Disasters are a given in our existence on this planet as humans. It is a fact of life, disasters can be accidental, natural or engineered. When a manmade or naturally occurring hazard afflicts a vulnerable population in a way that exceeds or overwhelms the population’s ability to cope, it is considered a disaster. Disasters usually constitute grievous harm to the safety, health, welfare, property and the environment of the affected. Luckily, this country has never witnessed any disaster of catastrophic proportions since its borders were drawn. Nigeria won the geographic lottery of not sitting on any major tectonic plate, the country is not threatened by tornadoes, hurricanes or typhoons. The good set of geophysical cards it drew has rendered us people complacent about other naturally occurring hazards like flash floods, desert encroachment and disasters arising from human actions like malicious violation of building code, accidents, technological failures and terrorist acts.
A lot of environmental changes are going on all over the world. The Sahara encroaches and extends its frontiers by the day on the Northernmost fringes of this country causing harsher climatic conditions unsuitable for farming in places like Nguru, Gashua e.t.c. Desert encroachment is accelerating a lot of inward migration of young men away from these areas. Young men are fleeing unprofitable lives as farmers or farm hands; streaming into Lagos as “Cart Pushers”, “Okada Riders”, “Maiguards”, Porters, “Shoe Shiners”, Construction Workers and taking up any manual job available. In the same vein, Malians, Chadians and Nigeriens are taking advantage and migrating with them with its attendant security implications for Nigeria.
Already, the transformation of the Sahel Savannah into arid land has pushed the nomadic Fulani further Southwards. Their displacement, has caused them wandering into lands they had never ventured into before. Their movement along with herds of cattle, indiscriminate grazing and its attendant effect on farmlands and crops are the major cause of communal violence around Nigeria. The government has continued to discount these clashes without finding a viable, effective and urgent program for nomads. Would the story have been different if their movement could affect crude oil production? I think it would have.
Elsewhere, political and business leaders are visioning services and products 50years into the future. In Nigeria everyone thinks about now, no one cares about the future except to steal and amass enough wealth to subsist for ten generations.
This country sure needs some serious planning, we need a leadership that sees beyond oil. Lagos and other coastal cities are extremely vulnerable to ocean surge. The entire state of Lagos is low-lying. The highest point on Lagos Island is a measly 22 feet (7 metres) above sea level, with Ifako-Ijaye on its furthest reaches (40km from the shoreline of the Bar Beach) a little higher. We know Governor Fashola is doing his best possible, successive governments must commit to finding a way for excess water to percolate, clear the drains, and begin a mission to erect levees to brave the surge because it us coming.
If this is not done, Lagos will one day be submerged with catastrophic loss of human lives and property. The last ocean surge in Lagos which swept away some Kuramo beach residents tells us there is clear and imminent danger lurking. It tells us that we are not immune from ecological disasters and of course a lot of man made disasters are just waiting to happen. We must know that a slight variance in the climatic system can wreak havoc anywhere in the world. Unfortunately in our coastal areas, there are hardly any buffers.
The trees that used to serve as windbreaks and erosion barriers have all been cut putting several fishing settlements at risk. Of late, investors and the nouveau rich are snapping up the Eko Atlantic grand concept by the square feet. Do they ever ask the hard questions on the design of this modern city? If our penchant for cutting corners is a national pastime how can Eko Atlantic not fall prey to the corruption albatross? I commend and appreciate the thinking behind the design and multi-billion dollar reclamation, sand filling and construction on the shoreline. I sincerely hope the sea wall designed to be erected to protect Eko Atlantic has factored in the expected rise in sea level from the melting glaciers in both hemispheres and can withstand its maximum force. Otherwise, Eko Atkantic may go the way of the fabled City of Atlantis and turn into seabed tourist attraction for future generations.
Are We Prepared?
We are not but it is not too late to start. The government must begin to invest in an Emergency Response System. It must plan to generate awareness among our people, organizations and the tiers of government. The country must invest in a continuous process of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information and knowledge about ecological and emergency solutions. There must be consequence management geared towards measures and activities to alleviate the damage, loss, hardship and suffering caused by ecological disasters, accidents or emergencies. The consequence management must include measures to restore essential services, protect public health, and provide emergency relief to affected businesses and populations. Every state needs emergency response centers to coordinate actions by first responders to protect the health, safety and welfare of its people and to limit damage to property and the environment. These emergency response centers must have designated facilities established in specific jurisdictions to coordinate response and support in their area of jurisdiction. These centers must have an emergency plan which is a documented scheme of assigned responsibilities, actions and procedures, required in the event of an emergency. When Associated Airlines crashed a few weeks ago like many before it, we witnessed how the Lagos State emergency response team clashed with their Federal counterparts over jurisdiction and who will handle what. Emergency plans should contain a brief, clear and concise description of the overall emergency organization as well as a designation of responsibilities and procedures.
Our first responders are poorly trained. How many firefighters do we have? Do we have trauma centers where critical injuries can be treated to save lives? Due to poor training and skills shortage, our first responders handling and management of incidents caused by man or nature requiring action by them to prevent or minimize loss of life or damage to property, environment and reduce economic and social losses has been less than stellar. Examples abound the handling of collapsed houses in Lagos metropolis. Meanwhile, Lagos is head and shoulders above any other state or territory in Nigeria in terms of preparedness. The handling of accidents involving hazardous materials are far worse. Potentially damaging events like fallen diesel and petrol tankers and burst or damaged pipelines are regular human activities that causes phenomenal loss of lives, injuries, property damage, social and economic disruption and environmental degradation. Yet the story from these tragedies are always the same and the frequency of occurrence has not let down.
The government cannot do it alone without citizen buy in and support. The public must change its perception of threats and be alert to them. Threats must be reported to authorities before they graduate into disasters. Non-governmental organizations like the Nigerian Red Cross have been great at hitting the ground running with personnel and supplies when disaster strikes. Same goes for Julius Berger – a corporate body that has consistently been the face of rescue operations known to Nigerians while the government looks the other way. Talk to your Representatives, Senators and local politicians about these things. Demand action and reject T-shirts, Ankara fabrics and miserable measures of rice. Ask for enduring institutions to confront our maladies. Do not subscribe to palliatives, ask for a cure!
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