Musa lost his two (2) wives and six (6) children under the debris of his collapsed two (2) -bedroom apartments after the sudden rains that hit Suleja, Niger State, Nigeria at the beginning of the 2017 flooding season. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, sixty five (65) year old Garvey lost his sixty (60) year old wife of forty (40) years when a tree fell on top of their Houston home, under the deadly influence of Hurricane Harvey.
The sad reality of natural disasters is that they do not respect race, location, or even economic conditions. Recent natural disasters have continued to ravage the Americas and Nigeria irrespective of the very differing conditions of the two regions. The flood is not merciful on the economic hardship in Nigeria while the hurricane does not respect the influx of refugees/immigrants in the Americas. Yet, the difference between the current difficult atmospheres in these two worlds is as clear as the spectacular Five-Flower Lake in the Jiuzhaigou National Park of China – attitude cum approach is all that differentiates the American and Nigerian disasters at the moment.
Once again, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have something to teach Nigeria for ‘Floods Suleja, Benue, Lagos’ and other flood-vulnerable cities in Nigeria.
Over the years, meteorologists have described June to November as the Atlantic Hurricane Season, which usually reaches its peak around September. Similarly, since the 1950s, Nigeria has experienced flooding within the same periods as the hurricane seasons. Although the American hurricanes can be said to be deadlier and nature-caused than the Nigerian flooding, Nigeria’s constant plan and response have remained lackadaisical.
American hurricane-vulnerable cities are usually prepared for its attack year round. The National Weather Service constantly issues out notices, warnings, and educates citizens on pre, peri, and post hurricane actions; both the government, private and non-governmental sectors place huge and clearly-defined investments on combatting it whilst citizens are equipped with evacuation kits as they consciously get themselves informed about trends. Besides, many residents of these cities have their lives and properties formally and adequately insured. In general, hurricanes never catch the Americas unawares.
In contrast, Nigeria seems to always be at a loss either before, during or after any flooding. Before Nigeria experienced one of its worst flooding cases in 2012, the country had relaxed about flood threats due to a few years break in devastating flooding. Yet, when flooding was forecasted for that year, all took it lightly. The government failed to prepare concrete emergency plans or provide adequate information to vulnerable regions. Citizens remained environmentally irresponsible as many continued to block drainages and build on waterways; further strengthening vulnerability. Then it happened, like a big bang – about thirty (30) of the thirty-six (36) states were severely affected whilst millions were left homeless and several sent back to their maker.
More disappointing is the nation’s response strategy, which is always of a weak and shallow evacuation, meagre supplies, and poor/no resettlement – generally clueless. For every flooding season, there is almost never an early warning sign, a structured rapid response system or floss data gathering as available in other vulnerable countries while irresponsible residents are usually not rebuked or prosecuted before the season.
2017 flooding season is at its peak again yet, history has been allowed to repeat itself. Despite flooding forecasts, many cities have been flood-ravaged; Lagos, the economic hub is threatened while Benue is in a despicable state. Still, about thirty (30) other states may need to brace up for the flood experience this year (Nigerian Meteorological Agency). Obviously, the only way out is a change of attitude and approach; a move from reactiveness to pro-activeness, environmental irresponsibility to thoughtfulness, lethargy to urgency, and from a one man’s concern to everybody’s business. The fact is that if every Nigerian is proactive, prepared, responsible, and participatory, about 90% of flooding cases could be avoided while about 60% of flooding would be well managed.
At the moment, another hurricane – Maria has begun ravaging the Dominica, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico nonetheless, these cities were fully prepared for its entry. Although, the region has only been through half of 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, evacuation notices have been placed in major vulnerable cities while every sector of governments including the international community is on ground to wage through the second phase of American hurricanes, September through November.
As of now, flood forecasts for Nigeria have not been formally articulated for the next season however, with the threat of climate change and rising sea levels, there is a high likelihood of another flooding season, which could be more intense than ever.
The nudging question then is: how is Nigeria preparing for its next season of flooding?