A car submerged by water in a flooded community. Lic: CC BY 2.0

As climate change increases flooding risks in Nigeria, coastal cities face challenges to adapt

Victor Essang, a 42 year old resident of southern Nigeria worries about what might become of his home when the rains intensify by June. Climate Change has strengthened rains in the West African country, and it will continue to threaten Essang and his family with floods until November.

Essang’s family apartment at Nelson Mandela street, in the coastal area of Calabar south, is made up of six blocks of flats and was bequeathed to Victor and his siblings by their grandparents. Rent from the apartments initially generated up to two million Naira ($4,892) annually, but not anymore

The flats have all been deserted by tenants who could not keep up with the frequent flooding besieging the building and destroying their property. Now, the entire complex is inhabited just by Essang and his family.

Intense rainfall and flooding events —exacerbated by climate change— have heavily impacted coastal communities in Nigeria, where they have led to the loss of lives, livelihoods and property in the country. Coastal cities like Calabar now face the challenge of planning to face the new conditions and helping people in vulnerable locations such as Essang.

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Victor Essang’s family apartment destroyed by flooding. Photo: Vivian Chime

In 2018, for example, 199 people reportedly died due to flooding in 12 states of the country. Two years later, in 2020, the country lost over two million tons of rice as a result of flooding, which is equivalent to a quarter of its projected harvest. 

Essang is one of the people that has been hit by the floods in recent years. Having no place to move to, he continues to live in the apartment with his family, with less concerns during the dry season but worried sick when the rains gather in the clouds. 

I fear that the house might collapse anytime but I believe in God and I leave everything to Him,” he said.

Urban planning

In Calabar where Essang resides, mean annual rainfall exceeds 2, 200 mm. Extreme rainfall events have become more constant and several communities have been affected by flooding.

The impacts of climate change such as flooding affects land surfaces in urban areas which have been developed into solidified concrete roads, research has shown. Therefore, in the event of rain, these road surfaces make rainfall infiltration into the soil difficult.

Around 280 meters away from Nelson Mandela street is Target road. Here Gozie Ogbonna’s furniture business is also threatened by flooding. In 2009, Gozie lost over three million Naira ($7,879) —an amount that could cover 15 years of his shop’s rent— worth of furniture. 

Ogbonna clearly recalls the event of that particular day. It had rained the night before, on getting to his shop the next morning, he saw that all of his furniture had been submerged by the high water. An incident he has not fully recovered from till now. 

Meanwhile, Essang says the situation has not always been like this. “It only started when new roads were constructed and gutters were channeled to the big drainage we claim we have. But the drainage is not enough to carry the volume of water we are experiencing,” he explained.  

Joel Effiong, a senior lecturer at the University of Calabar’s Department of Environmental Resource Management, explained that “it is basically an urban development pattern that is really increasing the flooding that we have in those areas,”. 

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Joel Effiong, a senior lecturer at the University of Calabar’s Department of Environmental Resource Management. Photo: Vivian Chime

“The human activities of developing land that were supposed to be green areas (for planting grasses or trees only) have now been converted to residential areas with coal tarred ground surfaces. This hardens the ground and does not allow water to go back into the earth. Thereby, runoff occurs”, said the researcher.

He added that “the drainages are not enough”, therefore when the drainage reaches full capacity, “the water will overflow the banks”. He also mentioned that human activities of dumping waste indiscriminately into the “already inadequate drainage” prevents easy flow of rainwater” 

A political flood

As Essang keeps counting losses annually, he hopes the government can come to his aid

Besides his already threatened apartment complex, in 2016, Essang’s poultry business was grounded by flooding. He lost 248 chickens and 147 turkeys, valued at over 2.5 million Naira ($6,115). He said the government “has abandoned our community to this flooding problem” because their efforts have not been enough to tackle the issue.

But, floods in Nigeria are not isolated from what is happening in other parts of the world. A recent study by Stanford University shows that intensifying rainfall fueled by climate change has caused the US nearly $75 billion in flood damage in the past three decades. In Burundi, floods have forced thousands of people away from their homes. Just this year, in Indonesia, more than 60, 000 people have been affected by floods; with over 10,000 homes alongside schools, roads and public buildings damaged.

To help manage these flooding events, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), responsible for documenting data on climate and weather in the country, constantly provides early warning signals, forecasts and information on the country’s weather and climate. 

The agency said there are indications of climate change impacts in Nigeria, of which flooding is not an exception. Because of this, they seek to help communities adapt to these impacts by providing early information. 

However, the effectiveness of this information in helping citizens prepare for climatic impacts like flooding is uncertain, because traditional news sources are not accessible for everyone. For example, Essang said he listens to the news sometimes to get information about weather but in most cases he monitors weather conditions from physically observing it.

Like Essang, Ogbonna also monitors the weather by himself, but without access to the news. He has neither a radio set nor television. “I just observe the weather, to know when it will rain or not, I don’t get information about the weather anywhere”, said Ogbonna

He said that if the weather forecasts, predictions and information can be localised, communicated through mediums and languages that caters to his condition (not having electronic sets), it would go a long way in helping him prepare against flood impacts. 

Gozie Ogbonna’s furniture shop enclosed with a high concrete barrier to keep floodwater out. Photo: Vivian Chime

Effiong, on his part, advises that town planning should be effectively done to prevent people from building in flood prone areas. Drainages should also be properly constructed and terminated into a river body, he added.  As for individuals, they should constantly clear up the gutters and, instead of tarring the ground around houses, they should leave it undeveloped to allow water to infiltrate back into the soil after it rains, the researcher said. 

However, for communities already ravaged by the flood, Effiong suggests that residents should be relocated or protected by new infrastructure. “The government can construct retention dams, divert the water for some time, then after a while they would release it gradually. This would slow down the speed of water flow and reduce flooding,” he said. 

Essang had to resort to building barriers of his own. He constructed a high concrete pavement with steps leading into his building. The windows on the ground floor were also enclosed with concrete cement. All in a bid to prevent rain water from having access into the flats. 

Though he has lost property and business to the flood, Essang makes one request only from the government. “I am not asking the government to build my house or refund me for my lost property, all I am asking them to do is to dredge more drains that can properly channel the water out of this community,” Essang says.