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Ignorance, disbelief, as Lagos issues flood alert

By Abimbola Adelakun

In The Bible, when Noah told his neighbours it was going to rain and they had better prepare to get into the ark and join him, they laughed in his face. A modern day replay of Noah’s experience might be gradually playing out in some Lagos communities, where residents are scorning the report that their communities are likely to be flooded this year.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency, in a rainfall forecast released early this week, said that as a consequence of global warming, the rain will be heavier and come in earlier this year, while cessation will be later than usual. According NIMET, some communities – Ikosi-Ketu, Mile 12, Agiliti, Thomas Laniyan Estate, Owode-Onirin-Agboyi, Owode Elede, Maidan and Isheri North scheme – are prone to heavy flooding.

This year’s rainfall is put at between 300-1100mm in the north and 1200-2700mm in the south. NIMET predicts that the rainfall level will have impact on the agricultural, infrastructural, hydrological and health sectors of the economy. It says that the possible effects are that dams are likely to overflow or collapse when there is excessive rainfall, leading to the displacement of farmers. It will also cause the collapse of bridges and failure of roads.

Also, the coastal marine sector may be affected by high rainfall, leading to coastal flooding and erosion, which may result in landslides, loss of lives and property. The act of dumping refuse and dirt into canals and drains, as well as the erection of buildings across or along water courses are likely to hinder free flow of runoff, thereby causing flooding.

When SATURDAY PUNCH visited communities like Ketu, Mile 12, Agboyi and Agiliti, the residents expressed ignorance of the NIMET report, even as they expressed disbelief that there was imminent flooding.

Just last year, some communities witnessed flooding that lasted for weeks during which people were trapped in their homes. The flooding, worsened by the opening of Oyan Dam, led to the evacuation and resettlement of some of those displaced.

The people of Agboyi told our correspondent that the community had existed for close to 200 years and they had seen the water level rise over the years. The town, accessed through a canoe ride over the river, which borders the place, has a rustic ambience. The residents narrated their experience of last year’s flooding, saying it was a very terrible time.

“It was a terrible time,” says a woman who describes herself as Iya Lati. “The whole town was very quiet because we all had to stay inside our homes. After the flood receded, my children were sick for a long time and took two pints of blood each. In fact, virtually everybody in Agboyi fell sick.”

Another resident, a fisherman called Sikiru says another flood is not possible so soon. He says he has lived his 40 years plus in the town and flooding is a part of their lives.

He says, “The kind of flooding that happened last year does so only once in a lifetime. I heard the story from my grandfather and I have never witnessed such before last year. The elders told us that it happens only once in a while and whatever report they release in Abuja is just a rumour.”

While the flood lasted, the people said they had to cope with the deluge by moving their household goods to the rafters and hanging things on the ceiling through ingenuity. The good thing, they all conceded, was that the community didn’t lose any life to the flood and there was therefore, no reason to fear.

A resident of Agiliti, Mrs. Taiwo Esan, said while the flood lasted, dead fishes and snakes entered into her residence and those who live in storey buildings moved upstairs. She hoped it would not happen again. This year, she has had a carpenter construct wooden stilts in her shop on which she would place the goods that are on the floor of the shop. According to her, the general belief is that the flood comes every three years and this time, she is better prepared to live with the situation. She said she would also be relocating her children.

Christ Arrival Church is built on the banks of the river and a step out of the church leads straight into the water. The resident pastor, Christopher Adanike, said that flooding would not happen because they would pray and see what God would do. He is not bothered by the proximity of the church to the water as a repeat of what happened last year would not happen again by God’s grace.

“With God, nothing is impossible,” he adds. “I have not heard of the NIMET report, but I know it will not happen. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

However, the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, says the people’s disbelief notwithstanding, the state government is on the top of the situation and will not be caught unawares, unlike the previous season. He says they are putting measures in place to stop the deluge.

He says, “You will recall that at the beginning of the rainy season in 2007, the rain came in torrents and this administration was confronted with the deluge of storm water run-off. The North-Eastern part of Lagos State was perhaps the worst hit with the tributaries of Ogun River causing the over 2800 hectares of the adjoining wetlands and flood plains to be saturated and heavily flooded. This challenge made Governor Babatunde Fashola to declare the battle for a flood free Lagos.”

Oke-Osayintolu says that the battle against flood has been won in many parts of Lagos and people can now they expect the rain without fear for loss of lives and property.

“In fact, if not for the efforts of this administration in the last four years in the area of drainage infrastructure, the unexpected rainfall intensity of last year would have led to a more serious havoc,” he add.

He gave a summary of storm water damage projects the agency has carried out till date, part of which include draining wetlands and deflooding some areas. He concluded that the state had come a long way in managing the battle against flood.

“An integral part of effective deflooding programme is constant drainage maintenance and constant de-silting which, like waste management and health care delivery, is a recurring decimal. To reduce drain blockages around the state, the Emergency Flood Abatement Gang was created in 2007 as a quick response squad or team to provide emergency services in cases of flood-related distress in Lagos State.”

He says there is not much to fear as EFAD undertakes the construction, re-construction or rehabilitation of drains, culverts, manholes including covers, inspection chambers conduit drains etc. where necessary and operates on the scheduled maintenance programmes in all Local Government Areas and local council development areas before, during and after the rainy season.

But he warned Lagosians to desist from blocking the drains with solid waste.

“Our wastes should be properly packed and disposed through the PSP waste disposal agents only and desist from dumping refuse in drains. Our drainages, lagoon, rivers, streams and wetlands must be kept clean of all forms of waste–solid, sewage, liquid, domestic or industrial. Lagosians should desist from building structures along the drain alignments or compromising drainage structures. The users of waterways should be more careful of excessive rainfall that can lead to high water level, greater turbulence and changes in shoreline depth. “Road users are advised to avoid high speed and maintain their vehicles. The residents and property owners along the banks and flood plains are advised to be very vigilant and raise the alarm in case of high rise in water level. They should immediately vacate the water path in case of heavy flooding, putting safety of lives before anything else. We urge all the residents in all the communities to move to higher grounds within the months of June to mid September and October to January because the capacity of most canals is not likely to contain the volume of run-off expected from the rainfall, thereby culminating in the crisis of flooding with immediate and remote consequences.”

One area where the people in the communities are likely to differ is the area of relocation. Mrs. Bilikisu Oguntola says that she has lived her whole life in her community and cannot imagine going elsewhere to escape the flooding of a river she has lived with since childhood. She says the river used to be a small one, which they passed on foot but now, as a result of environmental activities, which includes draining sand from the river, it has become widened and a threat to them. Yet, she and other old folks like her say they will not be moving for any reason.

Other people in the community, mainly younger ones, say they are ready to move, but the government must help them with relocation as they cannot afford to go elsewhere.

Saturday, 4 Jun 2011


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