Nigeria: Environmental and climate issues in 2019

By Abdullahi Murtala 

Flooding in Borno IDP camp, August 2019. Photo: Norwegian Refugee Council

Nigeria witnessed climate change-related extreme weather events, natural and environmental disasters in 2019. The impact of environmental disasters and extreme weather trends experienced across the country varied in intensity and degree, due to the diversity of Nigeria’s environment, and the interaction of topography, water bodies, livelihoods, urban development and industrial activities.

Pollution continued to pose major problems in the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta, Industrial and Urban parts of Southern Nigeria saw familiar problems of coastal and inland flooding, while the Northern part of the country suffered from severe heatwaves and flooding.

Extreme Heatwave.
In 2019, Nigerians battled an unprecedented extreme heatwave, with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency noting that most parts of the country, including coastal areas, would be affected. The heatwave was a global phenomenon with life-threatening and record-breaking high temperatures sweeping across Europe and the United States and contributing to deadly wildfire outbreaks.

According to United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration report, 2019 was the second hottest year of the decade. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) revealed that the worst-hit states in the country were Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, and Jigawa with temperatures beyond 45 degrees Celsius in the more arid north and 40 degrees Celsius in the coastal areasbetween March and May 2019.[1]

Extreme heatwave poses a serious threat to public safety and health, the country’s weak healthcare and emergency response systems, poor energy access and cooling infrastructure. The introduction of heat retaining and absorbing surfaces contributed to the devastating impact of high temperatures, this is in addition to the destruction of natural blue and green infrastructure such as wetlands, urban and rural forest which reduces the capacity of the environment to self regulate.

Flooding in 2019 affected public infrastructure, livelihood and well being in both rural and urban areas. The country’s Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) released 2019 Flood predictions in July, reporting that no fewer than 74 Local Government Areas (LGA) in 30 states would experience severe flooding while 279 local government areas would experience minimum flooding across the country in July, August and September. Comparative hydrographs for the agency’s hydrological measuring station downstream of the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue in Lokoja, for 2012, 2018 and 2019 showed that flood level  starting from May 22, 2019, exceeded the corresponding values in 2012 and 2018 respectively.[2]

The release of water from the Lagdo dam on the upper Benue river basin led to flooding in Adamawa and red alert notice in downstream States of, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Kogi, Taraba, Benue and the Kogi. The Cameroonian Authorities did not notify their Nigerian counterparts of the Lagdo dam spill, the absence of buffer dam to capture flood water exacerbated the flood crisis while, flooding in the western part of the country was aggravated by release of water from Oyan Dam in Ogun state and coastal flooding.
NIHSA’s September briefing revealed that the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) in Niamey, Niger Republic, had reported a steady rise of River Niger into the Red Alert zone up to 6.26m and indicated 33 states were affected by the flood crisis.[3] Severe flooding in the conflict-ravaged north-eastern states of Borno and Adamawa states destroyed homes and livelihoods across communities, with 300,000 people affected by the severe flooding in the region that followed torrential rainfall and overflow of water from the Niger and Benue Rivers. [4]

Nigeria needs to improve its preparedness and resilience to adverse impact of climate change such as rising temperatures, erratic rainfall and flooding. Reintroducing the Climate change bill and investing in projects such as the great green wall should be complemented with the implementation of the country’s nationally determined contribution to cut emissions and a global push to demand greenhouse emission reduction and just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Climate change impacts will vary greatly from region to region Thus, climate strategy for those regions must differ accordingly. Nigeria’s highly-centralised system will be a barrier to developing tailored solutions for different regions. Given the different climates and topography. It is important to tackle institutional or governance barriers for the climate crisis to be tackled adequately and efficiently, says Climate Change and Environment Scholar, Habiba Daggash.

Heatwave management; Heatwave is associated with decreasing Agricultural yields and increases in heat-related illnesses and can be devastating to low-income communities, outdoor workers, children and the elderly. The high temperature observed in the months of February, March and April, alongside low humidity favoured the outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis in the country.
Meningitis report showed that, as at June 5, 2019, a total of 914 suspected cases were reported from 15 states where 110 cases were confirmed positive for bacterial meningitis. 65 deaths were recorded while measles outbreak was reported in 660 LGAs in 36 states including the FCT, according to Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) measles situation report.[5]

UK Met Office annual global temperature forecast predicts 2020 will once again extend the series of the earth’s hottest years since records began in 1850 but this time without a strong El Nino.
To prepare for and mitigate the effects of higher temperatures, States and Federal Government will need to invest more in health care and transport services, accelerate renewable energy generation and Integrate green infrastructure alongside existing infrastructure to enhance resilience. Preserving urban forest and planting trees in cities, homes and near offices will provide shading and ameliorate the temperature including indoor spaces that rely on expensive and energy-consuming air-conditioning systems which may be good for the heat but not so good for the fight against climate change.

Nigerian architects and building professionals will play an important role in designing eco-friendly homes and offices, harnessing indigenous building techniques which rely on earth materials and sunlight. An example is the Hausa traditional building with lower energy consumption for lighting and bright colours that keeps houses cool despite the heat outside.

Flood management: According to NIMET report, the cumulative amount of rainfall in 2019 was more than that of 2018. One-day rainfall of more than 160mm over places such as Bauchi, Abakaliki, Calabar, Awka, Benin, Gusau, Jalingo, Lafia, Ondo and Warri between May and September resulted into flooding which submerged hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland and destroyed crops leading to huge losses. The agency predicts a normal to above average rainfall in 2020 and does not rule out the possibility of isolated flash floods due to increasing high-intensity rainfall at the peak of the season.

Short and long term flood management is important to mitigate or reduce the impact of flooding in the country. Short term quick flood mitigation measures such as clearing of the drainage system, public alert system, deployment of sandbags and hesco bastions to protect farmlands, buildings and critical infrastructure. Adherence to flood predictions and improved early warning alongside Emergency airlift and shallow water boat response capacity to evacuate people to higher grounds and the provision of humanitarian assistance are also important.

Long term flood management requires improved strategic and operational leadership, guidance and coordination to improve flood resilience and emergency preparedness. Addressing localized urban flooding incidents being witnessed in cities and communities in the country requires a mixed approach of improving and maintaining drainage systems, flood-resistant urban planning and enforcement of building codes. Integrating blue and green infrastructure,  adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices to increase resilience and food security, protection of waterways, wetlands and vegetation which serves as natural mitigation systems and the building of buffer Dams and water reservoirs.

1- Assessing Nigeria’s Vulnerability To Extreme Weather Events
2- 2019 Flooding Season: NIHSA Issues Flood Alert
3-Over 100 LGAs in 33 States affected by flood crisis
4- Nigeria: Tens of thousands of people stranded by floods in north-east. UNOCHA report
5- How Changing Weather Patterns Impacted Agriculture, Health, other key sectors in Nigeria in 2019 – Report

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