By Rakiya A.Muhammad
The light rain turned into a steady deluge, and torrential downpours continued for the next six hours at the Northern Nigeria community of Kwanni. Floodwater inundated residences, roadways, and marketplaces amidst persistent heavy precipitation.
Life in the area is already negatively impacted by pollution in the water supply, poor air quality, erosion, and flooding. The living conditions in the community are challenging, and the community has many of the most vulnerable populations, among the approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion worldwide, which data suggests are living in situations that are very vulnerable to climate change.
Low-income levels characterise many Kwanni residents, which limits their access to sufficient resources to adequately adapt to and prepare for the impacts of climate change, which the UN defines as “the defining issue of our time.”
‘From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to the rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale,’ it adds.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also notes that “climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones, aggravating water management, reducing agricultural production and food security, increasing health risks, damaging critical infrastructure and interrupting the provision of basic services such as water and sanitation, education and energy.”
A People’s Plight
The Kwanni community members have been facing a distressing ordeal and an unpredictable outlook due to the ongoing effects of climate change, which have significantly impacted their livelihoods and the physical environment.
Over the course of three consecutive years of disasters, inhabitants of Kwanni saw their homes and infrastructure destroyed by flooding and erosion. Sewers overflowing and dirty water mixing with fresh water are health hazards made worse by the recent flooding in the community.
The inhabitants have persevered in enduring progressively harsh circumstances with unwavering stoicism and resilience.
In one late-night calamity, a grandson almost drowned as heavy flood water invaded the house of Hajiya’ Yar Mafara, an octogenarian at the top of an extended family unit, one of 87 houses worst damaged by the 2022 flood in Kwanni.
“We had already fallen asleep when the rains came and swamped the premises, resulting in a perilous situation where my grandson nearly submerged in water,” Hajiya Yar Marafa recalls.
“Fortunately, I awoke just in the nick of time and successfully extricated him from harm’s way.”
She discloses the flood inundated all their possessions into the water.
Hajiya Yar Marafa, surrounded by her downtrodden family, adds that they now stay up through the night every time it rains.
“We just stand there,” she remarks, gesturing to a cramped area of her run-down abode.
She also mentions that a woman living within the residential complex resorted to sleeping in the restroom, as it was the only area available to her where she could reasonably manage.
In addition, unidentified individuals stole their possessions as they sought refuge elsewhere.
“Further compounding the situation, some unscrupulous individuals took some of their possessions while being evacuated to safety,” laments Malam Zainab, Yar Marafa’s family member.
“We anticipated a flood when we noticed the rain was approaching, so I moved my fridge to our neighbours, where I believed it would be safe from the water. Sadly, they removed most of the fridge’s necessary components and many of our other belongings.”
As Malama Sadiya, another Kwanni resident, articulates their challenges, an overwhelming sensation of despair engulfs her.
“Life has been challenging, particularly for the children, due to the absence of adequate shelter. During the rainy season, our neighbourhood is overwhelmed by stagnant water bodies, breeding places for mosquitos,” the stay-at-home parent divulges.
“The only shelter we have is this. It constitutes the entire refuge available to us. In this location, we experience regular sleep disturbance and endure the discomfort caused by mosquito bites.”
She expresses her concern about the children’s lack of attendance at school. They find themselves predominantly afflicted with malaria, a mosquito-borne disease.
Sadiya, whose spouse is currently without employment, expresses their inability to seek medical services because of financial constraints.
The pregnant woman also discloses how climatic conditions have impacted her antenatal checkups.
“This is my third week not going to a prenatal appointment. Precipitation occurred consistently throughout the week when I had scheduled appointments for medical examinations.”
She presents an earnest plea to ease the anguish they experience. “We are currently experiencing a significant amount of distress. Those who possess the resources should extend their help to us.”
Wading through floodwaters, Hajara Ibrahim, another Kwanni dweller, takes her ailing toddler to the doctor.
With environmental conditions not conducive, it was an arduous task traversing to the clinic because of the inclement weather, including the rain and resulting floods.
“Before I could get to the hospital, I had to evacuate my home because of flooding,” she says.
“It was tough coming to the clinic because of the rain and the flooding in the area. It’s undoubtedly inconvenient to navigate the narrow spaces. There are flooded regions, gutters, and several other elements.”
Hajara believes that the environmental issue is to blame for the state of her child. “We are bothered by the biting of mosquitoes. The medical staff has diagnosed my child with malaria; it is difficult for youngsters to attend school while it is raining and flooding outside. “
Hajara, emphasising the imperative of addressing the flood issue, states, “In the event of an emergency, life will be at risk if rapid access to the clinic is not possible.”
Muhammadu Bello, a local plumber in the community, bemoans the state of affairs as well.
“In addition to getting bitten by mosquitoes, it also subjected us to unpleasant odours emanating from the gutters. There was a high prevalence of malaria cases. They even admitted me to the hospital,” he reveals.
“The occurrence of a flood in the region leads to significant challenges. It has resulted in significant losses, including the destruction of our houses. The primary catalyst for the development is the prevalence of congestion on our waterways, which results in the redirection of water into residential structures. Consequently, our possessions are lost.”
