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Nigerian Communities in Danger of Massive Flooding

Nigeria's disaster management agency says some 50 communities close to Lake Nyos in neighboring Cameroon are at risk of a flooding disaster. The banks of the volcanic Lake Nyos, high in the Cameroon Mountains, are said to be weak and may soon collapse.

The National Emergency Management Agency,NEMA, the federal agency responsible for coordinating response to emergencies and disasters in Nigeria, says more than 35,000 people and 20,000 herds of cattle could be wiped out by water sweeping through villages close to Lake Nyos.

The lake is said to be structurally unstable due to constant erosion of its embankments and the increasing build-up of carbon dioxide from beneath. If the banks of the mountain lake were to fail, it could release some 50 million cubic metres of water down the Nigerian side of the border.

NEMA Director Muhammad Audu-Bida, a retired air force general, told VOA that the situation in Lake Nyos appears more urgent than ever, a situation that was the subject of a scientific study in the late 1990s.

"Because of the water being held by Lake Nyos, the quantity of water, we believe that if the walls fail and the water gushes out, our country on that side will seriously be affected," said Muhammad Audu-Bida. "And from the studies they gave about 10 years maximum that it will probably break, and if we are to go by that study we are at a critical point because the study is over 10 years now."

In 2007, the Nigerian government approved $350 million for several projects to mitigate the impact of a Lake Nyos flood disaster, including the construction of a buffer dam. Not much has been achieved due to lack of funds, leaving Mr. Audu Bida a very worried man.

"Personally, I am not yet satisfied," he said. "I like calling a spade a spade. We have a lot yet to do. If it happens today, honestly we will just watch and see. The only thing I want people to know is that we are trying to put some things in place. We are just starting now; we have a lot of things to do."

Apart from the flood threat, Lake Nyos presents other frightening challenges. Communities in the area live in fear of a volcanic eruption. There is also profound concern that deadly carbon dioxide and methane trapped under the lake could be set loose by a quake or landslide.

In 1986, Lake Nyos released a giant bubble of carbon dioxide, killing 1,700 people and thousands of livestock.

The NEMA chief said the agency is mobilizing available resources to deal with the threat posed by Lake Nyos. Local administrators are being encouraged to prepare evacuation facilities.