[Analyses]–Our planet continues to face heightened threats and challenges ranging from malnutrition, hunger, drought, violence, terrorism and epidemics to land degradation, water pollution, flooding and global warming.
While some regions experience scanty rainfalls, others flood away in inundated rainwater. Lives and properties continue to be lost, threatening our hope of an inclusive and resilient world. In the last weeks, different cases of flood disasters were recorded in different places across the world. The telegraph reported that more than 1,200 people have lost their lives in the flood that swept cities across South Asia. About 30 people have died with up to $20billion in damages after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in Texas. In Makurdi, more than 100,000 people are now displaced courtesy of the latest flooding. Hurricane Irma continues to blow damages on the North American continent.
Nigeria (Makurdi, Benue State)
All within the past week. pic.twitter.com/YPwWYRYPKb
— SDGs (@SDGsSaturday) September 1, 2017
Flood disasters can reduce our chance of achieving the sustainable development goals by the set deadline. When a city floods, it affects the social, economic and environmental dimensions to sustainability: people are displaced, disease could break out, lives and infrastructure are lost, economic activities are halted, schools and health centres go under lock. In spite of this reality, sadly, Makurdi floods almost every year, same as low-lying coastal Lagos. Mumbai experienced standstill on 26 July 2005 due to a flood that killed over 1000 Indians and as flooded again. A similar case can be made for Houston. We are not new to these events, so why is it hard to manage – or even prevent – them?
Millions of children affected by flooding in South Asia. pic.twitter.com/xVzgWiWhfa
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) September 2, 2017
Aside the intensity and amount of rainfall, a study (pdf) conducted by Ahile and Ityaavyar revealed that lack of poor drainage networks, dumping of wastes/refuse in drainage and water channels, overflowing of river banks, low infiltration and climate change are factors that contribute to flooding. The study conducted in 2014 predicted that those living in floodplains areas will experience more devastating floods if proper measures are not put in place. The people living around Rivers Idye, Genebe, Urudu, Kpege and Kereke know they are prone to risk, yet they continue to stay due to family ties, cultural affinity, cheaper houses, being used to flooding and the nature of their occupation (farming and fishing).
Poor waste management practice is also a major factor that contributes to flooding. In Ibadan for example, about 70% of the refuse generated are disposed sporadically and indiscriminately on any available plots of land, sidewalks, roadways, streams, channels or drainage areas. This poor practice, according to a World Bank report on solid waste management in the city, often results in the clogging of waterways and drainage system leading to flooding and human health hazards. Construction and maintenance of proper drainage system therefore is a necessity if we will overcome this annual flood challenge. More efforts must be made to educate Nigerians on the implications of improper waste disposal and blocking of drainage systems. Proper channelization of water is a pressing need to prevent water overflow.
The federal government has set a special ecological fund in place since 1981 to cater for environmental challenges like floods, it is sad however that this fund is usually misused. Corruption stands in the way of Nigeria moving to a point where disasters are efficiently managed. “…We have been facing a lot in this place. Since when the government approved the contract [in February 2007] till this moment [in 2016] our situation has been worsening. People die, animals and our properties are carried away with the flood. We are not safe, we live in fear of the rainy season”, David, a resident of Anglo-Jos in Plateau state told a journalist during one of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting’s investigation of how Ecology Funds have been spent in north central Nigeria. It is commonplace to award contracts to ghost companies, companies that receive contract sums then abandon the project or use substandard materials so that the condition of the people become worse. The federal government is spending billions of naira yet people continue to die of flood disasters yearly. Proper monitoring, accountability and transparency on the part of the Ecological Fund Office are important when awarding contracts to forestall misappropriation and misapplication of the ecological funds.
As more people migrate to urban centres, natural resources will continue to be threatened. Currently, more than half of the world’s population resides in cities and towns. By 2030, the number of people living in urban areas will rise to 5billion. The number of people living in slums across the world is also increasing. Vegetations are being wiped out for human habitation. “As developers carved out new neighbourhoods, they sometimes overlapped or abutted the floodplain…roads, parking lots, homes and businesses covered over wetlands and prairies that absorb flood waters”, says this opinion article explaining how development in Houston has increased the risk of flooding. In order to forestall future devastating effects of flood, proper land use must be effectively planned. Ministries of urban and town planning must become more proactive in addressing urbanisation.
“What we need to do is identify those areas that are prone to flood. And we need to work to make sure we don’t develop those areas, and if we do have housing in those areas we may want to think about a buyout programme”, says Lisa Gonzalez, President and CEO of Houston Advanced Centre. Building structures inside floodplains increases flood risk as the degree of built up area limits infiltration and increase run off of water. Our approach must however change from eviction to participatory methods, as is used in Uganda (TSUPU), Kenya and South Africa. Restoration of the destroyed vegetative ecosystem should also be prioritised.
Now more than ever, we must work to build resilience against these floods and storms. So much has been lost already in persons and properties. Things cannot continue to get worse. We know the causes and we know what to do. Let us get to work already. The road to 2030 should not be a rough one; it should not involve leaving people behind to flood.
Toyib Aremu is a graduate student at the Centre for Sustainable Development in the University of Ibadan. He tweets @aremuoropoPlease Follow Us @ThePageNg