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Climate change in Lagos


In the past two weeks, Johnson Ugwobia, has been unsettled. His house at Ikorodu has been overtaken by flood, and he now squats with his friend at Surulere, while his wife has gone to her father's house at Ojodu, another part of the city of Lagos.

"Life must go on," Mr Ugwobia said. "I can't stop going to work. But it's really terrible; how water will just overflow your house and soak everything and you are stranded, you can't even enter your house again. Well, we are coping."

The story is similar for thousands of people whose homes have been overtaken by flood in different parts of Lagos State in recent weeks. Residents of Ikorodu, Ketu, Ijegun, Satellite Town, Ojo, to Lekki Peninsula and indeed many other parts are experiencing different levels of flood and there seems to be no remedy in the offing.

Though flooding is not new in Lagos, the experience this year is about the worst in the history of the state. It has been blamed on relatively high amount of rainfall this year, the opening of Oyan Dam and more significantly, the rising level of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to a study carried out in 2008 by some scientists, some parts of Lagos, especially the parts closer to the ocean will be under water in the next 50 years, considering the rate at which the Atlantic Ocean is rising.

Lagos may go under

While speaking at the launch of a Nigerian documentary on climate change, Stefan Cramer, Nigeria director for Germany's Heinrich Boll Foundation think-tank and an adviser to the Nigerian government on climate change, reportedly said the most scientists predict sea levels would rise by one meter over the next 50 years or so. Considering that most parts of the state are less than two metres below sea level this poses danger for the megacity.

"In 50 years with a one-meter sea level rise, two million or three million people would be homeless. By the end of the century we would have two meters and by that stage Lagos is gone as we know it," Mr Cramer told Reuters.

"Most of the construction in Lekki is bound to fail because it is built on sand, which has never been properly consolidated. There's only one option: moving to higher ground."

While speaking at the Second Lagos State Summit on Climate Change in May, Felix Dayo, an Adjunct Professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, USA, an internationally recognised energy and climate change expert, corroborated Mr Cramers claims.

"We are scientists, not soothsayers we have given the possible scenario that can happen in the future. We can't predict the exact time frame that the scourge can occur, though there will be sea level rise but we cannot tell you when it will occur. Between now and 2015 there are several scenarios that can likely rear up, such as the sea level rising in one to one metre; we have also shown different parts of Lagos State at which level they are right now.

"There are some areas that are one to two metres higher than the sea level; some are two to two metres above and three, so if you have a sea level rise of one point four, definitely any place that is one metre will be inundated. A colleague said many parts of Lagos are below two metres and the whole of Ikoyi and Victoria Island is about one metre, therefore, if one point four metre sea level occurs then these people will be inundated. If we have extreme event scourge which we can't predict, it will likewise affect places that are three metres upland," he said.

It's the Ocean not the Dam

All the circumstances surrounding the flooding in Lagos point to the gradual rise on the Atlantic Ocean.

The management of Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority, the operators of the Oyan Dam on Thursday said the flood was caused by sea level rise and not the release of water from the dam.

Rasak Jimoh, Managing director of the agency said the affected area is a flood plain which is directly under the influence of back flow from the Lagos Lagoon, so as the Atlantic Ocean is rising, it is causing the Lagos Lagoon to overflow on its flood plain.

In the Ojo and Ijegun areas and Lekki, the rising ocean is also to blame. Residents said the flooding is associated with high tides and surge of the ocean, causing the lagoon to overflow into their homes. This happens annually, but this year's flooding is about the worst in recent times.

"Anytime from May, June, when the rainy season gets serious everybody will bring out their rubber boots because it's a normal thing for us to have flood in our area. In fact, it doesn't even have to rain. Sometimes water comes out of the ground and because the ground is wet, when it rains, the water cannot go down in the ground. It's really a bad experience every year. We have to make wooden bridges to enter our houses. In most part of the estate, those who are living down stair have to move out during that period or they keep scooping water from their houses everyday," said Moruff Lawal, who resides at Ilasan Housing Estate in Lekki.

Is the climate really changing?

In view of this year's flooding in Lagos and those that have happened in different parts of the country and other parts of the world, many are becoming more concerned about issues of climate change and global warming.

Scientists have shown evidences that the ice caps at the Polar Regions are melting due to increasing penetration of sun rays as a result of ozone layer depletion. As a result, the oceans are increasing in volume, so sea level is rising globally. Another effect of global warming is climate change, but at what rate is it changing?

Cyprian Okoloye, the assistant general manager, Central Forecast Office, Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET, said though the agency has empirical evidence to show that the Nigerian climate is changing, people get unnecessarily alarmed without facts.

"It's true that the climate is changing. The climate of Nigeria is changing. We have empirical evidence to show the climate is changing.

