Climate ChangeOpinion

How Are We Preparing For The Next Makurdi Floods?

The thousands displaced by the Makurdi Floods are trying to get themselves back to normal but history says it cannot be business as usual

Scan News Nigeria

Now, the feelings of heartbreak and catastrophe-wailings regarding the Makurdi floods are beginning to wane.

Some relief materials have gotten to some people, thanks to the efforts of many good spirited Nigerians; who raised different platforms for donations. Groups, charities and community development-minded organizations chipped in.

NEMA too did their job, even if with the typical reluctance that accompanies the response of a Nigerian agency to an emergency crisis. When it should have been its job to anticipate and prepare for such an event.

Attention and focus have swung to other matters, from the loose talk podcast to pythons’ dances. It is as if things were already back to normal in Makurdi. That a rainbow has appeared in the heavens, signifying that never will there be floods in that part of town again. But knowing what we – you, your MCM, your Government, and myself – know, that could not be further from the truth.

If anything, the recent devastating floods in Makurdi was, perhaps, nature’s way of telling us that floods would always feel welcome to visit whenever it likes. Simply because nothing is ever done to shut the door after it has gone. There were floods in 2012 and Benue was one of the 30 states affected. There were floods in the same Benue in July of this year, and, post August break, 24 communities across 16 local governments in the state were nearly broken by another torrent of flowing water, leaving wreckage in its wake.

Those 2012 floods were said to have been caused by seasonal flash floods, and they most likely would have been the cause of that which occurred in August. Flash floods occur “when it rains rapidly on saturated soil or dry soil that has poor absorption ability”, according to a description of the phenomenon on Wikipedia. It is caused by heavy rainfall, and Nigeria May to September rainy season could be quite intense. So there is the argument that floods are inevitable due to geography and that water no get enemy; it will always flow. Climate change, and the attendant continuous rise in the level of water bodies, plays an increasing role especially with the river Benue being localized within that part of the country.

That said, the real disaster in the flooding that occurs in Nigeria is not in the amount precipitation that falls, but in the repetition of flaws in anticipation, sanitation, mitigation and remediation –

I’m calling it ASMR. It is like an asthma attack which is guaranteed to occur but the inhaler is never kept close at hand until the chronic signs knock the sufferer cold and too dizzy to reach it without creating a scene (no offense intended).

governor_ortom_benue_flood
Will Governor Ortom and other authorities be better prepared next time?

If floods are inevitable, why do we not ever prepare for them? Why are they not expected and planned ahead for? That they are natural events do not make them unpredictable; meteorology and climatology are all about creating models that observe, analyze and make predictions of the elements of weather. Is it the money for the infrastructure that is lacking or the expertise to competently practice the science of modelling?

The real disaster in the flooding that occurs in Nigeria is not in the amount precipitation that falls, but in the repetition of flaws in anticipation, sanitation, mitigation and remediation –  we can call this ASMR

But before investing in prediction and modeling, the basics have to be in place; drainage and responsible waste management. The media aide to Benue Governor, Terver Akase, noted that their Government had not done what it had to do in terms of providing a good structure for sanitation, even if residents had their share of the blame too. For water not to be destructive, it needs a safe path to flow. The more obstructions there are to its flow, the more its potential to cause avoidable damage.

Together with better town planning and urban space management, people-driven sanitation must be a priority of the Government and people of Benue. If the state is going to have a reasonable period of peace from the scourge of floods.

And when that peace is interrupted, we (read Federal and State Governments) simply have to do more in terms of mitigating and remediation. The mobilization of men, women and materials by the responsible agencies to the affected persons should not require the tweet of the President; neither should the people of the state be required to feel grateful that the Director-General makes out time from his public holiday to visit.

At the heart of disaster management should be empathy, that asks for no credit. Also, taking people into camps should be more of an elastic process that does not have unreasonable deadlines. Many persons refused to evacuate their homes in Florida due to Hurricane Irma but it did not exclude them from the attention of the relief agencies and the State.

Harmattan is coming, so the rains are rounding up for the year. For what they have had to bear, may it be that Benue’s affected communities get time to get their lives back to a semblance of normalcy. But if we have taken no notes from this episode and quickly put things right, the floods will see the gates still open by next August.

And the gush may be worse…

Alexander O. Onukwue
Studying Research and Public Policy at the University of Lagos, with interests in the SDGs, particularly education and sustainable cities, and a circular economy. I blog on these and other matters on inquizimedia.com