My brief odyssey last week to Hadejia brought me face to face with a pool of people of Agubu, a suburb area of Hadjia, three kilometres away on Kano Road.
The people were in drops, closed to each other, camped in an open space without camping facilities at a filling station located opposite to their submerged houses. They were looking stupendously disturbed and dejected. Many things were in their minds troubling them, not COVID-19 pandemic as none of them was wearing a facemask, not even a meal for that day and similar things.
They were worried about the fate of their few belongings remaining in their half-collapsed houses, their partly submerged, partly destroyed crops along Hadejia River, and how to survive the year, reconnect with their loved ones, and begin life all over again.
Some of their houses were completely pulled to the ground, while parts of other houses collapsed; it was only the Friday Mosque that was standing erect in the flood. Will the remaining structures in the village collapse? Their houses and farms were destroyed by the River Hadejia flood a week earlier.
It was like the river was angry, overflowed its banks and flooded every structure closed to it. Sandbags were hurriedly lined up to prevent water from flooding the significant part of Hadejia town.
The way the sandbags were made and placed, it was apparently part of the community efforts as a short-term measure to safeguard their town. Two days later, water was flowing underneath the sandbags with some being washed away.
The flood devastatingly shattered the hopes and aspiration of Agubu people of having a bumper harvest and regaining their livelihoods after passing a 4-month lockdown and movement restriction caused by Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The people were staring each and every passer-by like me with expectations, which direction is the “help” coming? How can they gather pieces of their lives and move on? I had to pull myself to avoid shedding tears because of their pathetic situation.
Yes, what “help” can my tears offer? Agubu is one village among several communities along the rivers that were devastatingly affected by the flood. River floods are perennial events in several states in Nigeria.
Each year, the hapless citizens bear the brunt of the seasonal dreadful event, which could be preventable, if not, the effects could be mitigated, and this kind of situation may not arise.
Generally, an annual flood occurs in several towns with devastating impacts on the poor and vulnerable populations who live along the River basins. In the month of July 2020, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) predicted a total of 28 states and 102 Local Governments of the states would be at risk of heavy flooding in the year 2020.
According to the Agency, the flood projections would vary from moderate to severe flood in most parts of the country. This warning was made to prepare the nation’s plan for flood mitigation and responses. Was the warning received? Was it ignored? How effective was the warning communicated to the public? These were questions needing answers. Again, what are the consequences of floods on the nation?
In 2018, the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) of ABU Zaria conducted a study to evaluate the impact of the 2018 wet season flood on five crops in nine selected states.
The states were Adamawa, Bayelsa, Delta, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger and Rivers. The result indicated that the flood in nine states submerged and destroyed rice worth N54 billions, cassava worth N144 billions, maize worth N46 billions, sorghum worth N4 billions, and yam worth N347 billions.
These were in addition to the losses of lives, properties, houses, roads, and unquantifiable man-hours to millions of hapless and resource-poor citizens. Nine states only, what of the rest of the nation? The story was similar in almost every year especially in 2019 when rainfall cession delayed by more than three weeks in the northern part of the country.
The losses in this year, 2020, according to the Premium Times (online paper) of September 30th, 40 deaths and destruction of over 100,000 hectares of rice caused by the flood were recorded in Hadejia and environs. These occurred in only 2-3 LGAs out of 102 of LGAs across the nation.
The major causes of the floods in Nigeria are well known, they include inadequate drainage channels, silted dams, and waterways, invasion of aquatic weeds, typha grass overgrowing on river channels and riverbeds, as well as illegal diversion, the encroachment of waterways for building and conversion to farmland among others.
Despite flood early warning and the knowledge of flood causes, we still watch as the numbers of flood occurrences, magnitudes, affected area,s, and adverse socio-economic consequences are annually increasing. Why is it so?
Several intricacies and factors governing policy formulation and implementation are making the question of “why is it so” difficult to answer. First, government agencies; NIHSA, NiMet, NAERLS, etc responsible for Early Warning (EW) information and communication may not really be synergizing to face flood challenges head-on.
Is there a government strategy, which brings FMARD, FMWR, FMA, and state ministries of Agriculture to address flood occurrences and mitigation? To the best of my knowledge, as a nation, we have been given lip service to the issue of flood prevention and mitigation. Being a professor of extension, irrigation, and water management, I am one of the key stakeholders of water resource management in this country.
Thus, it pains me a great deal when I see preventable losses due to floods occurring. The earlier we wake up from our slumber, the better; otherwise, we will ‘murder sleep and sleep no more’. Our population is exponentially increasing and the flood is a major deterrent to achieving food security. This is a clarion call to action.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.