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Monday, November 5, 2012

Lagdo Dam flood disaster: Matters Arising

A water-submerged settlement

Water is one of the gifts of God to mankind and other living creatures.  It comes in form of rainfall, oceans, rivers, streams, or lakes etc.  Because of its indispensability to human existence, the amount and nature of water available determines the flow of development.  It’s importance is such that some school of thought believe that “water has no enemy”.  One of them was Nigeria’s Afrobeat musician, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti who dedicated one of his sound tracks to this belief.  However, there are complex patterns of water uses with far-reaching consequences.
In Africa, almost all major rivers are shared by two or more countries.  Altogether, water management represents one of the region’s most urgent development challenges. This requires developing laws, regulations and institutions to manage their water resources in ways that are economically productive, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable.
In water resources management, the conservation and management of wetlands and floodplains are critical because of their productive capacity. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) has observed that the rights of downstream communities have historically been ignored. The present flood disaster in Nigeria is another case in point. Flood is currently ravaging many of such communities spread across Kogi, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Imo States.
This particular flood is a consequence of over-release of water from Lagdo Dam in Cameroun.  The operational incompetence or negligence by the Camerounian dam operatives and the passivity of successive Nigerian governments have undermined the livelihoods of over 400 vulnerable downstream communities across the country.
As the flood rages, it is wrecking havoc in every conceivable way, on both great and small.  Even the President’s country home was not spared. Poverty and environmental degradation lie both at the beginning and the end of the chain. Hundreds of people have lost their lives; about 88,740 have been displaced and property worth billions of Naira submerged. Food insecurity is increasing as numerous live-stocks and farmlands have been overtaken by flood. Recent reports reveal that some oil fields have been submerged as well.  Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss.
A visit to some of the displaced people’s camps revealed that they are far from being rehabilitated. What you see is, a people who have lost all their possessions and are at the verge of  losing their own lives should a serious epidemic break out now. Their over-crowded tents are mostly situated in school premises, church compounds, and uncompleted buildings. Expectedly, this environmental challenge has resulted to social and psychological problems.
There have been reported cases of sexual assault and rape, possibly due to desperate lifestyles prevalent in a state of anomie. Also, due to heightened trauma, some women have gone into forced labour. Meanwhile, we are yet to hear of deployment of counselors to the camps.
The affected Nigerians are earnestly waiting to feel the impact of the huge funds released by the president to affected states. They are also anxiously waiting to see the extent to which the 34-member Presidential Committee on flood will ameliorate their pains. Elected political office holders from the affected areas should seize the hour to compassionately touch their people. They should address the problem on ground with real solutions.  Corporate bodies, billionaires around the corridors of power, national awardees, and indeed all well meaning Nigerian must arise.
It is time to be our brothers’ keeper!
This flood disaster raises a lot of critical questions; when shall our governments begin to heed expert warnings and adequately prepare for emergencies? What are the governors of the downstream/coastal states waiting for before they will draw-out and commence implementation of clear-cut master plans? What is the National Assembly waiting for before they pass the water resources bill (and other key sector bills) before it?
The bill, if passed, will kick start water sector reforms. Right laws, political will, adequate and monitoring mechanisms are crucial for meaningful negotiation, contribution and collaboration with neighboring countries so that water usage upstream does not affect our downstream communities again. Let us arise, with hearts of servanthood, so that we can build a future that puts few strains on the society and the environment.

MacDenis Igbo

... Linking agrobiz, people & technology

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