Rain Flood: The Port Harcourt Experience!

Daily surfeit of rain in the southern part of Nigeria has blighted a-yet-to-come dry season. An attached flood has again brought problems for householders in low-lying areas of the coastal cities, towns and villages. In a repeat of the May thru August 2006 incessant rain, heavy deluges has caused localized flooding problems in some parts of the Niger Delta including Lagos, and other cities lying by the coast in recent days. Many home owners are being left to count the cost of the damage to building structures and properties. Major roads is seen charred-off, forcing motorist to ply dangerous remote areas like the Etche-Eleme-Oyigbo axis, at times got attacked by hoodlums and carjackers.

Port Harcourt has had extremely heavy downpours of rain during the months of August, September and October this year (2009) and the residents are finding it increasingly difficult to cope. Every year during the rainy season the city becomes flooded and although the state government is apparently making some attempts to remedy the situation, it keeps getting worse.

The Rivers State Ministry of Environment and their Works counterpart constantly receive complaints from angry residents, but on the surface nothing seems to have been done. Accordingly, the ministry set out to try and find out the true situation and what we discovered made us optimistic. The team has done a lot of research and has been visiting residents around the local neighbourhood, and not just in the rainy season. But much has to be done at old Aba road, Oyigbo ( Iriebe and Mbano Junction ).We have started to collect photos of the delayed road projects and have a lot of different information about few seemingly disorganized attempt to improve matters.

In the past, the Port Harcourt city tried various ways to remedy the flooding problem, but it was evidently getting worse every year. Residents, understandably, became resigned to this unfortunate state of affairs, accepting that during the rainy season, they would just have to grin and bear it. However, there is now a light on the horizon, City Hall has allocated a substantial budget to deal with the problem once and for all. The budget allocation is in two phases: the first, effective immediately, will amount to about N14billion and the second will be for N2.9 billion some time later.

The State Authority is urging those affected to contact their local council for an emergency attention, but, while this is a welcome gesture, it is doubtful that, in most cases, this amount of attention will come near to adequately compensating for the material damage. Council emergency hand-outs after occurrences of serious flooding are fine, but there does need to be a complete overhaul and modernization of present outdated drainage systems, particularly in Port Harcourt urban areas which is on course, to ensure that any excess rain is easily contained.

Such a major infrastructural program would cost many billions of Naira and, in the present economic recession and tight Treasury budgeting, this level of expenditure might be unrealistic. But it would be money well spent and, apart from the cost factor, it would considerably ease the worries of many householders whose homes are located in vulnerable areas. The rain has almost been nonstop in this part of the Niger Delta for the past 24 hours, causing flooding problems.

Port Harcourt urban and its communal outskirts like the Eleme, Oyigbo,Obio-Akpor and Okrika are the most affected location because they are low-lying, near the sea, swamps and rivers, and suffers from a bad drainage system. The areas have been growing in a haphazard manner, with; as yet, no effective long-term development plans in certain places. Ever since a teenager was killed by electricity leaking into the flooded streets of Mbano Junction Oyigbo, early in the morning of June 19, 2008, during torrential rain, while he was walking through the flood, no much has been said or did in this direction .This area ostensibly has 46,000 legal residents, but, in fact, there are more than 100,000 people living in the area. Is it that certain housing projects are disrupting the drainage system? At the Abacha road area in the GRA, rainwater flooded every parking lot. Sidewalks soon became parking spots so cars wouldn’t be damaged by the rising water.

According to some participants at our monthly problem-analytic “nigeria4betterrule”, the area has seen about 2 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, which has also caused some area roads to briefly flood. They said the water had since receded. Victoria Island and some part of Lagos Island have also had its share of flooding. A car drove into a stream filling with water last night near Adeolu Odeku end of the street. Crews were able to pull the people trapped inside the car from the water. Two children nearly got drown and three people were hurt.

When the rain fills this area, creating a shallow lake, it then flows across the Bar Beach, and continues along Bonny-Camp Barrack, always creating a large flood in front of the Ocean -View Restaurant. In the passage of the flood from Race-course through Bernard Carr, there are some huge broken pipes in front of Mr. Biggs Restaurant, which contribute yet more water that then flows through drainage to continue to the bar beach.

The second water channel occurs at the Surulere, Iyana-Ipaja, Orile Iganmu, Ijora, Idi-Araba, Ebute-Meta, Ajegunle, Lagos Island, Mushin, Apapa and Ikorodu intersection, where another shallow lake tends to form. Overflowing once again due to the rain’s intensity, this strong current of water comes from the blocked drainages, flows through the pipe under the railway and when it comes to a region of smaller pipes, it creates a bottleneck, causing further damage to the complex of pipes in the vicinity of the residential area .Commuters said that the situation was exacerbated by bad roads, blocked and inadequate drainages, drivers’ unruly behaviour and the location of the state which is generally below the sea level. Just to show how strong the pressure of the floodwater was recently, a Toyota car, which was parked on that road, was pushed 200 metres along the road to eventually come to rest in the middle of the highway, effectively blocking all the traffic on the said Road.

