Rain, rain, go away
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
The histories of a lot of cities are punctuated by devastating weather events. One of the most deadly of these natural disasters are floods. In late August of 1931, a severe flood hit eastern China when the Huai, Huang (Yellow) and Yangtze rivers overflowed their banks, resulting in the loss of about 3.7 million lives during the flood and in the months that followed . The Huang River had overflowed its banks numerous times claiming millions of lives and earning itself the name ‘China’s sorrow’ or ‘The ungovernable’. This 1931 flood, however, claimed the most lives of all floods in recorded history.
Much more recently in March of this year, cyclone Idai hit the southeastern African nations of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi causing severe flooding that inundated the coastal cities on the Indian Ocean after the cyclone made landfall near the city of Beira in Mozambique. Reports say about 750 lives were lost and over 100,000 people were displaced. As is typical with flooding, loose topsoil among other things gets displaced, covering everywhere with mud and silt. This then contaminates clean water sources with debris, pesticides and sewage which cause diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery . Flood damage to infrastructure severely limits access to clean water and food which leads to starvation, thereby claiming more lives.
Lagos, where I’ve lived for the past 8 years is no stranger to floods either, though not on the scale of Mozambique’s or China’s. However, for a coastal city, it is grossly unprepared for serious flooding which is now more likely to happen due to global warming and other avoidable man made causes. Lagosians can testify to how quickly the city comes to a standstill once it starts to rain. Some days it rains heavily the entire day or for days at a time without letting up causing a lot of low lying parts of the city to be flooded. A lot of Lagosians hate the rainy season because of this however, there are a number of things we can do to reduce the intensity of flooding. To be fair, a lot of flood prevention should be handled by our local, state and federal governments but there are a few helpful steps we can all take in the meantime.
1. STOP LITTERING. A major cause of flooding in Lagos is poor drainage. While there are places that don’t have any drainage, most other places do but they are clogged with debris, construction waste and the trash we all throw out of our cars and as pedestrians. The reality is that the government cannot police our every action, we do need to take responsibility for our part in the situation we find ourselves. I used to live in a city that got fed up of their littering problem and put fines to every single item of trash you threw out. So if you finish with your boiled groundnut and throw out the shells, you’d be fined for each individual shell. Talk about a deterrent.
INSTEAD, for those who drive, get a small trash basket or bag for your car and leave it in the backseat and put all your trash in there, then throw it out at the end of the day. For others, more and more business establishments have trashcans on their premises, use them. To the business owners, do a public service and place trash cans at strategic places so that your patrons, as well as passers-by, can use them instead of clogging your gutters.
2. CLEAR YOUR GUTTERS. ALL the trash we throw out onto the streets most likely ends up in the gutter, even the ones LAWMA sweeps off. If it’s not in the gutter, it’s left in heaps, mostly in low-income parts of the city. Lagos has a serious waste disposal problem which must be tackled at the local and state government levels at least. Other gutter clogging culprits are construction sites. We’ve all driven down the streets where half of it is covered with sand or gravel poured over the gutter and into the streets. So not only are they clogging the gutters, they’re causing traffic too.
CONSIDER paying someone regularly to clear your gutters. You should also provide them with protective gear like knee-high rain boots, gloves and a mask. These things aren’t expensive and keeps them safe. Collaborating with your neighbours makes this easier. Waste disposal is a complex issue to deal with across the globe and is something we all need to come up with creative solutions for. We ignore it to our detriment.
As for the construction culprits, I think we keep quiet about a lot of things we should speak up about and end up ‘suffering and smiling’ as Fela Kuti says. We need to unlearn this managing mentality we have and speak up. Neighbourhood associations need to fine these sites when they clog the gutters and make them responsible for the clean-up. An easy way to ensure this happens is by cutting off the access to their site if they don’t comply.
3. RAINWATER COLLECTION. This works by collecting the rainwater that falls on your property thereby reducing the amount of rainwater that goes into our under performing drainage system. If more people do this it could significantly reduce the amount of flooding the city experiences when it rains. This collected rainwater can then be treated and used to flush toilets, wash cars, water plants and wash clothes.
There are several different ways to collect rainwater, the simplest of which is to have large open cisterns or tanks to capture the water directly. They should be covered after it rains so the collected water doesn’t get polluted. A more effective way of rainwater harvesting is installing roof gutters which collect the water from the roof when it rains and is then piped to a storage tank where the water can be treated and then used.
