Nigeria: How Poor Infrastructure Worsened Flood Disasters in States Across Nigeria

Farmers and residents said they were warned about the flood this year, but that they never thought the volume of water they had experienced this year would be that destructive.

In the last week of October, under the full glare of the afternoon sun, Bala Gombe and other farmers struggled to clear off remnants of crops destroyed by flood along the River Benue valley of Dasin Hausa community in Fufore Local Government Area of Adamawa State.

Dressed in an off-white caftan, Mr Gombe said he planted rice and maize on 2-hectare farmland by the river bank but could not harvest a single grain from any of these crops due to the flood disaster.

“All I need now is assistance if I can get it, to prepare for the dry season farming, ” the farmer said, wiping simmering sweat off his face.

“The flood this year started in July, and it washed away a part of my farm. I was still trying to fix the damages before the discharge of water from the Cameroon Lagdo dam, and then everything was washed off completely,” he added.

The father of nine lamented that the farm is his only source of livelihood, noting that his only hope of making money from harvest has been cut shut by the flood disaster.

“I do harvest up to 75 to 100 bags of grains from this farm annually, but everything is gone. If the flood had delayed for like two weeks, many of us here would have harvested what we planted, but that was not the case. We lost everything,” the farmer said.

Flood disaster

Between September and October, floods disrupted many communities across Nigeria’s 36 States as hundreds of villages and urban centres were submerged in water. According to official statistics, the flood disaster unsettled over 2.4 million people, and over 600 fatalities were recorded within this period.

Similarly, expansive hectares of farmlands across affected states were swept off. While many Nigerians described the flooding incident as the worst aftermath of climate change Nigeria has witnessed since the nation recorded a similar disaster in 2012, environmentalists argued that the impact of the floods would have been minimal had the necessary infrastructures needed to control floods across zones in the country been properly maintained by the government.

During a visit to Adamawa in late October, one of the most affected states in Nigeria, residents told PREMIUM TIMES that the worst hit is mostly residents of agrarian communities hosting major tributaries of the Benue River that cuts across seven of the 21 local governments in the State.

According to the official tallies of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) zonal office in Adamawa state, within three months (July to September) when rainfall was at its peak, 12 LGAs were submerged. Within this period, 82, 730 residents across 117 communities in these LGAs were affected, 13,788 households got damaged, 51 people got injured and 27 deaths were recorded. Farmlands worth billions of naira were equally destroyed, official figures show. Affected LGAs include; Song, Fufore, Demsa, Lamurde, Girei, Madagali, Shelleng, Numan, Yola North, Yola South, Jada and Guyuk, NEMA said.

This newspaper observed that the flood disaster that struck the state was mostly aggravated by the poor management of drainage pathways and failure to dredge major rivers and tributaries across farm settlements in the state.

Poor Infrastructure

Over the past decade, like many parts of Nigeria, Adamawa has continued to experience annual flooding during rainy seasons but many residents and government officials who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in October lamented the devastating impact and intensity of the flood in 2022.

Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) conducted a “disaster risk management analysis” and advised all concerned Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to take some proactive steps ahead to mitigate the impact of the climatic conditions as predicted by NIMET.

In one of its recommendations, the agency advised that water bodies across some states be desilted and dredged regularly to make water available for various purposes. Likewise, the agency urged the relevant institutions to carry out routine monitoring of dams and water bodies so that their operation rule curve for the reservoirs is adhered to.

But PREMIUM TIMES found that this is not the case across all the worst-hit communities in Adamawa State. During a visit to some of the affected communities in October, it was observed that the flooding was triggered by the overflowing River Benue that cuts across Fufore, Yola South, Numan, Yola North, Girei, Demsa and Lamurde LGAs with major tributaries in Guyuk and Shelleng LGAs.

At Demsa, Numan, Lamurde, Furore and Girei LGAs, our reporters observed that all the major points of the River Benue close to farmlands and communities have not been desilted over the past twenty years, likewise their tributaries across major settlements in the State.

As a result of this, amidst the increase in rainfall and the subsequent release of the Lagdo dam water by the Cameroonian authorities, the depth of the river and surrounding tributaries and drainages could not accommodate a significant volume of the water which flowed into surrounding communities and expansive farmlands.

Aside from farmlands that were washed off by the flood, overflowing water also swept off major roads linking villages and communities just as it destroyed bridges and many homes across these LGAs.

Affected farmers and residents who spoke with our reporters said the impact of the flooding would have been minimal had the government across all levels been proactive by building the necessary infrastructures across flood-prone areas in the state.

