Friday, November 9, 2012

Nnimmo Bassey, FoEI Chair, says Nigeria floods manmade


Port Harcourt : Nigeria | Oct 17, 2012 at 5:58 AM PDT
By AkanimoReports

NNIMMO Bassey, Chair of the Friends of the Earth International (FoEI),
a global federation of environmental rights advocacy groups, and the
Executive Director of the foremost environmental rights group in
Nigeria, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), has sharply disagreed with
the authorities on the current flood ravaging parts of his country.

The flooding that has been on in recent months has however, been
characterized by government and public functionaries as a ''natural
disaster''. But the FoEI and ERA boss does not agree with this

In an explosive online encounter with AkanimoReports on Wednesday,
Bassey said, ''our summation is that the disaster is man made and must
be recognized as such''.

The rest of his views went thus: ''The floods are primarily a result
of very poor management of the dams in both Nigeria and Cameroon. If
we agree with this position, it should also be agreed that the
prescription of more dams would mostly be to open up space for
enterprises whose business is the building of dams or the production
of materials, like cement, used in building dams. More dams will
simply mean more trouble. Dams are not the solution to the flooding we
are seeing in Nigeria today. They caused it.

''How do we reach this conclusion? The dams that are most culpable in
this disaster are the Lagdo dam in Northern Cameroon and the Kainji
dam in Nigeria. Although there is no definitive information about when
water was released from Kainji and possibly other dams in Nigeria, it
is believed that some of the floodwaters have come from these sources.

''The warning about the impending release of water from the
Cameroonian authorities may have come rather late, but it at least
offered some people a chance to relocate or take some of their
properties out of the path of destruction.

''On the Nigerian side, there was no warning and all the blame keeps
being studiously heaped on the Lagdo Dam. However, it is clear that
the water from the Lagdo Dam would first impact River Benue and then
the water would join up with the River Niger at the confluence town of
Lokoja. The flooding reported in Kwara State, for example, cannot be
attributed to the release of water from the Lagdo Dam. We do not need
to deploy some sleuths to identity the culprit/ collaborator: Nigerian

''One big failure of the relevant agencies of the Nigerian government
in handling this disaster,which the president says has displaced 25%
of the Nigerian population, is that they failed to warn downstream
communities that the floodwaters were headed to the Atlantic Ocean and
would sweep over everything on its path. It is truly mindboggling that
this could not have been known. It is unacceptable that the flooding
of Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and other states could not have been
foreseen and the people warned before the deluge swept in.

''The River Niger runs from Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria
before discharging its waters into the Atlantic Ocean. The Kainji dam,
built in 1968, has a capacity of 15 billion cubic meters covering an
area of 1270 sq. kilometres.

''Much of its waters arrive at the dam in July and in December each
year. As with other dams, Kainji dam has inbuilt discharge sluices. In
addition the dam was built with some draining channels to help
regulate the volume of water without its mounting to disastrous levels.

''According to a source quoted by Sunday Trust, an Abuja based
newspaper October 7, 2012, 'the excess water discharged from this dam
account for over 80 per cent of the flood being experienced today at
the lower River Niger. The blockage of the natural channel is making
the situation critical. There is nothing we can do to control the
situation. In fact, should the dam receive any additional water within
this rainy season, worse disaster will be recorded. The pressure on
the dam is at its peak now. Anything could happen'.

''The report further notes that the natural drainage channels have
been blocked for five years now and no action has been taken by the
Ministry of Power to reopen them. If this is true, we can see that
this is an additional cause of the flooding being experienced. The
drainage provisions in the dam are meant to help control the level of
water in the dam during the peak inflow periods. Where the channels
are not in service the waters simply keep accumulating and the end
result could be a collapse of the dam''.

Ques: What must be done to avert further disasters and to avoid
compounding the current one?

Bassey: ''Besides all possible lines of action, there is the primary
need for government to recognize climate change as an urgent justice/
security issue. What we are witnessing now is a foretaste of what
would happen when unusual rains and other weather events kick in more

''Multi agencies and stakeholders actions are needed to curtail or
avoid the sort of impacts of flooding we are seeing. While the
Ministry of Works should ensure the building of resilient shoreline
infrastructure, for example, it is essential for the Ministry of
Environment to urgently facilitate the setting up of climate crises
committees in coastal communities. These committees would harness
community resources towards adaptive actions and also provide
guidelines as to where buildings, sewage infrastructure may be
constructed. These planning regulation duties would help inculcate in
the people a sense of disaster preparedness while building more
resilient communities.

''A cursory look at many buildings in the flood prone areas shows that
the ground floor level of the buildings are either at the same level
as the adjoining roads or even below them. Such buildings are
extremely flood prone in normal circumstances and stand no chance at
all when the water levels rise to the rooftop levels we now see. The
method and materials used in building construction also gives an
indication as to what the owners of such buildings would expect to see
when the flood waters ebb.

''The issue of elevation of building floors also pertains to the
elevation of roads. Large sections of the new lane of the East West
Highway are far below the level of the existing lane. Thus as the
flood waters arrived, the sand filled but yet to be paved areas were
quickly washed away.

''We recommend that all dams in and around the nation must be reviewed
for structural integrity as well as for adequacy of maintenance
routines. If the floods are caused by inadequacy of the number of dams
then the new dams should be upstream of the current ones. That would
conceivably place those new dams outside the borders of Nigeria. Thus
new dams are not the solution to this deluge.

''The engineering corps of the Nigerian military should be drafted
into emergency restoration of damaged infrastructure. They should also
be empowered to urgently commence preparations for post flood
restoration interventions. The Nigerian architects, engineers and
builders should step in at this time to provide voluntary services
just as the medical professionals are doing.

''In conclusion we reiterate that this flooding is a man-made disaster
and creating more incentives for future disasters is not acceptable.
We also repeat that the management of the dams is the major culprit.
In addition climate change is a real partner. Both are man-made,
cannot be taken as so-called acts of God and must be appropriately
addressed. Otherwise we would literally make our people the damned''.

AkanimoReports is based in Port Harcourt, Rivers, Nigeria, and is an
Anchor for Allvoices.

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