CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE FLOODING IN BAYELSA

Ifeoma Malo* and Nancy Okosun*

Climate change is a global problem, but its effects are felt mostly across developing sub-Saharan African countries that lack the resources to prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. This is certainly the case in Nigeria, where climate change has contributed severely to an increase in flooding. Some of the principal causes of flooding in Nigeria are rapid urbanization, poor spatial planning, and poor solid waste management, including drainage systems being used as dump sites.

In 2012, Rivers burst their banks and submerged vast lands in 30 states of Nigeria, and according to the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), over 400 people were killed and 1.3 million others displaced. The disaster resulted in an estimated N2.6 Trillion in damage.

Given the statistics of the 2019 flood damages in the country, the former Director General of NEMA Mohammed Mohammed revealed that 130,934 people were affected by the flood while 48,114 persons were displaced after about 29,356 houses were destroyed which led to the death of 126 people.

By 2020, the number of people affected by flooding rose to 2,353,647, resulting in the death of 69 people

The recent 2022 flooding has been significantly worse than usual and has left the country counting losses since early October, as over 2.5 million people are affected, some 1.3 million people have been displaced, and more than 200,000 homes have been destroyed with 2,407 injured, and 612 persons dead across the 25 states that are hard hit by the natural disaster. In addition, 176,852 hectares of farmlands were partially damaged while 392,399 hectares of farmlands were totally damaged. The government has said unusually heavy rains and Climate Change are to blame.

A major touch point for the disaster occasioned by the 2022 flood, is the flood damages witnessed in Bayelsa State. Bayelsa, in south southern Nigeria, is a coastal state located in the Niger Delta. The state has a total area of 10, 773 square kilometers and a population of about 1.7 million people. The climate of Bayelsa is tropical, with average annual temperatures ranging from 26 to 27 degrees Celsius. The state experiences two main rainy seasons — the early rains, which occur between March and May, and the late rains, which occur between September and November.

Over the years, Bayelsa has been hit hard by climate change. The state has experienced some of the worst floods on record. The heavy rains cause rivers to overflow their banks, damage homes, and infrastructure, and displace thousands of people.

Recently, the state has experienced an increase in floods, landslides, and coastal erosion as a result of rising sea levels and increasingly intense rainfall events. In addition, Bayelsa’s mangrove forests, which play an important role in protecting the coastline from erosion, have been severely degraded by over-exploitation and climate change. As a result of these environmental problems, in mid-October, the people of Bayelsa were faced with one of the most severe floodings the state has experienced with the water literally dividing the major roads into the state and leaving its inhabitants locked in.

There is a theory that the release of the Lagbo Dam of Cameroon and Nigeria’s failure to honor a long-standing agreement with Cameroon to build and complete the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa to cushion the effect of this release is the major cause of the sudden flooding in various parts of the country including Bayelsa, but this theory was debunked by The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu as he expressly stated while defending the 2023 budget of his ministry before the Senate Committee on Water Resources, that “Eighty percent of the flood is the water we are blessed with from the sky falling on Mambila and Jos Plateau, most of this flow is from Nigeria.” And only one percent of the flood is to be attributed to the release of the Lagbo Dam.

The combination of rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms has led to increased flooding. The situation has been made worse by the fact that much of the state is located in a low-lying region. In the aftermath of the flood, Bayelsa experienced a significant increase in malaria and cholera cases, the flood also destroyed crops and ruined drinking water supplies. Tens of thousands of people were left homeless and without access to basic necessities

For the 2022 flooding, an aggregate of over 300 communities and villages in the state have either been totally or partially submerged, with as many as 700,000 people either affected or displaced. This is the highest level of destruction the state has experienced so far as a result of flooding and it is still not conclusive as the state is still heavily flooded and more destructions are still being recorded, this has had a devastating impact on the state’s infrastructure, agricultural production, and human health.

The Nigerian government has been working through its National Emergency Management Agency to provide relief to those affected by the floods, but the scale of the disaster is so vast that it is difficult to reach everyone who needs help and it will take many months for the state to recover.

The Bayelsa state government has taken steps to avoid and combat these continuous flooding by establishing a commission to investigate the causes of the flood and make recommendations for preventing future disasters, the recommendations proffered so far include building new seawalls and levees, planting mangroves to protect against storm surge, and relocating communities at risk of flooding. With climate change only expected to worsen in the coming years, efforts in implementing these recommendations will be critical in protecting Bayelsa’s residents from the increasing threat of yearly flooding.

Communities and states can implement ecosystem-based solutions and awareness campaigns that could help prevent or mitigate these floods like reforestation in important river catchments, planting native vegetation on flood plains that have been claimed for cropping, and creating riparian buffers through vegetation, awareness raising, and education. The bulk of the work though lies with the Government.

The Nigerian Government can address the flooding menace and minimize its effect through a multi-pronged approach.

First, a combination of hard infrastructural solutions and ecosystem-based adaptation should be pursued. Examples include the construction of dams and reservoirs to hold excess water, riverbank protection, the construction of levees and spillways, appropriate drainage systems and stormwater management regimes, and the dredging of some of the major rivers in Nigeria. Of particular interest is the completion of the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State and the prioritization of an appropriate stormwater management regime.

The Country also needs to strengthen its regulatory, governance, and institutional capacity in the area of spatial planning, regional cooperation on transboundary water resources management, emergency response time, flood prediction, and enforcement of environmental and spatial planning laws. Building on flood plains must be avoided at all costs. Disaster risk communication and messaging need to also be strengthened to minimize flooding effects.

The Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, and the National Emergency Management Agency are all important institutions that the Government needs to provide resources and capacity to avert flooding in Nigeria.

In the meantime, the people of Bayelsa State are in desperate need of assistance. They have lost everything, and they face a long road to recovery. But with the help of the international community and swift action from the Nigerian Government, they will eventually rebuild their lives and their homes.

*Ifeoma Malo is the Co-Founder of Clean Technology Hub — the leading hybrid hub in West Africa — focused on research, innovation, and enterprise development in the energy access and climate change space

Nancy Okosun — is a Junior legal associate at Clean Technology Hub — a leading hub driving policy, innovation, and research on Energy Access and Climate Change across West Africa.

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