On 23rd June 2023, a torrential downpour that persisted for several hours resulted in flooding in certain areas of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Particularly affected by the floodwaters were sections of the Trademore Estate in Lugbe, a residential neighbourhood. Reports indicated that approximately 166 houses were submerged, and one person died.
But what does the flood in the FCT mean for Nigeria’s flood prediction, and are we expecting a repeat of last year?
Nigeria’s flood prediction
Before the rainy seasons, the Nigerian government had warned that 178 local government areas in 32 states and the FCT were at risk of flooding in 2023.
According to the government, the at-risk states included Adamawa, Abia, Akwa- Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Ekiti, and Edo.
Other states mentioned include Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara, and the Federal Capital Territory.
Lessons from the recent past
Flooding or the threat of it is not new to Nigeria. In early July last year, most communities in northcentral Nigeria were underwater. According to the National Emergency Management Agency or NEMA, by October, the flood had killed more than 603 people and displaced over 1 million.
The flood last year affected 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the FCT, and is said to have directly impacted more than 7 million people and caused damages estimated at N2.6 trillion.
As of the end of October, when the waters had started receding, over 200,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed by the floods.
There have been many reasons deduced for floods in Nigeria. Last year’s flooding was mainly blamed on heavy rainfall due to climate change and the release of water from the Lagdo dam in neighbouring Cameroon.
But most often, floods in Nigeria can be linked to urbanisation, which has led to poor city planning and waste management. In Nigerian cities, drainages have been turned into dump sites, and with a growing population, the problem is getting worse.
Also, as cities expand to accommodate the growing population, the urgency to develop housing and infrastructure has led to disregarding environmental warnings, resulting in communities settling in areas highly susceptible to floods.
In many of Nigeria's cities, the storm water systems need to be improved to handle flooding peaks. Insufficient capacity and maintenance and rainfall intensity lead to overwhelmed drainage networks. Consequently, downstream communities, often located in the path of the overflowing waters, are left vulnerable to frequent flooding incidents, disrupting lives and causing significant damage to properties and infrastructure.
Another factor responsible for flooding is widespread deforestation, particularly in upstream areas, which reduces the natural capacity of forests to absorb rainwater and increases surface runoff. Nigeria has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, with an estimated 3.7% forest loss yearly; this has led to flooding.
What needs to give?
Some believe that flooding is an inevitable act of God that cannot be prevented, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
To prevent flooding, implementing effective urban planning policies must prioritise sustainable land use practices and limit construction in flood-prone areas; This involves avoiding the construction of buildings on river banks, wetlands, and low-lying regions.
Additionally, the government should invest in constructing and maintaining efficient storm water and drainage systems. Upgrading the current infrastructure will enhance its ability to handle intense rainfall and flooding. Implementing sustainable drainage methods, such as green infrastructure and retention ponds, is important to manage and slow down water flow.
Moreover, the government must prioritise developing and enforcing proper waste management systems to prevent blockage of drainage systems. Encouraging recycling, appropriate disposal of solid waste, and discouraging waste dumping in waterways or open drains are crucial steps.
Furthermore, the government should actively promote afforestation and reforestation initiatives to restore natural vegetation, particularly in upstream areas. Forests play a vital role in regulating water flow, reducing soil erosion, and improving the landscape's ability to absorb rainfall, thus mitigating the risk of flooding. Strict measures must be taken against activities, individuals, and corporations that contribute to deforestation and the depletion of our forest resources.
As the rainy season intensifies, the government must conduct public awareness campaigns, educating communities about flooding risks and preventive measures. Residents should be encouraged to actively participate in emergency preparedness plans and community-based flood management initiatives.
Furthermore, the government must establish effective operation and management protocols for dams and reservoirs, ensuring the proper regulation of water releases during periods of heavy rainfall. This will help prevent excessive water flow and mitigate the risk of flooding.
We need to implement some of these suggestions, as they are our best bet at curtailing floods like that of last year.