the underlying dangers inherent with the ‘architectural masterpiece’ and ‘world-class’ roads being flaunted over the years. We can only imagine what will happen if there is a spin from the lagoon or ocean,” he said.

Other residents agreed that the problem of flooding was due to a number of human activities like dredging, sand-filling of wetlands and buffer zones, indiscriminate laying of cable by telecommunications companies as well as the gigantic Eko Atlantic City project.

Property owners in the Lekki Peninsular, Ikoyi and Victoria Island, who blamed the Lagos State government for the perennial flooding, emphasised that poor enforcement of environmental laws and town planning guidelines, distortion of the Lekki drainage master plan and the indiscriminate sand-filling of natural waterways were factors responsible for flooding. 

Mr. Segun Ladega, an architect and spokesman for the homeowners, said inability of estate developers to improve environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports was among the causes of the perennial flooding.

Also, a group that seeks to protect the environment, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, blamed the flooding on “environmentally-unfriendly projects” by the state government along Lagos coastlines.

According to the group’s Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, the rains exposed how dangerous experiments like the Eko Atlantic City project and unmitigated sand dredging along the Lekki and Ajah corridor could be, further make life miserable for residents.

“We ask this government to make public the EIA on the controversy-streaked Eko Atlantic City project. At a time that climate change is inducing sea level rise globally, anything short of a retreat from these dangerous activities will spell doom for all of us,” he warned.

In an online report, Prof. Benjamin Akpati of the Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research also warned both Lagos residents and the Federal Government about the chaotic spread of residential developments on Lagos Island. With the beachfront of the Atlantic now more than a mile away from where it was in the 1960s, the professor feared that a dramatic rise in the water level could make the entire Lagos Island go under water. Despite this warning, land reclamation activities have continued, with Ilubirin and the newly acquired Otodo-Gbame communities joining the fray.

In the face of all these warnings, Lagos residents believe that the authorities should go beyond rhetoric and take proactive steps to ensure that the issue of flooding is treated with the seriousness it deserves to forestall a more catastrophic recurrence.

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