By Babatunde Jose
Man has been has been engaged in an endless struggle with nature since his emergence from the Garden of Eden. Nature eliminates the ‘less strong’ as per the ‘Survival of the fittest’ policy. One such ‘tough situation’ that man faces in life is natural calamities. They are also a wakeup call for mankind that ‘Judgement Day’ is near and its time we change our ‘habits’. One such deadly calamity is flood. Floods cause irreparable and immense losses. However, technological advancements have led to the development of early warning systems and improved disaster management techniques. Even then, floods occur because they are acts of nature.
Professor Jonathan Nott, a palaeohazards expert at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia says part of the problem is that we “continue to build in the path of floods,” regardless of history, and allow populations to increase in low-lying floodplains. While we are “very good at dealing with emergencies when they arise,” he says, “we are not so good at mitigating against disaster.” Especially in these parts of the world called Africa. We are a disaster as a people not to talk of the cursed leadership we have bestowed upon ourselves. We elect the motor garage touts to represent us in parliament; street urchins as special assistants to our leaders and certified con-men and known ‘area fathers’ as political office holders: People with questionable pedigree or ‘jagbajantis’, they have no mission in government or vision of a better society. All they care about are their pockets and their immediate wellbeing. Political ‘hushpuppies’; we can all be carried away by the flood waters as long as their homes on the hilltops are safe and their SUVs can wade through the flood. Their children do not school here so they are saved from the flood like Noah’s children in the Ark.
While other countries are daily developing devices to ameliorate the effects of floods and preventive measures to ensure minimal destruction of life and property, we here are aggravating our vulnetrability.
Yes, flooding is a natural phenomenon but with the march of science and visionary leadership, man has been able to reduce some of these tragedies. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. On the night of 1st August 1980, in Ibadan, Western Nigeria, the Ogunpa stream overflowed its banks. What a time for a river to overflow! The part of the stream that flowed behind my grandparents house at Oke Bola could not by any stretch of imagination be described as a stream not to talk of a river. It was normal for residents and people along its course to throw refuse into it. My Uncle and I had our table tennis on its bank which we played after school. Suffice to say that the main house, where my grandmother had lived with our late grandfather was a solid building with granite pillars. Ambassador Dapo Fafowora and his parents once lived there; it was in that same house that Pa Ogungbe and his children including the late dramatist Akin Ogungbe once lived. On that faithful day, evil struck and the Devil decided to drink water; the rains came in unprecedented torrents, flooding the river channel. By nightfall, the deluge had turned to a roaring flood that carried my grandmother’s house away. The neighbours in front of our house saved the day by ferrying Mama to safety. By daybreak Houses on the banks of the stream, now a roaring river had all disappeared including the warehouse of SCOA, the Peugeot dealership. It was a great tragedy that befell Ibadan. Unfortunately, there was no relief package despite all the promises of the UPN government of Bola Ige, and the promise of ‘Channelization of the Ogunpa River’. Fortunately my grandmother survived and lived to a ripe old age of 98 before her departure; but she lost her house and the pot of soup she just made! This case is axiomatic of the fate of our people. We are left to our doom without government coming to our aid. Therefore, when disaster of nature comes, we are all on our own.
Great floods have been experienced in the past and they have been a lesson for the countries where they happened and a footstool for eventual fight against flood disasters; but not here in this clime.
St. Lucia’s Flood, affected Netherlands and North Germany on December 12, 1287. It caused the death of 70,000 people. Places like ‘Friesland’ got permanently flooded. The flood brought direct sea access to the village of Amsterdam and this led to the development of Amsterdam into a major City of canals and dykes.
St. Felix’s Flood Netherlands happened on November 5, 1530: A day which came to be known as ‘Evil Saturday’. Most parts of Flanders and Zeeland were washed away. More than 120,000 people were killed.
Hanoi and Red River Delta Flood, North Vietnam – 1971: The Red River Delta flood affected North Vietnam on 1st Aug, 1971 and killed more than 100,000 people. This event marked the century’s most serious weather events throughout the world. The fact that this calamity took place during the Vietnam War doubled its effect. After this flood, efforts were put in to stop a disaster of such huge magnitude in the future by building dams and creating artificial river tributaries. It also contributed to the quick end of the war.
The Yangtze River Flood, 1935 was one of the worst disasters that China has ever experienced: The biggest incident to happen across the River Yangtze. The Yangtze River is the longest River in Asia and the third longest river in the world. It is the main source of irrigation, transport and sanitation for China. It also has The Three Gorges dam built across it which produces most of China’s power. It happened at a time when there was turmoil, chaos and ‘disaster’ spread throughout the world. It killed around 145,000 people, injured a few millions and left lots of people homeless. The after-effects of this catastrophe were so dreadful that the people who survived this disaster were killed due to hunger. While others died as a result of dreadful diseases which were spread throughout China. Before it, were the 1931 China floods or the Central China Floods: considered the most devastating among all other disasters in the world; It included a series of floods back to back resulting in the death of around 4 million people. Several animals and cattle were killed as well. This flood affected over 25 million people and drowned around 200,000 who were in their sleep. Millions died due to water borne diseases (Cholera, Typhoid), cases of infanticide and cannibalism were reported. Men did everything they could to earn money after losing their source of livelihood: This also included selling their wives and children!
This was the most deadly disaster and sent a warning to all the countries round the globe to set up an Efficient Disaster Management system and be prepared for the worst.
But have we as a people learnt any lesson from the frequent floods that visit our clime? Flooding has sacked countless cities and communities in our country, sometimes leading to the closure of schools; what have we done to obviate such calamities? The people of Lokoja would have stories to tell and also people of Makoko.
The 2012, Nigeria floods began in early July killing 363 people as of 5 November 2012. According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states were affected by the floods. The floods were termed as the worst in 40 years, and affected an estimated seven million people. The estimated damages and losses caused by the floods were N2.6 trillion. But, did it teach us any lesson?
Buildings without approvals, building on flood plains, building across drainage channels and other forms of urban rascality coupled with the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards early warning systems, disaster prevention and management. A good case to epitomise this abhorrent attitude of government is the flooding on Ojo-Giwa Street in central Lagos, where we have the Central mosque of our Islamic Movement. I have known the place being flooded since 1963 when my brother and I attended Arabic lessons during our second term vacation. The flooding of the area has grown progressively worse over the decades, begging the question; if there was a government in Lagos. The Central Mosque is today a disaster awaiting a little push.
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend