Rain! Rain! Go away!
Come again another day!
Singing this childhood lullaby to adults smacks of irresponsibility or simply childishness. Because, certainly, it will rain. And it rains with indifferent ferocity, taking along with it all that stands in its way, including human beings. It is a calamity officially predicted. But unfortunately without any resilient mitigating plans. Year-on-year, the cycle of flood forecast and losses seem premeditated to query the role of government. Wherever a plan is in place, loss of lives could be brought to the barest minimum. There could be a loss of economic assets which can be replaced by appropriate insurance or calling government provisions for rebuilding.
And yet, as if to give the impression of being on top of the situation, the Nigerian Federal Authority declared that “Nigeria would witness another round of flood in many states this year, but stated that early preparations had commenced avoiding some of the mistakes that were made in 2022”. It also admitted that 662 human lives were lost to the devastating floods in 2022.
There was no news about compensation to victims’ families or visits by the government, either State or federal, to some families that lost their loved ones. Rather it is a declaration that they should wait for another round of flooding this year with a kindhearted warning for people living in flood-prone disaster areas to relocate. No mention was made about where to relocate or where the government has put up emergency shelters to cater for people who might be displaced by the flood. Officials think they have done enough with hosting a press conference, admitting that nearly 700 citizens perished in flood waters in just one year – 2022.
‘Mistakes were made
Mustapha Ahmed, the Director-General of the National Emergency Agency felt great to admit that mistakes were made in the handling of flooding last year. “We are starting early because we have seen one or two mistakes that were done last year.” What were the mistakes and who was negligent in performing the duties assigned that led to an unprecedented loss of human lives? Suddenly, NEMA realized that collaboration with the States was absent in preparation for 2022 flooding preparations. “We can’t work if NEMA is moving on one side, while the States are on the other side,” he lamented to the press.
Besides the DG’s pronouncement that “state governors would be informed early this year about disaster-prone areas,” he did not disclose flood mitigation measures that will at least save lives. Questions like building shelters with basic supplies for those people who will be temporarily relocated and long-term plans to move people out of these areas with States government’s collaboration.
Kudos to NEMA! It held a 5-day seminar which ended last week with facilitators from Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre. Certificates were awarded to attendees which included some State Emergency agencies. How does this seminar translate to a robust mechanism for responding, mitigating and preventing the perennial flood disaster and the avoidable loss of lives?
Naturally, NEMA should have a risk management expert and or actuary at its top-level executive function. These would be complemented by outsourced experts that would plan on a long-term basis how to deal with flooding in Nigeria. Since it can only get worse because the intensity of the rains cannot be stopped on the back of climate risks of the 21st Century, it is only logical that managing the risk of both natural and man-made disasters remains the only solution. African Reinsurance Corporation has been at the forefront of formulating risk measures to help farmers adapt to climate risks and protect their crops. NIRSAL is doing the same with the help of risk experts. It is beholden to NEMA to seek the expertise it lacks. If it could invite experts from Bournemouth University to deliver seminars, the abundance of such expertise locally can greatly help its work. Perhaps, its functions are being misinterpreted to apply only in emergencies.
A dam buffer
A presidential committee on flood prevention set up by President Buhari in the wake of the last year’s devastating floods is working on a proposal to construct a buffer dam along Dasin Hausa to protect Adamawa and Taraba States from flood waters resulting from Lagdo Dam. The Committee has 90 days to prepare a holistic plan to prevent flooding in all parts of Nigeria!
Note that this Dasin Dam construction had been abandoned and the flood Committee is considering recommending the construction work to recommence and awarded again. That’s how we roll! No accountabilities about how much money was committed by the government and the name of the contractor who failed to execute the contract. No general audit and no plan to involve experts to acquire the project!
Certainly, this presidential fiat is a tall order that would lead the country to nowhere. You cannot fashion a blueprint for flood risks in this way. A presidential committee comprising only politicians and civil servants are unable to achieve anything significant when risk management experts are excluded. Commendably, though this government is smart because in 90 days, a new government would have been known and the current one would be winding down.
A case for a National Flood Insurance Policy
The Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) – which actually can be collapsed under one agency – in pushing out the annual flood outlook and forecasts should only serve for modelling risk uptake by commercial underwriters as well as emergency responses. The way these outlooks are dished out seems to make these predictions represent the end itself and not a means for mitigating and response.
We need not reinvent the wheel but adopt and adapt workable solutions to our environment. All over the earth, nations face similar natural events to ours. However, they have employed the expertise required for the purpose and solving problems. The subject of flooding and other natural disaster are risks we face that has solutions.
We can learn from the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which wrapped up its “2023 traditional reinsurance placement for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), transferring an additional $502.5 million of flood risk to the private reinsurance market for a total premium. Combined with the agency’s “three in-force catastrophe bond transactions, FEMA has transferred $1.9275 billion of the NFI P’s flood risk to the private sector.”
About 8.5% of losses placed with 18 private reinsurers are structured to pay between US$ 7 billion and US$ 11 billion for any single flood event.
Nigeria doesn’t have the scope of US exposure, but part of emergency funds under the various headings that I had written about a couple of weeks ago can serve to get insurers and risk experts to come together and identify areas to insure and where funds from the Ecological Project Office can buy bonds from the reinsurance market. The most critical is the insurance of loss of lives and property. There should be a succour for families that suddenly lose their loved ones.
There is hardly any other country that has recorded this mass death resulting from flooding as happened last year. What is urgently required for the 2023 rainy season is for the relevant agencies across all tiers of government to collaborate with National Orientation Agency to mount a robust enlightenment campaign in flood-prone areas so that people will understand the dangers they face and possible self-help that they may activate in emergencies.
Emergency Response System
Nigeria does not possess the capacities, both in human and equipment investment to respond to emergencies related to rescue operations. Also, it is unlikely that any framework exists to call in the military to augment the lack of trained rescue personnel in emergency agencies. It will be a daunting task to get all these in place before the rains. Therefore, the quickest and easiest plan now is the prevention of human disaster. Resources will need to be mobilized to accommodate people that will be temporarily relocated to purpose-built shelters for about three months during the peak of rainfall using NiMet mapping and the hydrology forecast.
It is only wishful to express and propagate the idea that a strong response system may be put in place before April to tackle any flooding of the proportion of 2022. The vulnerable area mapping and meeting of governors and other stakeholders as expressed by NEMA seem like routine engagements. The Presidential Flood Emergency Committee and NEMA need not give false hopes to citizens. But they can work together to make resources available to move people away from flooding areas.
This aside the federal government and the States can then invite both commercial risk market players to advise on the best approach towards our own Nigeria National Flood Insurance Policy. It will be structured to be owned by NEMA. For this to happen, NEMA would have to be restructured both in concept and operations.