Muhammad Bello, along with several other residents, had their homes destroyed by a flood about two years ago. The situation forced him to find housing in the Gidan Igwai area of the state, and he returned to the original location when it became habitable.
He has experienced further losses this year. “Our homes were utterly devastated by the floods, and everything we owned—including clothing and cash—washed away. We’re attempting to rebuild right now,” he says.
“I engaged the services of some youths, and some neighbours also joined hands; together, we built this makeshift room to stay.”
The circumstances had a direct impact on his professional endeavours, necessitating the abandonment of his work to prioritise the reconstruction of his residence. He decided to focus on the accommodation problem despite depending on plumbing for a living.
For Muhammadu Buhari Mai Ganye, who lives in the neighbourhood and runs a business there, this is a double-edged sword.
The scenario had a detrimental effect on his household as well as his livelihood.
“We’ve had this issue for over two years,” he says. “When it rains, the whole house fills up with water, and we don’t even have where to sleep, and it enmeshes our household items in water.” Buhari is the head of a family of ten.
A poultry business owner, Buhari, expresses his distress over losing his livestock to inclement weather conditions with severe rainfall.
In 2022, Malam Buhari experienced a significant financial loss during a flood that destroyed his birds, amounting to hundreds of thousands of Naira due to a flood event. This incident coincided with an overflow that affected Malam Junaidu, a vendor specialising in herbal medicine.
Both individuals felt the economic repercussions of these events.
Malam Junaid, still reeling from the devastation, says the deluge destroyed all his inventories.
“The flood water got into the store and soaked everything. The rain ruined all of our herbs,” Junaidu recalls.
“At this moment, I cannot even afford to hire labourers to fix the store. I must accomplish it on my own.”
He laments how the crisis has impacted their ability to make a living. “It’s not a sole enterprise. Many others rely on this business as their primary source of income.”
For his part, Mallam Dahiru was engaged in the trade of locally produced bed sheets until he had issues with his lower limbs, resulting in his incapacity to walk. Unfortunately, a deluge that engulfed the community also ruined his belongings.
Dahiru, who lives in a shelter made of zinc sheets, claims that he places his orders for the commodities from this location and that other individuals assist him in arranging their delivery.
“If it were possible for me to walk, I would not be present.” I am unable to move or walk. I must be present at all times. “
On his house, which looks more like a makeshift, he says:” This is how my home has been since I got this space. I lacked the resources to develop it.”
Aliyu Ahmad Tambari, who serves as the esteemed traditional leader of the area and holds the title of Marfan Kwanni of Sokoto, says it is unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
“This phenomenon is unprecedented in our community. The drainage system experiences blockages. Water pipelines fracture, resulting in the unintended mixing of drinking water with gutter water,” the community leader relates.
“It is possible to encounter faecal matter inside the community’s water supply. The current circumstances have resulted in the affliction experienced by our populace.”
He says, “In all honesty, this new turn of events has been detrimental to us.” Both traditional and religious forms of education are experiencing challenges at this time. Children do not attend school as frequently as one would hope, and some individuals who were formerly in good health are now struggling with a variety of health issues.”
The World Health Organization acknowledges that climate stressors have the potential to increase the risks of waterborne and foodborne infections. Additionally, climate change has a significant impact on the availability, quality, and diversity of food, which in turn worsens the existing food and nutrition crisis.
“Climate change is impacting health in a myriad of ways, including leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems increase zoonoses and food, water and vector-borne diseases and mental health viruses’,” WHO says
“The climate crisis threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction and further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations.”
WHO data indicates two billion people lack safe drinking water, and 600 million suffer from foodborne illness annually, while 30% of food-related deaths occur in children under the age of five.
The Local’s Initiative
One noteworthy approach the community members adopted involves using traditional methods to safeguard low-lying towns and facilities, such as flood barriers. The strategy has helped lessen the adverse consequences of flooding. Additionally, there was some level of implementation of desalination techniques in the drainage systems, which was also beneficial.
Nevertheless, the current level of attention needs to include the magnitude necessary to effectively address and mitigate the ongoing environmental concerns in the locality.
As flood protection measures, households rely on sandbags and invest considerable time and effort in their filling and placement. Despite this, water continues to seep in through the gaps and destroy their dwellings and stables by flooding them.
The Marafa encourages locals to avoid dumping waste indiscriminately to mitigate the consequences.
According to him, some inhabitants deposit waste materials onto drainage systems, particularly when they anticipate rainfall, with the expectation that the ensuing heavy precipitation will relocate the accumulated garbage to an alternative location.
“The presence of obstructions in drainage systems, constructed in the past under the direction of the former premier of Northern Nigeria, has resulted in significant flooding.”
“There is also no way for us to reach the obstructions and clear them so that water can flow freely to its final destination. Running water always finds a way, and when it does, it erodes the land and causes issues.”
Residents of Kwanni use a pumping mechanism to extract floodwater from their inundated homes following a flood. The result, however, comprises a combination of faeces, urine, and runoff, and this contaminated water is released back into the environment, thereby exacerbating the dangers.
