In June of 2017, disasters, formed as floods, struck Lagos twice in the space of a few weeks. The low-lying-but-really-wealthy Lekki Axis suffered inputs from the severe downpours that lasted a for couple of days coupled with inputs from the rising tides of the Atlantic Ocean, resulted in severe flooding that rendered what was estimated to be in the range of thousands, temporarily homeless.
Environmentalists and a few other people (a lot of them from insurance companies because flood protection is a policy they try to sell you on, hope you meet the premiums, but also hope you never need) were able to recognise the floods for what they actually were – natural disasters, while to others, they were just floods; the rain fell and it fell too much for too long. It was just flood and it was just Lekki. Two weeks later, it happened again but this time in Sango, on the other side of the map. It was just Sango and it was just flood. Then Niger State went under and most recently, Benue State’s capital, Makurdi has gone to find it. To even follow after, I predicted the next to follow in that line would be somewhere in Kogi and two days later, the floods came. Again, recently, Owerri was the one to suffer. Again, it was just floods; we’d get up, dust or wring ourselves out and move on until next time.
To get the obvious out of the way, shall we all just quickly blame it on global warming so we can move along?
Good. So what’s next? Which city will be next to be submerged in this peculiar case where we suffer this hard to treat disease and are left struggling to deal with treating the symptoms it presents rather than curing the root cause? Its September already so flood seasons should traditionally be rounding up by now – if it were about twenty years ago. We have seen rains in ordinarily dry months like November and December for successive years; going by the definition of a climate being the average weather conditions in a region over a long period, it is almost like the climate has changed. It will not be out of place to expect that the floods would be over for the year but, I would expect at least one more flood on the disaster scale before the end of the year. While raising the point of Flood Risk Management would be a good point at a time like this, where’s Bet9ja when you need them anyway?
Acknowledging the pains and suffering of people in other flood hit regions of the world, from Sierra Leone to Texas and Florida, while India goes through its annual routine of the Monsoon Floods. Speaking about meteorology anyway, we ought to consider NiMet – Nigerian Meteorological Agency and its role in flood risk management.
Flood risk management itself isn’t exactly a topic that has hidden so much within its essence that it requires a lot of explanations. The simple idea is to use available geographical, meteorological and climatic data to make assertions that have the advantage of reducing the deleterious effects of floods on human settlements and societal wellbeing. It is simply reduced to the questions: “is it going to flood? If yes, at its worst, how bad is going to be? And who/what is going to be affected?” and the first stage of any task that is hinged on the use of data is accurate and efficient collection – the role of NiMet as would be considered shortly. After the 2015 Yorkshire floods in the UK and increasing events of flash-floods in the American eastern seaboard, improved versions of the practise, doctored to suit the environments in which they were deployed have been widely adopted to reduce the damage done by floods to life around these affected areas. Compared with costs of over £500m in Yorkshire in 2015, losses suffered in 2016 were remarkably less coming in at around £250m according to the Yorkshire City Council even if the storms were arguably heavier. While it might be slightly more difficult to estimate exactly how much in losses have been suffered by flood hit cities in Nigeria, the above mentioned are famous examples of instances where the practice has been used in the development of lasting systems and strategies that work to proactively protect lives, businesses, property while the floods continue to occur. However, considering a possible equal liability scenario between Yorkshire, Lekki and Sango alone, the fact that £500m is about N250bn naira today gives an idea of just how much losses these floods can bring in devastation
Meteorological agencies within any well-meaning country are reasonably the primary sources of information and the first line of defence against natural weather events ranging from regular rains and sunny weather to floods, thunderstorms, droughts, extreme tides, etc. The almost entirely predictive nature of their responsibilities means they, charged with the task of early detection, provide warnings on the possible coming of these events. In economic sectors like agriculture where the availability of adequate rainfall or the coming of a flood goes a long way in determining farmers’ and investors interests and even affecting food security; or other sectors such as construction, insurance and commerce where their calculations and predictions help determine what should be expected and how much in investment might be required in the course of the year to prevent extreme losses, the services of agencies like these are often more important than many people realise.
In modern days with the pressing nature of the problem that is global warming especially as it possesses a proven potential to escalate weather events towards hazardous levels, the need to deploy every possible system available in our inventory to protect ourselves, our healthcare, our economy from the negative impacts of global warming, is in fact a necessity. NiMet is one of Nigeria’s versions of this institution, and understandably should be at the frontlines of our struggles against global warming and keeping up with other weather and climate related events. However, NiMet is an agency that only exists as a diminutive body in the shadow of the gravity of its own expectations. It is in dire need of urgent attention and massive all round overhaul if it is to come to speed with the realities of its role in today’s Nigeria – “today’s Nigeria” because a comparison with the “global society at large” would be in all fairness, expecting too much and setting oneself up to be disappointed.
The agency, on the face of it, may be thought to be an obvious partner with other agencies like the Fed. Min. of Environment especially in coordination with the Dept. of Climate Change; the Min. of Agric.; the Min. of Urban and Regional Planning to mention a few. However, there exists a glaring disconnect between the expectations and the reality when these organisations are considered. NiMet today seems like a body that is still in existence because it has to be and not because it fulfils a greater purpose. The agency itself has since 1987, been placed under the Fed. Ministry of Aviation where it is more or less an entity under the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) through which it acts as a weather monitoring outfit for the airports authority and sources its funding from the national budget.
It might be unfair to compare NiMet with other agencies around the world like the BBC or the tens-of-billions-of-dollars budget NASA or NOAA who sport all sorts of advanced infrastructure like weather satellites in space and can monitor everything from brewing storms, wind-speeds, temperature variation, pollutant gas concentration, volcanic events in the most remote regions, to possible seismic activity all in real time. Honestly, we would just like to know if it’s going to flood so we can begin early preparations but apparently, the best NiMet can do at this time, is work as an airport agency and occasionally give weather forecasts on NTA offering suggestions about ambient temperature and the possibility of rain. Issues like details about how long storms are expected to last, intensity, the volume of storm water expected as it is through data like this that one might deduce and differentiate heavy rains from one that might possibly cause a flood in a few hours; the kind of information which if made available a few days early could have saved lives and property from Lagos to Niger to Kogi to Benue and Niger again.
Unfair to compare with the more developed systems but it should be done anyway to depict just how far off the mark our NiMet might be and just how much more it might need to do. In the weeks leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, there had been long weeks of information being disseminated while the development of the hurricane was being tracked.
The hurricane classification [hazard level on a 1-5 scale; level 4], wind speeds [30 mph – 130 mph], expected volume of storm water [125 trillion litres], the direction of the hurricane [westwards entering the Texan mainland], pressure variations, the implications and hazards to property, infrastructure and health and even after the hurricane passed, post impact assessments still continued to show just how much the local environment had been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
As one fascinating piece of evidence, it was shown that the storms were so intense in the period of the hurricane that the sheer volume of water involved caused the earth’s crust to sink by some 2cm closer to the core. Due to the penetration of western media and their news outlets, pictures like those below were available all around the world. It is Hurricane season in the US and the situation has to be dealt with virtually every year. As of today, Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Irma and Maria are both being tracked with similar attention to detail.
The day before the flood in Kogi, the tweet below links to a YouTube video of the NiMet organised weather forecast, the tweet after it, described what would become a flood enough to ground the city of Lokoja, as “an isolated thunderstorm”.
Between 2014 and 2016, over N1.6bn has been budgeted on the procurement of “air navigational equipment”, research and development. With the budget of almost a billion in 2016, it might be difficult to assert that NiMet as it stands today is underfunded but considering the gravity of the agency’s responsibility, that assertion might not be far off. Still, I would not put it out of the agencies reach to infer that with all its funding, it googles weather forecasts like the rest of us and spends very little otherwise in way of studying our weather and atmospheric conditions with any aims that have any practical application.
More recently and probably most grievously, the appointment of a non-professional as the Director of the agency has induced a scandal that has seen labour organisations rise up to repudiate the development. the appointment of a non-professional to a position of such critical nature does raise concern not only for the efficient running of the agency but also about the calibre of recruits that make up the bulk of the agency.
Shoddy politics, racketeering, a lack of focus to mention a few are parts of the reasons why an agency that ordinarily should be one of the strongest institutions aiding protecting lives, property and determining the progress of the country has been relegated to the ranks of a third rate weather app that functions almost entirely as an ineffective weather monitor for an airport. A lot would need to be done to revamp this agency if any progress is going to be made in its effort to carry out its modern day tasks. In my opinion, moving the agency from the Ministry of Aviation and embedding them within select Universities around the country, substantially increasing their budgets and sharing the funds appropriately would be an incredible way to breathe new life into and repurpose this agency. In addition to budgeted funds, Universities might also embark on fundraising campaigns to deliver even more value than the agency can under the auspices of the FMOA. The proximity to institutions of research and higher learning also allows for an added value of progressive propensity for atmospheric and climate research and the development of capable human capital in the field of meteorology which reduces the possibility of a pseudo-qualified non-professional finding their way into the driving seat of such an esteemed and vital agency. Alternatively, and understanding the pressing nature of their responsibilities, like many other meteorological agencies around the world, NiMet ought to be granted its own independence and held accountable for its own achievements and inefficiencies. Compared with the billion naira display of negligence that the agency is today, ensuring that there is sustained communication between airports and the proposed universities might be a trivial issue in this age of the internet thus rendering the “proximity to airports” argument moot.
Too much has already been lost with the future looking increasingly uncertain under this situation. If we can’t institute change because it saves lives and property or even because it’s the right thing to do in our present circumstance, at least do it because it saves money.