Persistent flood may trigger severe food crisis across Nigeria – Hydrological Services boss
Most parts of the country are currently being ravaged by flood due to heavy rainfalls. In this interview with JOHN OSADOLOR and GODSGIFT ONYEDINEFU, Clement Onyeaso Eze, Director General, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), speaks on the flood situation in the country and warns that all stakeholders should do the needful to avoid imminent catastrophes and possible famine in the land. Excerpt:
WHAT DOES THIS FLOODING MEAN FOR THE NIGERIAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR? The type of flood we are already witnessing in Nigeria will have negative impact on agriculture. I was listening to a resident in Sunny Adewusi estate, Abuja, he was lamenting that apart from his vehicle that was already submerged, the crops he planted, have also been submerged.
Every crop has certain level of water requirement for it to thrive, it doesn’t need excess, and it’s called duty of water, that is the amount of water a crop requites for maximum production. Then, once there is flood submerging agricultural land, it means that the farmer has lost his crops. He/she may be compelled to harvest earlier than necessary.
In 2018, I was on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) team to do assessment and my team covered Kogi State. Several of the Local Government Areas (LGAS) in Kogi State were submerged, in particular Ibaji LGA adjoining Ida was 100% under water.
Even when we took a flying boat from Ida water front, it took us about two and half hours on flying boat, we didn’t know when we were on top of flood or on top of River Niger going to Ibaji. Their crops were submerged more than six feet above sea level, even houses were submerged.
So, once there is heavy flood, the people should be prepared for famine and hunger. In fact there is an organisation we collaborate with known as Famine Early System Warning Network (FESWNET). THEY collaborate with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), they collate data on things that trigger famine in any country like in Nigeria. They monitor to know how government can assist or how foreign donors can assist.
In a nutshell, once there is flooding, it will impact agriculture negatively.
DO YOU SEE US HAVING A PROBLEM WITH FOOD THIS YEAR OR THE COMING YEAR?
In fact, what we are having now is pandemic within pandemic. When the Covid- 19 pandemic started, it had farreaching negative impact on agriculture. People couldn’t go out to farm. This is even in addition to other levels of insecurity that farmers are grappling with going to their farm. Then the Covid-19 pandemic stepped in aggravating food insecurity. And now flood has stepped in.
The natural conclusion is that there might be food crisis for 2020, if nothing is done immediately. Farmers that are harvesting their crops without full maturity period, you can be sure that the harvested crops will waste, some of them will not even be eaten or sold out at a giveaway price. So, there is that likelihood of hunger in the land occasioned by flooding, which is now joining the Coronavirus pandemic.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY, PARTICULARLY ONGOING CONSTRUCTION WORKS?
Rains usually affect the construction industry. As a civil engineer, we know the period of the year when construction work is best done; highways, roads, bridges and even houses. If you are casting concrete on a building construction, you’ll have to watch the weather, if it rains, it will negatively impact the structure.
Then, on the road, it’s not easy to do construction especially in the southern part of Nigeria or generally during the rains. That’s why contractors complain that by the time they release money to them, we are already inside the rains, which means it will slow down the work. You can’t do proper road construction during the rains; it’s better during the dry season.
So, with heavy rains now, you can be sure, that the construction industry especially in the southern part of Night, will be slowed down, bridges inclusive.
WHAT DOES THE FLOODING MEAN FOR THE USAGE AND LIFE SPAN OF ROADS?
If you watch the video clip on what happened at that bridge at Gwagwalada, Abuja, you’ll see that they might not have been able to consider the whole gamut of Hydrological issues during the design of that bridge. The amount of rainfall which you have to capture, will help you to determine the size, level, side drains of your bridge.
Therefore, rains will affect road construction, it is also supposed to help you to do your design if you have collected adequate data ahead of time. I remember an industrial estate somewhere in Onitsha, it’s at the head bridge that it was submerged in 2012, and they lost over N5billion.
So, once there is flood, it affects every sector, transportation is affected, like what happened in 2012 that people had to stay for days to cross from Lokoja going to any other parts of Nigeria. It affects economic activities across the country, once flooding like this keeps happening.
HOW DO YOU GIVE DATA ON FLOOD TO OTHER AGENCIES OTHER THAN THROUGH THE MEDIA?
We have a lot of Hydrological data which has to do with surface and ground water data. Companies come to us, consulting firms come to us, and investors especially in hydro power come to us to look for Hydrological data to be able to determine or to do the feasibility studies on certain locations.
In 2012, oil wells of oil companies in Niger Delta especially in Delta State were affected. Communities where they operate were submerged and it looked like they were irresponsible corporate bodies in those societies. Since then, they always call upon us for data to be able to know the level of water to safeguard their oil platforms and also to be prepared to attend to their communities, Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) for communities where they operate.
We sell the data to those who use it for business, for consultancy and others. But for students doing research, we give them free and at the end of the day, they share their results with us. We collaborate with NEMA, they depend largely on NIHSA with regards to data on flood-related disaster.
Yes, NIMET often goes on air earlier in the year, to talk about the amount of rainfall; the duration, onset date, cessation date and number of days of rainfall, which is a very good job they do. But, not all rainfalls translate to flooding which is our own work.
It rained on Saturday heavily everywhere but here in Abuja municipal Area Council (AMAC), Abuja, there was no flood. But, that same amount of rainfall that didn’t cause harm in AMAC, will cause mayhem in Gwagwalada Area Council likewise in Niger state. So, these are the distinction between what NIMET does and NIHSA does. They predict the rainfall amount but we interpret it bearing in mind the geology of the environment, the topography of the area, the land use pattern, taking into account the river system and how they have been behaving over the decades, the geomorphology of the area and the terrain. So, these are the things and other parameters that we use to translate if the rainfall will amount to flooding.
So, we collaborate with NEMA, we will inform NEMA the locations that may be flooded and then they escalate it from there, they prepare in terms of materials. They inform the governors, the SEMA, to make preparations in certain locations, in the event NIHSA’S prediction comes to pass, it may be in the area of evacuation.
In 2018, going by what we had predicted, on the 7th of September, we notified NEMA that all the indices of 2012 flood incidents have manifested apart from the release of water from Lagdo Dam and based on that, NEMA had to invoke a section of their Act by seeking approval of Mr President that gave them the power to declare state of emergency in nine states of Nigeria.
Once they declared state of emergency or national disaster, any equipment is at NEMA disposal, whether it belongs to the military, construction companies they will commandeer them. They are at this point in time empowered by law to utilize what’s available to them for rescue operations. And that’s what happened in 2018. On the 17th of September, the Director General of NEMA had to go to Lokoja with stakeholders and declared state of emergency in Kogi, Anambra, Delta, Niger, Adamawa, Kebbi, Rivers and Bayelsa states and they were able to mobilize resources anywhere they can get it.
NIHSA notifies relevant bodies on what to do. We can’t enforce, we can’t demolish houses, we can’t charge anyone or institution to court, the states and FCT have the facilities to do so.