There is evidence that the environment is warming. In Nigeria, temperatures have also been observed to be rising but not on a significant level as to be so alarming. And that is why also we are having rainfall variability, especially in the Sahel, the northern part of the country the rainfall is also decreasing even though occasionally you hear of flood and so on and so forth; these are just seasonal variability. So the impact of the climate variability is affecting regions and Nigeria is no exception," he said.

"But it is not all weather events that you can associate with global warming. The problem we have is that the people who are shouting about global warming and climate change in this country do not have the facts; they don't have evidence. We have the evidence, because we measure these things in the field."

The facts

According to Mr Okoloye, the evidence of climate change in Nigeria include variation in rainfall patterns, increase in surface temperature, and disappearance of hail.

In NIMET's Nigeria Climate Review Bulletin of 2007, it is stated that "during the middle of the 20th century (1941 - 1970), most parts of Nigeria had normal or above normal onset dates of rainy season except at Sokoto, Maiduguri, Calabar and environs, where the rains came late. As the century progressed (1971-2000) the late onset had spread to more areas leaving only a narrow band in the middle belt and southwest regions where normal conditions now prevail."

The review also stated that "in the middle of the 20th century, the whole country had normal cessation of rainy season except some parts of the southwest which had early cessation. However, by the last parts of the century, most parts had early cessation. The effect of this late onset and early cessation has manifested in the contraction of the length of the rainy season."

According to the review, annual rainfall has decreased by 2-8mm per year across many parts, while few places like Lokoja, Kano, Ibadan and Ondo had increased of 2-4mm per year across (1941 - 2000).

It also observed that many parts of the country showed evidence of long term temperature increase of 1.4C - 1.9C except in Jos area.

Another evidence shown in the review is that there was high hail occurrence between 1942 and 1945 but a gradual decrease to just two episodes in 1978 and only one in 1987. "There has been no hail occurrence from 1989 till date. The decadal analysis shows that hail fall was last experienced in Jos during the 1982 - 1991 decade. The same trend of hail occurrence is applicable over the country which goes to strengthen further evidence of general warming across the country."

Narrowing down to Lagos, the rainfall data from 1999 to 2009 of Ikeja and Lagos Island collected from NIMET showed no clear trend.

Mr Okoloye said it cannot be said that there are more rainfalls now than a few years ago because they are subject to climate variability.

"We cannot categorically say. Yes we can say there are more rains now than before when you discuss some aspects of climate variability. We can also say categorically that there is absolutely no difference from what has happened before. If you look at the trend you can also see there are lesser rain. If you look at the trend from the 1960s up to this period, you would not say there are more rains because you are likely to see a trend showing more dryness which shows that actually there are no more rains," he said.

"At the beginning of the year the agency made a prediction that this year's rainfall is going to be from a little below normal to normal but later in the year there was an update that the rainfall will be normal with cases of flooding here and there will be coastal flooding, which we are experiencing now."

Mr Okoloye said Lagos residents should expect the rains to go away soon.

"On seasonal basis, we are in the month of October right now; very soon the rain will come to a stop. So now we are ready towards the end of the rainy season, so what you are seeing is expected to be sporadic type of rain with thunder storms and so on and so forth. It comes and occasionally it ceases but sooner or later it will come to an end, because by the end of October, the rains would have subsided," he said.

While the flood victims in Ikorodu are being relocated to relief camps, others are hoping that the water goes down soon.

Muiz Banire, the state Commissioner for Environment said:

"For the last three years, there has been global increase in rainfall and water level. So the water level in the lagoon, where this river drains into is higher. So we have to wait for the lagoon to subside and then this flood can drain," he said.

Structural problems

According to Stephen Olaleye, a hydrogeologist, the problem is that these affected communities were built on floodplains against general environment regulations.

"Generally, it is not proper to build residences on plains. It's a natural thing. Flood plains are regularly flooded when there is increase in the volume of water in ocean or river or in this case the Lagoon. But another problem is that buildings in such areas are at risk of collapse because the likelihood is that their foundation will be below the water table and that is danger in a long run," he said.

In the same vein Mr Banire that the building projects in the state have eliminated wetlands that would have helped in cases like this.

"The ocean is rising, so even if we build canals with all our money and the ocean level is higher than the canals, it will be back to sender. This implies that water, instead of being drained into the lagoon, will stay inland. But water must always find its flow, so the wetlands come handy as a temporary hold. However, Lagos has lost all its wetlands to building projects. Accordingly, the water table in the state is rising. We saw it coming. I didn't want to sound like an alarmist but studies we did revealed that we have a high water table to contend with. We knew that some houses will collapse," he said.

While the government tries to figure out how to save the state from sinking, Mr Okoloye reiterates that nature cannot be predicted with precision and cannot be stopped.

"Remember these are climate projections, and projections could come to reality or they may not. But the climate is changing and it is not something that can be completely eliminated. We cannot stop weather but we can offer advisory services on how to mitigate or to avoid its effect before it occurs," he said.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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