By Sam Colvett
Unprecedented levels of precipitation paired with inadequate infrastructure has led to massive flooding in central Nigeria. The resulting floods have displaced over 1.4 million people, damaged 45,249 houses, and devastated up to 146,000 hectares of farmland, according to Nasair Sani-Gwarzo of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
Humanitarian organizations face many barriers to providing the requisite aid to those affected by the situation, with the lack of government motivation to declare a national emergency and the lack of appropriate infrastructure being chief among them. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “flooding has affected roads, bridges, and some communication lines, leaving certain communities entirely inaccessible and cut off from services.”
In June of 2022, they further reported that 60% of affected households had not received adequate food assistance, which exacerbates the vulnerability of displaced individuals.
Nigeria has also experienced a long-lasting conflict in its northeastern regions, which has led to the deaths of over 350,000 people and displaced over 1 million. As a result, an especially vulnerable group of people to the flooding is IDPs housed in camps like those in Borno state, one of the states most affected by the disaster.
Floods have destroyed six camps in this area, affecting over 15,000 IDPs that are currently living with relatives in temporary shelters or in neighboring camps. They are in immediate need of shelter.
Though the precipitation levels are clearly outside the realm of control of local and international actors, advocates from Nigeria are decrying the government response to the situation, arguing that it has exacerbated the already devastating losses. Olasunkanmi Okunola, a disaster risk specialist, has claimed that the Nigerian government has not adequately invested in critical infrastructure such as flood barriers to appropriately mitigate the effect of river overflows due to precipitation excesses.
Okunola also indicates that the government’s strategy of distributing early warning information was inadequate. “There are always early warnings, but the question is how many people have access to such information and do the people have the capacity to actually leave the place?” he asks. To him, the government has placed too much emphasis on individual liability for adapting to the imminent disaster, which is constrained by people’s lack of relevant information.
Various levels of Nigerian government have also exchanged blame for the lack of appropriate emergency funding in the area. According to local media, presidential spokesman Mallam Garba Shehu has claimed that “it is not clear why some of the state governments in question are not already drawing upon (allocated) funds to tackle the current emergency.”
Regardless of who assumes the blame, the latest OCHA report found that disaster risk reduction funds did not reach the targeted communities with appropriate quantity or timing to stem the massive displacement.
Looking ahead, OCHA expects that further rainfall accumulation will lead to continued and increased flooding along the Niger and Benue rivers. The situation is still unfolding, meaning that more Nigerians now face the risk of displacement due to the disaster on top of the millions already affected.