Flood early warning messages not heeded

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WARRI, 13 September 2011 (IRIN) - Nigeria’s Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has accused state governments of overlooking early warning messages in the wake of flooding across the country that has killed an estimated 140 people and displaced tens of thousands.

In early 2011 the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) predicted heavy rainfall. Based on this, NEMA sent out early warning messages via radio in May 2011 to governments and citizens in seven states, including Kano in the north. “We advertised… for both government and people to start cleaning up drainage ditches, and we formally wrote to state governments, including Kano State, to prepare for the expected flooding this year,” said NEMA coordinator Musatafa Suleiman.

The Nigeria Red Cross also put out early warnings based on information it received from Africa’s climate prediction centre, African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development.

But according to Suleiman, “few states adhered to the early warning messages and started clearing their drainage systems or canals for easy passage of floodwater.”

NEMA is trying to improve its information-gathering and dissemination so it can play a stronger early warning role in future.

But local authorities need to shift from a reactive to a proactive role to fund and map out clearer emergency preparedness plans from now on, said Umar Maigari, disaster management coordinator for the Nigeria Red Cross in Bauchi State in northern Nigeria. Several states have no emergency preparedness measures at all, and those that do, are poorly funded.

Top preparedness priorities are to clear drainage ditches and move communities in flood-plains to new locations, according to NEMA. Particularly at risk in most states are densely populated, low-income areas of cities, where refuse dumping and inappropriate construction of roads and buildings have blocked drains, Charles Oji, a town planner in Warri (a major city in Delta State), told IRIN.

Abiola Ajimobi, governor of Oyo State in the southwest, gave a seven-day demolition notice on 1 September to house-owners living on drainage paths in the capital, Ibadan. Residents told IRIN they were not given enough notice of the move.

It is not too late to strategize preparedness activities for the 2012 rainy season, said NEMA’s Suleiman. Very little progress has been made in these areas since 2010, when heavy rains hit the north, displacing two million people after local authorities were forced to open flood-gates on swollen rivers.

NIMET head Anthony Anuforom anticipates parts of Bauchi, Oyo and Cross Rivers states may experience more flooding in the next few weeks.