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Nigerians still inadequately sensitized about climate change – Expert laments

Climate Change

In February 2023, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) predicted that 178 Local Government Areas in 32 states of the federation and the FCT would fall within the Highly Probable Flood Risk Areas.

The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), in its Seasonal Climate Prediction, alerted Nigeria to the possibility of flash floods around cities and riverine floods in flood-prone communities.

While several Nigerians do not understand why river bodies and communities have been annually flooded in recent years, experts have argued that it cannot be divorced from climate change.

States across the federation are on red alert for flooding.

In this edition of Climate Corner, Dr Emma Ezenwaji, the Director, Centre for Water Resources and Climate Change at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, provides insight into the relationship between perennial flooding and climate change.

Question: Predictions earlier this year were in favour of flooding across almost all the states of the federation. One then wonders if there is ever an end to such negative predictions.

Dr Ezenwaji: God created a stable system, but anthropogenic (human) activities have distorted it. We can’t gloss over climate change. It is dealing with us, and we are the ones to reverse its negative impacts around us. Flooding is very much linked to climate change in several ways. The hydrologic cycle is such that vapour moves from the water bodies into the atmosphere, which is like a sponge or foam. Water doesn’t drip away from the sponge if it is not soaked. That sponge in the atmosphere that was not so open before has been opened up through ozone layer depletion, leading to the inability of the system to withhold vapour for a long time.

That is why you have very intense rainfall regimes. So, as long as we sustain those unwholesome activities, we will continue to have these extreme weather conditions, including flooding. To add insult to injury, we are fast turning every space around us into concrete surfaces. So, when rains fall, they don’t go down as infiltration to recharge the underground water. They now flow and end up in the nearby rivers. When the rivers are filled up, you have these terrible river floods. Another thing is the destruction of the forest cover. Cutting down trees that give oxygen to the atmosphere depletes oxygen. When oxygen is depleted, we may move from flooding into terrible droughts like we are having in Somalia and other places. So, flooding can never stop unless we begin to check all these unwanted human activities.

Question: Apart from urbanisation and the depletion of forests, what are other unwholesome human activities?

Dr Ezenwaji: Poor refuse disposal is another major problem in Nigeria. From every dump of refuse, unpleasant methane gases, which are hostile to the environment, are emitted into the atmosphere. Besides, our farming system also contributes to flooding. Ideally, we should cultivate across contours so that when rain falls, water will not flow freely. But, many people these days cultivate along the slope. So, flood water flows freely to cause havoc.

Question: Are there laws or policies in place to check unwholesome human activities, or is it a problem of enforcement and implementation?

Dr Ezenwaji: Let me start with international diplomacy. Our greatest problem is the water they discharge from the Lagdo dam in Cameroun. First of all, it is against the regulation for anybody to build a dam upstream, which limits those downstream from making good use of water. I learned that Cameroun had an agreement with Nigeria before the dam was constructed. I have been searching for the agreement to see its content. But when Nigeria wanted to construct a dam here, the Niger Republic refused, saying we could not do it unless they got certain benefits. That is why we are supplying electricity from that dam to Niger. So, what gains did Nigeria negotiate with Cameroun on the construction of Lagdo Dam? Besides, Nigeria should have constructed dams along the waterways. If we have a dam in Upper Benue and another one in the middle part of Benue after Lokoja, Kogi, Anambra, Rivers, and other states, we will not have a problem. What we have are natural waterways, and once there is a huge discharge of water into them, they overflow easily.

Sadly, since independence in 1960, we are just now developing a water policy for Nigeria. Our solid waste policy only came into existence in 2020. The situation is worse at the sub-national level? The water law drafted under the Buhari administration didn’t see the light of day because states weren’t happy with certain provisions. We need to modify the law to address the current problems. Personally, I think the waterways should be controlled by state governments because they own the land under the 1977 Land Use Act. We had guidelines before, but if there is a law, people will not have the audacity to meddle with it.

Question: Apart from the law and policy, what is the place of sensitization in increasing knowledge and reducing vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change?

Dr Ezenwaji: Sensitization is key to checking the menace of climate change and flooding. We call it a soft infrastructure because it is invisible, but impactful. Unfortunately, the government does not pay for sensitization. This is not a federal government problem. It affects state governments as well. They don’t spend money on enlightenment; hence, their orientation agencies are very weak. Communities can also fill in the gap if the government mobilises them well. They have traditional ways of disseminating information and even enforcing laws. NGOs are equally relevant, but they need funding to do well. They are all out when there is funding. But once funding stops, they disappear into thin air.

Question: Climate change impacts developing countries more than developed ones, though they contribute less to it. How can the global North further assist?

Dr Ezenwaji: The global North should help the poverty-stricken global South, made poor largely by the North. They should do more than they have been doing. They should fund international NGOs like we have in the water sector, where we have NGOs from the North doing a lot in the global South. You have Water Aid, UK Aid, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the rest of them. Such a thing should be replicated for climate change. If the South is not assisted, when this place is saturated, the impacts will flow back to them. A huge army of labour that contributes to their development is from the global South. And if the conditions for growing that labour are undermined, they would be affected.

Question: What is your advice to Nigerians concerning this issue of climate change?

Dr Ezenwaji: My advice is that we should respect nature. Dispose of refuse well. The government should show commitment to refuse disposal and waste management. Communities should constitute committees on the environment to stop indiscriminate refuse dumping and farming. There should be education to discourage putting German floors everywhere. A large compound without grass or trees anywhere is dangerous. Most importantly, local government administration must be revived. Without a vibrant local government administration, we will not get these things right.

Writing by Alfred Ajayi; Editing by Saadatu Albashir and Daniel Adejo

This is an instalment of our weekly climate change series! In the series, we explore valuable information about climate change and its far-reaching implications. Our aim is to increase awareness and foster a better understanding of this pressing global issue.