Opinion: Flooding: Stop the blame game and build a dam! – By GREG ODOGWU
Three days ago, Nigerians were given a flooding “red alert” warning by the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency, the body set up by the government to provide services required for assessment of the nation’s surface and groundwater resources. It warned that, following the release of water from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, Edo, Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states should brace themselves for more flooding.
The situation is that the river flooding that occurred in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue and Kogi states will still find its way through these states before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
As he addressed the nation during a press conference, there was a way the Director General of the agency, Clement Nze, sounded, which made it clear that Cameroon was to blame for the oncoming flooding incident. He said that the Cameroonian authorities had breached an agreement entered with Nigeria in 2015 wherein they were to give prior notice to their neighbours before the release of excess water from the Lagdo dam.
The NIHSA boss claimed that the Cameroonian government ignored several letters requesting if it was going to release water, only to reply last week that it had been emptying the content of the Lagdo dam between October 10 and 31. This was (ostensibly) when it now dawned on the Nigerian government that the Cameroonian action was actually responsible for the recent devastating flooding in Adamawa, Benue and Kogi states. Hence, the warning that the downstream states of Edo, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Anambra would soon to be inundated.
The first reaction to this kind of national red alert status is a patriotic surge of sense of duty. Then followed by a simmering, but insidious, rage against the source of the disaster risk; in this case, our neighbour, Cameroon. Present global realities are indicative that climate change is now a source of major conflicts around the world. And, what we are presently witnessing between Nigeria and Cameroon at the Benue River basin has the making of a regional conflict. This is why we must put it in perspective in order not to be carried away.
The Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and Cameroon was signed in 2015 after the flooding disaster of 2012. The document was signed by the two countries on the management of water from Ladgo dam. Recall that release of water from the reservoir in Cameroon was one of the causes of flood that affected many states in Nigeria, leading to loss of properties, death and crisis of internally displaced persons that year.
Meanwhile, the NIHSA boss disclosed, this week, that the flood level on River Benue was 11.28 metres as against the nine meters in 2012 while the corresponding flood level downstream the confluence of the two rivers in Lokoja was 10.98 metres as against the 8.04 metres in 2012. This means that we could still have a repeat of the 2012 ecological disaster.
But before we start seeing our problem as that of a post-2012 phenomenon, we need to understand that it did not start today. The truth is that the almost annual flooding experienced in Nigeria following the release of water from the Lagdo dam could have been curtailed some 38 years ago had the Nigerian government been proactive.
In the year 1980, Nigeria and Cameroon reached an agreement to embark on a parallel dam development project. While the Cameroonian government built a dam on its side of the border, the Nigerian government was supposed to embark on a similar venture along the course of the river, ostensibly to contain the gushing water released upstream from Lagdo town and curb flooding and attendant destruction of property and loss of lives.
In 1981, a shock-absorber dam was designed. Tagged the “Dasin Hausa Dam,” the multi-purpose facility was, besides cushioning the effect of the Lagdo dam flooding, supposed to generate some 300mw of electricity and irrigate about 150,000 hectares of land (and provide crop tonnage of 790,000 tons in Adamawa, Taraba and Benue states). Similarly, it was meant to provide employment opportunities for 40,000 families and make available navigational route of the Benue River to the Niger Delta. The project site was the Dasin Village of Fufore Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
However, the Dasin Hausa Dam never happened. Since 1982 when the dam was built in Lagdo town on the Adamawa Plateau in the Northern Province of Cameroon along the course of the Benue River, lowland communities in north-eastern Nigerian states, especially those located downstream within the River Benue drainage basin, are usually flooded whenever water is released from the reservoir.
A lesson to be learnt from what happened this year is that when scientific studies and forecasts are made, a government that ignores it does so at its own peril. It will spend more resources to manage the outcome of the unwise decision it had taken earlier. A stitch in time saves nine. But sadly, it is always the citizens that bear the brunt.
This is why we have found ourselves where we are today. The Cameroonian government finished the construction of Lagdo dam in 1982, but Nigeria has yet to develop its own buffer dam as agreed. So, anytime the Cameroonian government wants to release water from the dam, they always alert the Nigerian government so as to evacuate people to avert casualty. But there is a limit to which such warnings could be useful. For instance, during the 2012 catastrophe, Cameroon alerted us on August 13, and opened Lagdo dam on the 14th.
Should we blame Cameroon? I think not. They, too, are under pressure. Climate change is harassing every country, and it takes a special grit to cope. We are not the only ones suffering from ecological disasters. In this same season, Cameroon has been hit by the 2012-type eco-tragedies, including a tragic landslide. Heavy rains and floods left at least 100,000 people homeless on both sides of the border between northern Cameroon and Chad. It was reported as the worst flooding in the area since 2012. The country’s military worked hard to evacuate those stranded by floodwaters in Kaikai, a northern Cameroonian village, where heavy rains poured ceaselessly, destroying houses and farms for over two weeks.
Over 40 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Bafoussam, Western Cameroon on October 29, while dozens others were reported missing following torrential rains, which caused the landslide. The landslide occurred around 9pm when most people were in their homes. It was estimated that at least 120 people live in the neighbourhood which was swept away by the floods.
While not holding brief for anybody, my point is that instead of whining, the Nigerian government should be scientific about its challenges. Only a shock absorber dam can do the magic we need in putting an end to the annual flooding nightmare. The present administration should dig up the file on the North-East buffer dam, review and update it to accommodate present realities. Indeed, some experts are of the opinion that only one buffer dam is not enough to contain excess water from Cameroon. There are now more villages along the Benue River basin and old ones are expanding. More importantly, we must digest the truth that climate change has come to stay. Punch
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