04 June 2008

Lagos And Its Flood Problem

This Day (Lagos) - 2 June 2008
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Rainfall which connotes fertility, regeneration and the promise of a bumper harvest should ordinarily bring joy to the people. But in Lagos, it often heralds hardship and aggravates the already tense atmosphere of urban life.

The factors that nurture this irony are largely man-made. Poor town planning, anti-social behaviour of majority of the populace and ill-defined and implemented environmental policies have continued to make flood management very difficult. Like in many other Nigerian cities, incessant abuse of the environment has undermined the drainage system and water channels in Lagos. Arbitrary dumping of wastes, particularly pure water sachets, in gutters blocks the existing drainage infrastructure and ultimately results in flooding during the rainy season.

The effects of this scenario on the residents are enormous. Some of them are sacked from their homes; some buildings and public amenities collapse and the infamous Lagos traffic jam gets worse. None of these calamities befits West Africa's commercial nerve centre and the hub of Nigeria's financial life. The urgency of the situation is amplified by its implications for the health of the populace and the collateral damage it does to the social and economic activities of the West African sub region. The stagnant, polluted water the flood leaves behind in gutters, canals and elsewhere forms a habitat for mosquitoes - transmitters of malaria, a leading killer disease in the world. Equally disturbing is the danger of exposure to other environment-related diseases; not to mention the disfiguring of the city's aesthetics.

The efforts being made by the Lagos State Government to rectify these gross anomalies are, no doubt, commendable. Particularly noteworthy are the water rechannelisation and city beautification projects going on in some parts of the state. For a government that inherited huge environmental challenges and an ever-exploding population profile, the attempts are indeed ambitious. But the relative success it has so far achieved points to the possibility of more breakthroughs in the quest to surmount the state's peculiar difficulties. That means the government should be prepared to activate the necessary laws and machinery for the expansion of the programmes to cater for the state's legendary diversity and population density.

Considering the special status of Lagos as the immediate past federal capital, the melting point of the country and indeed the sub-region, the task of combating flood must not be left to the state government as it clearly lacks the capacity to singularly tackle it. Relevant agencies like the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) should step in and bear part of the burden. Corporate citizens like banks, manufacturing firms and packaging outfits should demonstrate their recognition of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by periodically clearing gutters and canals, especially those located close to them. In addition to maintaining healthy surroundings, such gestures would sensitise the general public about the centrality of hygiene to individual and collective wellbeing.

Also, public health inspectors at the state and local government levels should enforce sanitary regulations in order to discourage practices that provoke flooding. And in granting building plans, town-planning officials should strictly follow master plans and insist on carrying out environmental impact assessments. The waste management apparatus should also not relent in shouldering this thankless but prime responsibility.

On a final note, the entire globe is preoccupied with the environment at the moment - for pertinent existential reasons. Lagos and indeed Nigeria cannot afford to opt out.

Copyright © 2008 This Day

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