The experience of closely witnessing the situation became exceedingly difficult to endure, as it permeated the atmosphere with an overwhelming odour reminiscent of sewage and other contaminants in the community, characterised by social inequalities.
Climate Change’s social dimension
A report by the World Bank on the social dimension of climate change identifies a global pattern of inequality as intricately intertwined with climate change on a massive scale.
The effects of climate change are felt most acutely by the world’s most impoverished and marginalised populations, despite the fact that these groups are responsible for the least amount of the problem, It points out.
The report identifies a confluence of factors, including their geographical location, gender, financial, socioeconomic, cultural, and access to resources, services, authority, and justice, that contribute to their vulnerability.
According to the international organization, climate change transcends being solely an environmental disaster, as it also constitutes a social crisis that necessitates our attention to various dimensions of inequality.
There is a need for implementing well-crafted and inclusive policies, it emphasises, highlighting the detrimental impact that poorly conceived and exclusionary policies can have on exacerbating these impacts.
However, a significant number of people in the community express a preference for the resolution of the issue at hand rather than relocating.
Their stance may be because a pattern of intergenerational transfer of property ownership characterises the residential area.
“Rather than leaving, I would prefer to see the issue rectified,” a local asserts.
Buhari also expresses a reluctance to undergo relocation.
“It is an inherited neighbourhood. We have no desire to relocate for whatever reason,” he explains.
Bello corroborates: “This is the place we inherit from our forebears, and we wish to maintain the heritage. That is why we make no move to move.”
Nonetheless, a few inhabitants who are amenable to moving indicate that they would be willing to do so should the new community “fit us.”
However, some locals who are okay with relocation have said they would be willing to do so if the alternative settlement ‘suits us’.
How have pertinent agencies and the state government responded to the predicament of these individuals who are particularly susceptible to harm?
The State Emergency Management Agency’s (SEMA) Director of Disaster Management, Umar Isa, says measures are underway to handle the problem.
“We are currently assessing the impacted areas,” he reveals.
“And the state government is anticipating the completion of our assessment report to determine the most suitable course of action for assisting the victims of these calamities.”
In Nigeria, several other localities, including Kwanni, have continued to struggle against the devastation caused by erosion and flooding.
To give Nigeria a legal framework for fulfilling its climate goals, the federal government of Nigeria signed the Climate Change Act into law on November 18, 2021.
Amidst the mounting threats posed by climate change, stakeholders have been pressing for the Act’s implementation to meet climate targets and attain long-term social and economic sustainability as well as resilience.
Many applaud the Environmental Ministry’s allocation of 49% of its 2023 budget to flood and erosion management, emphasising the importance of full implementation.
Out of the total N49.7 billion allocated for the ministry’s capital expenditures, more than N43.7 billion went to new projects related to erosion and flood management.
The figure represents a significant surge of 141.6% compared to the allocated budget of N18.1 billion for erosion and flood management in the year 2022.
The torrential floods experienced in 2022, regarded as the most severe flooding event in the preceding decade, underscore the imperative for collaborative endeavours aimed at addressing the issue of climate change. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the occurrence had a devastating impact on many communities in Nigeria, resulting in the loss of 662 lives, injuries to 3174 individuals, and displacement of over 2.4 million people.
Combatting a Central Challenge
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that climate change is occurring at a much faster rate and on a much larger scale than previously thought, emphasising the need for urgent and substantial measures.
” It is the central challenge of our century. It is unacceptable, outrageous and self-defeating to put it on the back burner,” Guterres stresses.
“Human activity is the cause of the climate problem. So, human action must be the solution. We need all hands on deck for faster, bolder climate action. A window of opportunity remains open, but only a narrow shaft of light remains.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasises the importance of adaptation measures in addressing the ongoing climate change phenomenon. The IPCC asserts that adaptation primarily involves modifying existing systems to mitigate climatic risks and decrease susceptibility.
With increasing public and political knowledge of climate impacts and risks, at least 170 nations and cities have incorporated adaptation into their climate policies and planning processes, as noted in the panel.
But, the IPCC warns that humans still need to adapt more to deal with climate change’s effects and lessen the hazards they face.
“Most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current impacts or near-term risks, and focused more on planning than implementation,” it states.
“Observed adaptation is unequally distributed across regions, and gaps are partially driven by widening disparities between the estimated costs of adaptation and documented finance allocated to adaptation.”
The highest adaptation gaps, according to the IPCC, exist among lower-income population groups, and the gap will continue to widen at the current rate of adaptation planning and implementation.
“As adaptation options often have long implementation times,” it says, “long-term planning and accelerated implementation, particularly in the next decade, is important to close adaptation gaps, recognising that constraints remain for some regions.”
Climate justice and climate-resilient development are major concerns for environmental activists.
They advocate for the principles of climate justice and the implementation of climate-resilient development strategies as essential components in addressing the challenges of climate change.
The Kwani community’s top priority right now is finding a solution to the problems they’re facing, and they have high expectations that it will come soon.