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Nigeria Flooding Kills at Least 33

  • Anne Look

Residents sort through the ruins of a building after a flood devastates Nigeria's central city of Jos, July 24, 2012.

Residents sort through the ruins of a building after a flood devastates Nigeria's central city of Jos, July 24, 2012.

DAKAR — Nigerian officials are warning of more flooding to come just days after floods in Plateau state killed at least 33 people and left hundreds more homeless. Deadly floods have become a recurring event in Nigeria and throughout the region. A closer look at the phenomenon provides some ideas about what can be done to prevent future disasters.

The water came to Mikang district in the early morning hours Sunday, after days of heavy rainfall caused rivers and streams to overflow in six Plateau state districts.

Rescue workers continue to search for scores of missing. Hundreds of residents lost everything but their lives.

Resident Geoffrey Shalgam said he woke up to people shouting and water everywhere. He said he immediately took his wife and children to safety at the primary school, as houses around theirs began to collapse. He recounted that they later returned to find the flood had destroyed all of their possessions, including their clothing and livestock.

He and other residents say they need urgent help to find shelter, food and water. The flooding leveled homes, farmlands, bridges and other property. It was, local officials said, the worst flood in recent memory.

The disaster comes just weeks after heavy rainfall caused a dam to overflow near the state capital, Jos, killing at least 35 people and destroying 200 homes.

Deadly flooding brought on by heavy seasonal rainfall has become an annual event in Nigeria. It has killed hundreds and displaced thousands in recent years.

The rainy season lasts from March to September in this part of Africa.

Nigerian Red Cross Disaster Management Coordinator, Omar Mariga, said that in the past month, flooding has hit at least seven Nigerian states from the North to the South and reports continue to come in.

More can and should be done, he said, to mitigate the dangers of heavy rainfall.

"In some areas, there are no drainages. Or if there are drainages, they are blocked," said Mariga. "There are people who build their houses on areas liable to flooding. And then we have our state emergency management agencies, in the states where we have them, not really being proactive to warn people of what is coming up."

Death and destruction, he said, are not inevitable.

Federal, state and local governments have access to what he called "user-friendly" meteorological reports that can predict heavy rains in time for people to evacuate.

"We all have this but translating it to reach the vulnerable people, that is the problem. We have all these early warning signs, but sometimes they are not heeded and sometimes those people who are supposed to pass the message do not do their jobs," said Mariga.

Poverty has forced some Nigerians to build makeshift homes in lowlands and other flood-prone areas, he said.

"There is this perception of risk. Some people think even if they are there, nothing will happen to them. And some people have been for years, while others may not know the full implication. But people do know they are living in flood-prone areas," said Mariga.

Mariga said prevention continues to take a backseat to dealing with the aftermath of the floods. Displaced families, he said, must be fed and sheltered, infrastructure rebuilt and the water supply must be sanitized to prevent epidemics of water-borne illnesses, like dysentery and cholera.