In Nigeria, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) recently sent an early warning alert on likelihood of drought in some states in the Northern Nigeria. The Director General of the agency retired Air Vice Marshall Mohammed Audu-Bida said that the drought warning alert became necessary as to enable the governments of the states to be affected to make adequate planning including sensitization of farmers, contingency stockpiling and networking with focal institutions for effective mitigation of likely negative consequences of the climate condition.
The NEMA boss said the agency has sent official letters to the states that may be affected, mostly in the North-East and North-Western Nigeria. The agency is reputed to have some state-of-the-art facilities that include Geographic Information System (GIS) Laboratory and Cospa-Sarsat, a satellite aided tracking technology for responding to distress signals from aviation, maritime and land users.
The warning is quite instructive because it was discovered that the same agency in the past had issued official letters to states and relevant institutions warning them on various issues that require urgent attentions. For instance before the last rainy season it alerted the states on possibility of massive flooding if actions were not taking to clear blocked drainage system and through campaigns against building along waterways and the indiscriminate dumping of refuse and dirt on the gutters among other measures. Few months later many states experienced heavy flooding with thousands of victims rendered homeless and properties worth millions of Naira lost.
The same scenario was replicated when after assessing some developments in neighbouring countries and even within some local communities it raised alert and warned against the spread of epidemics like cholera, meningitis and Lassa fever. Unfortunately the cautionary advises were not heeded from expected quarters while some institutions either picked holes on the warning as false alarm or gave mumbo-jumbo kind of technical jargons as excuses for lacklustre response. As usual a fire brigade approach is applied as the last resort to contain the incidence when it eventually occurs.
While the agency may indeed be proactive in its mandates to inform and educate Nigerians on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and providing early warning signals to agencies of government, the recent alert by the agency on the likelihood of drought grabbed the national headlines with more attention given by the foreign media. Surprisingly, sceptics still doubt the veracity of the forecast.
It may be necessary to state that there are different types of drought associated with the African continent. They are meteorological drought relating to rainfall amounts, hydrological drought which is determined by water levels in reservoirs and agricultural drought relating to the availability of water for crops.
With vast amount of knowledge as well as reliable and authenticated reports easily accessible on the internet, one may not necessarily need to be meteorologists to different between the types of drought and their implications on any given society. One may not necessarily be a trained Fireman to predict the consequence of misuse of firework and inflammable in a domestic environment.
According to researchers, meteorological drought is defined by comparing the rainfall in a particular place and at a particular time with the average rainfall for that particular place. This drought results in a depletion of soil moisture with negative impact on harvest. They also point out that hydrological drought is viewed from the drop in water levels in dams, rivers and other form of reservoirs due largely to low rainfall. It is said that changes in water levels affect ecosystems, hydroelectrical power production and recreational, industrial and urban water use.
On the other hand agricultural drought is said to occur “when there is not enough water available for a particular crop to grow at a particular time. This drought doesn’t depend only in the amount of rainfall, but also on the correct use of that water.” An example is given of “a period of low rainfall where water is used carelessly for irrigation and other purposes. Under these circumstances, the effect of the drought becomes more pronounced than it was before. “
The warning by NEMA is a welcome development and an eye-opener for relevant institutions and bodies to wake up to their responsibility and be proactive rather than waiting for disasters to occur before taking actions. Without the use of technology, a common sense dictates some scenarios what may result to disaster if prompt actions are not taking.
One of the recent campaign by the agency that require maximum attention of all Nigerians especially the government is on the threat from the notorious Lake Nyos in Cameroon which on August 21, 1986, suddenly emitted large cloud of carbon dioxide (CO2) which suffocated and killed 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby villages. The lake poses a threat due to its weakening natural wall as geological tremor could cause the dike to give way, allowing water to rush into downstream villages all the way into Nigeria from Cameroon line of volcanic activity. Interestingly only Nigerians in Diaspora in an online forum, and lately the Senate have shown great concern on the need for the government to pay more attention on the fear raised by NEMA on the need for proactive measure to protect states around the axis.
The advantage of early warning alert is to ensure that all relevant agencies and institutions are adequate prepared and make contingency provision to prevent, manage and mitigate calamities which mostly occur without prior notice. The benefit of such warning is cost effective because it is cheaper to make provision than excessive extra budgetary expenditures that are incurred after crises.
It becomes necessary to call on response agencies in Nigeria to be actively engaged in collaborative efforts and in sharing necessary information that would be useful in saving lives and properties from natural and human-induced disaster. Such partnership would go a long way in addressing some environmental and societal problems than egocentricity and individualistic postures of some institutions that may add to national woe.
Yushau A. Shuaib
University of Westminster
Harrow Campus, London