Some insiders at our “nigeria4betterrule” forum went to visit Mr. Adekunle, a man who has over 10 rooms for rent in Mushin, and each year he has to contend with the flooding, which sometimes rises half way up his fence. He always attempts to build a water block, but it is increasingly ineffective and he’s forced to pump the water out or use buckets. Informal settlers are the usual victims and survivors of flooding. But, tropical storm that day proved that even if you are pretty well-off, there is always the risk of being hit by a disaster.

Should we build a higher wall around the subdivision to prevent water from overflowing into the area? Could we raise everybody’s elevation without harming the environment? How much would this cost if it would be done? Before building construction, prospective homeowners are advised to find out first if the area where they plan to buy their new home is susceptible to flooding. The first thing you have to do is figure out if you’re part of the area that is flood prone. Landowners or homeowners should take precaution about the risks of living where they are.

A reality in Nigeria is that our property laws are not based on nature; there are a lot of properties near the rivers. It is not in the realm of our memories that certain areas are vulnerable to flooding, especially when the frequency of the flooding is very rare—it may be every 100 years like the coastal cities. There should be amendments in building ordinances to allow higher level of construction of houses. These are for the people who live in vulnerable place who can afford to help themselves. Homes in flood prone areas should not be lower than 2 stories. The governments should look for floating concrete for low cost housing projects.

In the Netherlands; where many houses are built using floating concrete, much of the land in Netherlands is below sea level, and prone to flooding. But the Dutch have found ways to adapt to this. Houses there are anchored beneath the ground—preventing the house from hitting one another or going away from their land when floodwaters rise.

Some areas in the Niger Delta get 10 inches of rain this season, most of it falling within a three-hour window. Such a deluge would tax the best-designed storm drainage systems. But that area is one of several notorious for flooding even after a typical summer thunderstorm. Why Development, and lack of good planning. Where parking lots, streets and buildings replaced trees and other vegetation that helped soak up a heavy rainfall, street flooding is common. Growth in our region has moved at lightning speed over the past three decades, but only relatively recently have our local governments taken active steps to contain runoff. And often they aren’t sufficient.

The flooding that forced a number of residents to evacuate their apartments is a reminder that we can’t keep putting down pavement without having a reliable way to divert storm-water away from streets and buildings. Runoff not only causes floods, but it also fouls our tidal creeks and waterways with oil, fertilizer and other surface pollutants. The Honourables, after moving ineffectual motions from their apartment at Abuja, the come back home to the facts shoved in their faces, toughened storm-water runoff rules for construction near waterways. But local governments are largely responsible for their own drainage problems.

Indigent “Harcourtians” charge residents N4000-N5000 a month – commercial and multi-family developments are assessed according to the amount of non-permeable surface – that did not go into a fee for projects to improve drainage. When commissioners apparently believe that water stops at the city limits, they can’t fit to create a compatible program.

The government has spent about N23 billion on drainage projects since 1999, and city officials say they saw the results of some of their handiwork before this rainy-season. Several areas where larger culverts and redirected drainage projects have been built weathered the storm with minimal flooding. Even so, that N23 billion hasn’t come close to solving the problem. The problem has been on the city’s list for some time. There are plans for an extensive N7 billion upgrade that would include a long drainage network from Rumuomasi-Rumuogba-Rumuobiakani Road almost to mini-Okoro Creek, but already on scheduled. After this month’s flooding, officials may revisit these priorities.

The cities, and many other jurisdictions in this part of the country, now require developers to build storm-water management into their plans. But many of the flood-prone areas were developed without adequate drainage, so the only solution is to go back and fix the problem. What that means, of course, is that residents and business owners find out the hard way that their neighborhood has poor drainage.

It’s easier, less expensive and generally more effective to consider drainage before buildings are up and pavement is laid, rather than trying to fix it later. The problem has got progressively worse, especially since some housing projects were built by local politicians. The projects connected very small diameter pipes to the larger drainage pipes, which severely restricted the water flow in the whole system.

Mrs. Amachree (83), a local grandma who has 6 rooms for rent along the railway (D-Line), said she lost all her tenants because of the flood. Now she has all her relative living in her rooms. Every year at this time is a nightmare; everyone has been allocated duties to keep bailing the water out of the rooms. She said the flood was once so high it completely covered the window and they had to throw all their possessions away.