4. USE MORE SOFT SURFACES & LESS HARD SURFACES. In my previous post, I talked about the benefits of having soft ground surfaces like grass instead of pavement. Well, this is yet another benefit of planting more grass instead of using concrete pavers or pavement. Soft surfaces absorb water, hard surfaces do not at all. One of the ways flooding is mitigated is by slowing the release of water into the drainage system so it can work more effectively. Though soft surfaces have their water retention limits, they do play a serious role in absorbing some of the rainwater and slowly releasing it.
CONSIDER planting more grass and reducing the amount of pavement within your property. A better use of concrete is to build shallow gutters within your property to collect more rainwater which can be collected and treated like the rainwater from the roof. These rainwater collection cisterns can be buried below the ground to free up space and will be particularly helpful during the dry season when a lot of Lagosians find themselves having to buy tankers of water.
5. PRESERVE OUR NATURAL HABITAT. Industrialization and development are processes that have degraded and completely destroyed a lot of natural habitats around the world, a lot of which help combat flooding. In Lagos, we have seen low lying wetlands completely replaced with fully developed communities and with no regard to the natural ecosystem that was destroyed. Wetlands like ponds, marshes, deltas serve as catchment areas when storm surges rise and also slow the floodwaters down and reduce erosion . This makes them particularly important in densely populated urban areas like Lagos.
CONSIDER speaking up to developers, local/state governments and planning commissions when plans that will compromise and destroy wetlands and other natural habitats in your community are introduced. It is our collective responsibility to hold each other accountable.
The issue of flooding and its prevention is a complex problem, one in which our government is responsible for fixing. These are the kinds of issues we must bring up when the people who want to serve in government are campaigning for office. In the interim, we can do a lot to ease up the flooding in our cities and eliminate the loss of life, property and disease that come with it. We are all familiar with the popular nursery rhyme, “rain, rain go away, come again another day, little Johnny wants to play …”. Unfortunately, we want the rain gone for far more serious reasons than children wanting to play. My hope is that we can implement these tips and get our government working to prevent flooding so that we can get to a point where we want the rain gone just for Uduak, Efosa and Hauwa to play.
Do you have any other tips that can alleviate flooding in our cities? Please share.
Thanks for reading. And if you decide to install a rainwater collection system or replace your hard pavement surfaces with grass, get in touch.
Flooding in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole is a serious issue. If you wish to read further on this, check out these articles:
i. Nkwunonwo, Ugonna, Whitworth, Malcolm and Brian Bailey. “A review and critical analysis of the effects towards urban flood risk management in the Lagos region of Nigeria.” Research Gate, February 2016, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292995370_A_review_and_critical_analysis_of_the_efforts_towards_urban_flood_risk_management_in_the_Lagos_region_of_Nigeria
ii. Slaughter, Andrew, and Nelson Odume. “Why Flooding in Nigeria Is an Increasingly Serious Problem.” The Conversation, 19 Sept. 2018, www.theconversation.com/why-flooding-in-nigeria-is-an-increasingly-serious-problem-82272.
iii. Onuoha, Mimi. “A 5-Mile Island Built to Save Lagos's Economy Has a Worrying Design Flaw.” Quartz Africa, Quartz, 18 Mar. 2017, www.qz.com/africa/923142/the-flaw-in-the-construction-of-eko-atlantic-island-in-lagos/.
 “Floods Devastate Eastern China.” National Geographic Society, 6 Nov. 2013, www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/aug18/floods-devastate-eastern-china/.
 History.com Editors. “Yangtze River Peaks in China.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/yangtze-river-peaks-in-china.
 Resnick, Brian. “Photos: What Mozambique's Unfolding Flooding Catastrophe Looks Like.” Vox, Vox, 25 Mar. 2019, www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/3/22/18277238/cyclone-idai-mozambique-flood-how-to-help-zimbabwe-malawi.
 Nunez, Christina. “Learn about How Floods Happen and the Damage They Cause.” Floods-Facts and Information, 4 Apr. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/floods/.
 Andrews, Evan. “The World's Most Catastrophic Floods, in Photos.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 22 June 2017, www.history.com/news/worlds-most-catastrophic-floods-in-photos.