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Can Lagos take the lead in redefining flood resilience governance in Nigeria?

In recent weeks, heavy rains and thunderstorms have caused widespread damage and flooding in many flood-prone communities of Lagos. Streets are getting flooded, property, including cars and other valuables are being submerged on a consistent basis while many residents are forced to flee their houses. With heavy and lengthy downpours being experienced daily, the only question that came to my mind is if Lagos residents are in for another year of persistent flooding, bearing in mind the number of lives that have been lost and thousands of families displaced over the years.

It is noteworthy that flood is a global phenomenon that causes widespread devastation, economic damage, loss of lives and property in many cities around the world. An example of such occurrence is the recent flooding in Germany and some European countries that has resulted in more than 120 lives lost with more than 1,300 people reportedly missing. This could be attributed to climate change, extreme precipitation, sea level rise and increased flood risks.

Read Also: Lagos flood: Why you may not claim on your comprehensive motor insurance policy

While some of the aforementioned factors are also applicable to flood occurrence in Lagos, however, the main cause of persistent flood occurrence in Lagos is basically man-made than natural. The reason for this is not far-fetched as the city is characterized by inadequate drainage system, settlement of new migrants on wetlands, haphazard physical developments, blockage of drainage channels by trash and solid waste, population growth as well as illegal erection of buildings and other structures. Furthermore, the advent of building developers in the construction industry who are expected to engage the services of certified professionals as consultants but failed to do so, largely due to an unhealthy profit motivation further compounds the impacts of flood in the city. Many of the buildings constructed by the so-called developers over the years could not stand the test of time as some of them have reportedly collapsed during and after construction due to downpours.

The Lagos State government in its effort to lessen the adverse impacts of flood has also explored removing people from dangerous, flood-prone lands, but the issues of possible eviction and relocation are highly controversial, with a high potential for conflict. Also, the recent effort by the state government to make Lagos sustainable, resilient through implementation of master plans and model city plans, seems to be theoretical and unrealistic with the majority of its population living in informal settlements and making their daily livelihoods through informality.

Another major problem inhibiting flood prevention and management in the state is the lack of synergy among the stakeholders involved. Despite the fact that there are many stakeholders involved (including private sectors and NGOs) in flood prevention in the state, the lack of synergy among the stakeholders made it difficult to operate in a coordinated manner for meaningful impact.

Consequently, the only meaningful flood preparedness plan in the state is limited to the forecasting, planning and awareness of flood occurrence through exclusive media channels, which are not necessarily reaching the poor people that are vulnerable to flood. On the other hand, the distribution of relief materials such as food items, blankets, mats and kitchen sets to flood victims dominates disaster response plans in the state. This process over the years has also been attributed with a series of allegations of relief materials being diverted by the officials in charge for their personal use. It is against this background that the writer seeks to draw the attention of the Lagos state government and other relevant stakeholders to radical ideas that require urgent incubation with a view to implementing sustainable and effective policies for flood resilience in the state and propelling Lagos into the enviable status of a 21st century megacity in intent, character and functionality. These ideas include:

Community-driven flood resilience action

It is essential for government, non-governmental agencies, community-based organizations and residents to join forces towards flood preparedness and mitigations activities in the areas of funding, staff development and technical assistance. This will enable and encourage community participation towards effective flood adaptation and reduction practices. Community participation will also strengthen social cohesion and cooperation within the community and society and provide opportunities for the integration of disaster management into the local development planning processes and systems.

Use of modern technology for effective flood preparedness

Simple techniques based on appropriate flood risk management concepts can save lives and reduce losses. These include the use of modern technology, which utilizes geospatial infrastructure to identify and map out areas prone to flooding and to inform appropriate action toward disaster preparedness, rescue, and recovery. This is more of a United Nations International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) concept of living with floods rather than fighting them.

Intensify level of flood awareness

Public information and enlightenment campaigns in print, electronic media and through community-based organisations (e.g. women and youth associations, neighbourhood organizations, market/trade and religious organizations) should be vigorously pursued. This will inculcate the culture of flood preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. In other words, both proactive and reactive approaches to advocated education are advocated for the realization of smart and resilient megacity.

Investment in critical infrastructure

As a result of continuous increase in the built-up surface and growing settlements in low-lying areas, the existing infrastructure in Lagos cannot cope with the run-off and water volumes it faces leading to frequent, localized flooding. This is evident in the recent flood occurrence that submerged many areas of Lagos like Lekki, Lagos Island, Ikorodu among others. This necessitates the need for the state government to invest in critical infrastructure such as roads and drainage systems for effective flood risk reduction in the state. Lagos presents a potential prototype to demonstrate how a smart, resilient and sustainable city can cope in the wake of persistent flood occurrence. But can the present administration led by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu take the lead in redefining flood resilience governance in Nigeria?

Dr Olasunkanmi, is a DAAD ClimapAfrica postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand. He tweets @sunkiehabeeb

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