By Megan Rowling
London - Alhaji Gimba Suleiman, a 72-year-old rice farmer from Ozahi in Nigeria's south-central Kogi State, lost his house in the huge floods that displaced 2 million people and affected a total of more than 7.7 million in the West African nation last year.
He's still living in temporary accommodation 15 km away, going back each day to tend his crops, but is getting help from the Red Cross to rebuild his destroyed home. "I am sure of the quality of the house that has been built. It will be able to withstand flooding," he told the aid agency, which is working with communities to prepare them better as this year's rainy season gets under way.
The Red Cross said this week it had pre-positioned emergency stocks in two warehouses to support 750 families in case of flooding, and was identifying potential hazards together with local people. It is also helping 100 households in Kogi State to rebuild their homes, using an improved version of local construction techniques.
Earlier this year, parts of northern Nigeria were suffering from drought conditions. Rains have now arrived there, and while there are no flood alerts yet, the concern is that last year's disaster has left communities across the country more vulnerable.
"People have not fully recovered from the floods last year - some are still living in temporary houses, not in their own villages. The houses that they are rebuilding are still in a state of being rebuilt, so it won't take as much rain or as much flooding to set them back further," Katherine Mueller, Africa communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Ethiopia.
The Red Cross appealed for around $4 million to provide emergency relief for those affected by last year's floods, which began in late August, and plans to support 50,000 people until the end of 2013. It has also trained 140 Red Cross volunteers in health and hygiene promotion, who are spreading the word about how to prevent malaria and diarrhoea, and maintain water sources and latrines.
Whether or not floods hit Nigeria this rainy season, as they have done in the past two years, it seems likely they will strike again before long as part of the global trend towards more extreme weather.
"Climate change is playing a role," Mueller said. "Because of the changing climate patterns, it's basically shaking everything up - we are getting these massive floods, which were once-in-40-year events, and they are going to be happening more regularly."
The Nigerian government certainly seems to have woken up to the growing threat of climate-related calamities. Last month, it asked the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to support the development of a comprehensive disaster risk management plan.
The UNISDR said it planned to back the efforts of Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to push for more disaster risk reduction, boost local and state capacity to manage disasters, and coordinate different bodies more effectively.
"The recent (2012) floods have had a huge impact on public and official perception of disasters," said UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström, after meeting Nigeria's vice president in Abuja, adding it was the first time the government had spoken about the economic impact of disasters.
The finance ministry estimated that the 2012 floods reduced gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.36 percent, and floods in 2011 resulted in the highest claim settlement in the history of the Nigerian insurance industry, according to the UNISDR.
"It is encouraging to see this deeper interest in the triggers of disaster and it's important that we make progress, because building a safer and more resilient country will be a long and challenging road. The need for good early warning systems is especially important," Wahlström added.
There are also plans to organise a national discussion to strengthen partnerships between the public and private sectors so that business can play a bigger part in reducing disaster risk. U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil Corporation contributed $500,000 to the Red Cross flood appeal, and Shell Nigeria donated $1 million - which suggests companies are willing to get involved in tackling climate stresses and their impacts.
A June report from the World Bank highlighted the risks climate change poses to Nigeria's development. "If not addressed in time, climate change is expected to exacerbate Nigeria’s current vulnerability to weather swings," it said.
It warned that the likely impacts could include a long-term reduction in crop yields of 20 to 30 percent, declining livestock productivity, rising food imports (notably of up to 40 percent for rice), worsening prospects for food security particularly in the north and the southwest, and a long-term decline in GDP of up to 4.5 percent.
Nigeria is best known for its rich oil resources, but agriculture is a key sector of the economy, contributing more than 40 percent of GDP and accounting for about 70 percent of employment.
At the same time, the report outlined measures that could help Africa's most populous country cope with current climate variability and withstand a harsher climate in future.
For example, applying sustainable land management practices, such as no-till agriculture and agroforestry, to 1 million hectares by 2020 could offset most of the expected short-term yield decline, the report said. Taking climate risks into account when designing irrigation and hydropower projects could more than halve the risks and related costs of making a wrong investment decision.
The World Bank urged the Nigerian government to act now to address climate change impacts, which are expected to be significant in the medium to long term.
"The longer that Nigeria delays action, the less time it will have to get ready, and the more it will have to resort to cure, which is typically more expensive and less effective, rather than prevention," the report said.
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