As extreme climate events become increasingly common, concern about the changing climate is taking center stage. Frequency in the occurrence of extreme climate events such as excessive rainfall can be tied entirely to climate change. However, the often devastating effects they have results from a range of causes. Facts reveal how underlying societal factors exacerbate the impact of these climate hazards.
Thousands homeless, tens of thousands affected and dozens of communities ravaged; so read the headlines, referring to the extent of devastation caused by the Benue flood.
In monetary terms, the damage is expected to run into billions of naira. While almost no life was lost, the extent of damage is huge. And it will no doubt cripple the ability of the victims to cope and recover from the devastation.
To many, this brings back the memories of the 2012 floods which ravaged many parts of the country. Though lesser in scale compared to the 2012 floods, to those affected the loss and destruction are not dissimilar.
Lesson not learnt, it seems.
Benue state lies within the lower River Benue trough. Also, some of the river’s network of tributaries are located within the state. And as a result, parts of Benue state are situated within flood plains, making them susceptible to flood.
Earlier in August the Nigerian Meteorological Agency released a flood forecast for a number of states in the country. Notable on the list was Benue state due to its geography. Interestingly, it took just about 3 weeks for this prediction to be actualized. By the end of August, the flood has ravaged several communities in the state.
Nonetheless, in a society where lives and livelihoods of citizens are valued, impact reducing measures would have been taken. This include construction of drainages, clearing of water ways to allow free flow of water, and effective rescue and relief efforts in order to minimize loss.
Unfortunately, disaster prevention and management is an inevitable victim of deep rooted corruption and mismanagement in the society. Benue state typifies this scenario. According to reports, N2billion ecological funds meant for the construction of drainage channels in the state was diverted. Ending up in the pockets of private individuals.
Thereby, ensuring that the impact of the flood on residents of the state will continue to worsen.
Furthermore, the absence of necessary environmental and disaster management policy framework nationally is a major problem. This means there is little in the way of adaptive measures that can be taken to ensure people are able to cope and recover effectively from the impact of the flood.
Yet to many government officials, the blame lies squarely on those that built houses close to water ways and flood plains. But are they entirely to blame?
As pointed out in a recent article about the relationship between inequality and climate change, inequality influence where people live. Therefore, it is important to note that the tendency to live in areas susceptible to the impact of climate hazards is a symptom of a problem that runs deep in the society.
The underlying structural inequality in the society ensures that the poor and disadvantaged will always reside in areas where they can afford to live. And this in many cases means living on flood plains, close to water ways and in places that leave them exposed to climate hazards. Most times these areas lack even the most basic infrastructural facilities such as good drainage systems.
As flood waters recede, affected households and communities are left in the shadow of yet another devastating flood. With the destruction of properties and means of livelihood, many are plunged deeper into poverty, while for many more the psychological scar will last forever.
In an era of climate change, it seems our attitude towards disaster prevention and management remains unchanged. With the current status-quo, it is difficult to see an end to the perennial devastation caused by flood.
Our government and policy makers have a huge lesson to learn here. One can only hope they will this time.