Contrary to claims that the flood across states in the country is majorly caused by climate change, the Executive Secretary of Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency (ADSEMA), Muhammed Suleiman, noted that had the Nigerian government desilted and dredged existing waterways in the country, the flood impacts would have been minimal.

“… By the time you are able to manage the flood here in Adamawa State, it is like you have been able to solve 30 to 40 per cent, if not more, of flood menace in Nigeria. I can assure you that. It may be capital intensive but it is worth it that the government should close its eyes and do that,” the ADSEMA official said.

He said building a buffer dam and desilting the rivers in the state will not only curb the annual flooding ravaging the state but that it has many economic benefits to the government.

Mr Suleiman said if a buffer dam is built, it can be used for so many things; irrigation farming and fishing among many other benefits.

“If we desilt the River Benue, a lot of our heavy goods would be shipped through the water, thereby saving distractions, theft and armed robbery among others on the road,” he said.

On his part, Elijah Tumba, the state commissioner for Reconstruction Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Humanitarian Services, said the flood in the state washed off some federal government roads and bridges along Mubi and Madagali roads as if they never existed.

“The effect is massive. People’s livelihoods have been affected,” he said, noting that the flood disaster is something that can be forestalled through the collaboration of the government and vulnerable communities.

“If they are aware that things like this could happen, response plans can be put in place.”

Warnings

The Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) collated by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) released on 12 May alerted the public of incoming floods.

It hinted that 233 LGAs across 32 of Nigeria’s 36 States including the Federal Capital Territory are within highly probable flood-risk areas, while 212 LGAs in 35 States of the Federation are within moderately probable flood-risk areas.

In the report, it was predicted that coastal flooding is expected in States such as Rivers, Delta, Lagos and Bayelsa due to the rise in sea level and tidal surge which could impact fishing, habitation and coastal transportation.

“Flash and urban flooding may occur in some locations such as Lagos, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Ibadan, Benin City, Asaba, Warri, Onisha, Port-Harcourt, Kaduna, Sokoto, Yola, Abakaliki, Birnin-Kebbi, Makurdi and other major cities as a result of poor drainage management,” the report noted.

Farmers and residents said they were warned about the flood this year, but that they never thought the volume of water they had experienced this year would be that destructive.

“We were warned that they would be flooding by the government and even by international non-governmental organisations and were advised on what to plant, when to plant and how to plant. Authorities of the Cameroon lagdo dam too used to inform us whenever they wanted to release water from the dam, so we had no fatalities but farmlands were washed off massively,” Shittu Ahmadu, Dasin Hausa Community Village Head said.

Silted rivers

In Bauchi and Yobe States, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter observed how rivers are mostly silted and the development leads to the overflow of water into farmlands.

“If you look at this river channel, it goes up to the river but because it’s not deep here, the water inside always overflows into our farmlands,” Matawallen ‘Ba’ba, a commercial farmer in Kirfi area of Bauchi told PREMIUM TIMES. He said the river channel usually overflows because “it has been silted with sand and grasses.”

The Speaker of Bauchi State House of Assembly, Sulaiman Abubakar, who is also a farmer, told PREMIUM TIMES in Bauchi that the state needs a new dam to contain various water channels and “unguarded rivers”.

“Let me emphasise the need for Kafin Zaki dam. Everyone knows there has been this agitation for this dam which started during Shagari but unfortunately some people, especially those from Yobe State, are against it,” he said.

“I believe if we had this dam, this flooding would not have been as severe as it’s now because the water flow would be controlled by the dam.”

An environmentalist, Ibrahim Kabir, who is also the director-general of the Bauchi State Environmental Protection Agency(BASEPA) re-echoed the speaker’s position and added that most of the rivers in the North-west and North-east are silted.

He believes the silting was a combination of several factors that constantly leads to flooding.

“If you want to relate it to climate change; it is when the environment becomes a little bit warmer, you know we’ve some ice bags in the oceans (and) the ice will start melting. So, the oceans would naturally empty their water into our rivers and you know our rivers especially in Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa, Kano and other states are mostly silted with sand and even grasses that block the water corridors at the river banks,” he said.

Mr Kabir added that when the water corridors are blocked and the river is silted, the water overflows to the farmlands and houses around. He also said lack of infrastructure to contain water is one of the reasons for flooding.

“The reality is that we lack the infrastructure to receive the torrential rainfall we receive and sometimes we don’t have sustainable watershed management across our water corridors. When you look at activities at the river bank of Hadeija-Jamaare River Basin it sometimes triggers floods,” Mr Kabir said.