However, this year, they are lucky, as the Ministry of Environment has installed a permanent water pump in front of their houses. But it only helps a bit; they still have to move everything up onto the high shelves. The water level sometimes reaches as high as 60-70 cm. during this time, even thought they are using the water pump.” Why not move somewhere else?” we asked.” We don’t know where to go. We have been here for 30 years; it has only been this bad in the last 2-3 years. I hope they can do something about this soon. Please help us,” implored the woman.

Port Harcourt has been adjusting its current strategy to deal with the flood situation with talks of creating a master plan to deal with flooding on a long-term basis, especially by utilizing the help of the city residents. The first project, which is already 80% complete, is the N30 billion scheme to channel the water from the low-lying land through pipes into: a big, monkey-cheek shaped pond at the Nwajah and Ntamiri creeks-channel, Marine-base canal and then on to the sea. The City is also installing 6 huge electric water pumps to expedite drainage: underground in front of Abacha-road/Eligbam/Ebony road; •underground in front of Evo Road Junction; •along the east side of the railway road in four locations: civic-centre junction, behind Hospital road, Naval school area borokiri and before Eleme junction near Fougerolle complex when taking Oyigbo /Iriebe axis. The first area will pump the water to return to the Ohia-mini area, through the Ntamini canal and carry on to the sea. The others will pump the excess water into Ogbondah pond, which covers a 21 Elelenwo area, is 4 metres deep and can contain more than 200,000 cubic meters of water.

The second project, with a budget of N16 billion, will in turn transfers the stored water from Ogbondah pond to a propounded reservoir for further use. When we mapped out few interviewers out of our monthly “nigeria4betterrule”participants with an undisclosed executive, in the city Sanitary Works Department said “we aren’t worried about the water from the city, but we are concerned about the water from the rain-flood.” He explained that most of the water flows from the east of the Casablanca Dance Restaurant and the Woji End of the GRA in Port Harcourt because it is higher and has no standard drainage system. Amadi-ama also has a lot of housing projects in progress, and Borokiri will most definitely face a major flood crisis situation if the sea level increases at the same time as it rains. These areas might become an underwater city then!

They expect the project will be finished by next year. At the present time, they are installing the water pumps. On the road-shoulder side, The Rivers State government in tandem with the Port Harcourt city council is investigating how to fix this problem and give it future protection. They might use pipes, a waterspout or a line of rocks along the road. However, this will require a budget extension.

The ministry Of Environment was reconstituted in the beginning of January 2008, and is obviously still in the process of studying the problems of the water drainage system. Port Harcourt has many different levels of land, which are susceptible to flooding.The worst flood problems occur either in G.R.A phases 1-5, Abuloma, Amadi-ama, Amadi Flats, and Borokiri. The water current tends to flow from Borokiri. The low-lying areas are Ogu/Bolo Village 1,3,5,9, Rumuwobo Village inside Oyigbo, Rumuodomaya, Eligbam Village and Rumuodara, which are all affected. However, the Ministry Of Environment and their works counterpart has installed some water pumps, but sadly not enough to completely solve the problem.

People who work in, or have businesses in Port Harcourt, but live in Oyigbo, using local facilities, make it difficult for the new Sanitary facilities to improve in the short term, especially considering their limited family budget .Big houses in the villages keep expanding, which narrows the road down; •the house project contractors attempt to cut costs by u

sing small specifications; the residents at the lower land area keep filling up their land, even covering up the drainage system; the street food vendors irresponsibly throw their rubbish into the drains. All these contributory factors must be solved first before there can be any long-term solution.

Port Harcourt flooding problem is getting the right answer; first there is more effective co-operation to build a big pond on the empty land before Fougerolle/Zenith Aba road flood. Despite the road-trunk status-federal or state! This area is already low-lying and the soil has been dug up to sell, effectively creating the basis of a pond already. This nearby land belongs to a private owner, but if they purchase the land, it will go a long way towards solving the problem. This idea would be in support of the more comprehensive Greater Port Harcourt plan because this pond will hold a large amount of water before it is later distributed.

We need a better drainage system and we also need to stencil the storm drains, knowing that they are going to flood, and the flooding is going to be toxic, The Ministry Of Works or their Environment counterpart needs a wake up call, way to many people either have no idea what storm drains are for, or don’t care, by stenciling them,.

People will start to understand that storm drains are our life’s blood; we all need to make sure that only rain water goes into them, we need to protect our Natural Waterways. Water usually goes into the ground. When cement covers ground water cannot go there so water goes into “clean” storm sewers but in this part of Nigeria, we pray Mr. President as well as the State government, please in a matter of urgency kindly understand that we have no “clean” sewers so water stays in the street and in homes and businesses.

It is time to clean the sewers – all of them, enforce law, with fines, for anyone emptying anything into the sewer systems, have building commission inspect new building sites to ensure large areas of cement/asphalt have drainage systems installed, revamp, drill and amend drainage holes, not so large as to destroy cement-pads in existing large sites, to allow drainage.

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