Food impact

Due to the impact of the flood, residents and affected farmers say there would be a shortage of food supply this year in the northern states and other parts of the country.

“Within the past over three to four years, as a result of insecurity, many people from affected regions in the north have come to farm and to buy foodstuffs in Adamawa State, but with this present situation we are likely going to face massive food insecurity,” Mr Suleiman said.

In what he described as the “3As”– Availability, Accessibility and Affordability–of assessing food during an emergency period, the official explained that foodstuff is difficult to access in affected areas.

Nigeria has in recent years struggled to contain its food inflation rates and galloping levels of food insecurity. With over 270,000 farmlands destroyed as a result of the flood experienced so far, analysts say that food insecurity may worsen in the coming months.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), about 70 per cent of people nationwide live below the poverty line. The WFP also noted that over 3 million people are internally displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States due to the spate of insecurity ravaging the states.

“In addition, Nigeria is also subject to periodic droughts and floods. This has had an adverse impact on agricultural output and increased the vulnerability of populations, especially in rural areas,” the WFP said.

Crop farmers lament

The Dasin Hausa community is an agrarian community in Fufore Local Government Area in Adamawa State, and it is one of the most affected communities ravaged by the flood incident that occurred this year. The community is less than 45 kilometres away from Yola, the state capital. Residents of the community are largely fishermen and farmers who grow rice and maize year-round. Many of them have their farms situated near the River Benue river for ease of irrigating their farms.

However, many of the farmers who planted rice, maize and other vegetables along the River Benue valley lost all their crops to the deluge.

Ali Goje, 55, is a farmer and resident of the Dasin Hausa community in Fufore LGA. Between September and October, the flood disaster exacerbated by the release of overflowing water from the Lagdo dam in Cameroon washed off his two-and-a-half hectares of rice and maize farm.

“The flood destroyed both the maize and the rice farm I cultivated,” Mr Goje said, keeping a straight face with a stern look. The farmer who was seen tilling the debris deposited by the flood said he is preparing the soil for the dry season farming.

“As you can see, the flood has destroyed everything on my farm. I came to gather the remnants because I want to begin dry-season farming. I don’t have food, and even as I am preparing this place now I have no money because I hope to plant onions and maize for the dry seasons,” the farmer said.

Aside from Messrs Gombe and Goje, dozens of farmers interviewed were seen carrying out land preparation for the dry season at Furore LGA to recover all they have lost to the disaster.

Expansive farmlands across both sides of the River Benue valley were all affected by the floods causing residents and farmers to lament over the scarcity of food.

Many of the affected farmers within the community said they were anticipating having a bountiful harvest but unfortunately, they could not harvest anything from their farms this year due to the flood.

“The reality on the ground is that the flood has damaged our crops and there is no food at the moment,” Mr Goje said.

Food scarcity lingers

The food inflation rate in November stood at 24.13 per cent on a year-on-year basis, 6.92 per cent higher compared to the rate recorded in November 2021 (17.21 per cent). Analysts fear that the long-term impact of the flood may worsen a bad situation. Although the water in submerged farmlands has receded substantially as the dry season sets in across northern states, the impact of the flood on livelihoods, farmlands, buildings, roads and bridges remains.

In parts of Lamurde, Demsa, and Girei LGAs, farmers who planted their crops around the river valleys recounted their losses as expansive farmlands across communities of the aforementioned LGAs were all swept off by the flood.

“There is already food insecurity within the community. The food we planted has been destroyed by the flood,” a farmer, Ahmadu, said.

The Village Head said people from far away are coming to source food in the community already and that the possibility of food inflation in the coming months is not negotiable.

“There will be food scarcity. The prices of foodstuffs have increased already,” he added.

In the midst of these, Mr Ahmadu said they are now encouraging farmers to take advantage of the dry season to recover their losses. To mitigate the imminent food insecurity in their community, the village head said they would appreciate it if they can get support in the form of improved seed varieties, fertilisers and water pumps for irrigation

On his part, Andrew Bagari, Bajea community Village Head in Lamurde LGA, lamented the impact of the development on farming practices in the communities.

“Many farms were destroyed. Rice, soya beans, maize, and so many other things were destroyed. A lot of difficulties this time around especially for people that were close to the water,” he said.

“The government should have thought about setting up structures where displaced persons will live for the time being. But people are now camped in the neighbourhood. We faced a very big problem.”

“It’s a serious issue. We need help urgently. There is hunger in town, especially with the arrival of displaced persons. We didn’t get any help from the government. No one came to check on us whether from the local, state, or federal government. We are asking God to make it easy for us.”

***This investigation was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative.

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