As the spectre of unprecedented flooding looms over 30 states in Nigeria, having already impacted some areas this year, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has called for fragile and conflict-affected countries like Nigeria to be placed at the forefront of the climate agenda as leaders prepare to gather for COP28.
A sharp increase in diseases, including cholera, caused grave concern among humanitarian organizations as a direct result of devastating flooding last year – damage to infrastructure meant the affected population were not able to access clean water or health facilities. 31 of the 36 states across Nigeria recorded 23,550 suspected cases of cholera, with Borno state alone recording 12,000 cases.
Since the beginning of July this year, the government has issued flood alerts in several localities across the states of Kano, Borno, Adamawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto, Delta, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Plateau, Jigawa, Kwara, and Niger State.
With COP28 approaching, the IRC is calling for Nigeria to be one of the countries prioritized in the global climate agenda, with concrete commitments to unlock more funding for adaptation and climate resilience.
IRC also urges the expansion of partnerships with local civil society groups and investments in innovations like anticipatory action to prevent the climate crisis from becoming a catastrophe.
As part of its response to the crisis affecting populations in Nigeria, the IRC has piloted an anticipatory cash program in the northeast of the country.
Using information from government meteorological agencies that it partnered with to predict a generational flood, the IRC research teams compared the effects of providing cash transfers to households ahead of a climate shock, instead of the typical post-shock response.
The evidence showed that families receiving cash days before the disaster were less likely to go hungry and more likely to take pre-emptive action. This approach can mitigate the impact of climate hazards in the short-term and improve resilience in the long-term.
Babatunde Anthony Ojei, IRC Country Director for Nigeria, said,
“Last season’s floods in Nigeria had disastrous effects, including the loss of at least 600 lives and the forced displacement of more than 1.5 million individuals across several states. In IRC clinics in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states alone, almost 35,000 children were recorded as patients having contracted waterborne illnesses due to the floods, increasing their susceptibility to further illness.
“The disruption to the agricultural calendar, including planting of seeds or harvesting, and the potential destruction of fields due to rising waters, is equally alarming as it will impact the food supply to the population. Already, nearly 25 million Nigerians are likely to go hungry by August of this year; malnutrition levels in northeast and northwest Nigeria continue at higher levels than this time last year or the previous four years, with nearly 2 million people receiving humanitarian food assistance in April 2023. The risk of further disruption to education services must also be taken into account, especially given that Nigeria already ranks as one of the highest in the world for out-of-school children.”
Hannah Gibbin, Regional Deputy Director for IRC in West Africa, said,
“Our concerns reach across the West African region; countries like Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal are also threatened by a high probability of severe flooding and soil erosion.
“What worries us most is the risk of increased cases of cholera, malaria, valley fever, and other diseases linked to polluted rainwater or runoff. Our colleagues in the field have identified that one of the main causes of the cholera epidemic is the lack of hygiene and sanitation facilities, such as latrines, in many areas. We are working with partners to build these spaces and boreholes. In preparation for this year’s flooding, we have also launched an effective program to distribute cash in advance to the communities most at risk. This enables them to better prepare themselves in advance to minimize the impact of these floods.
“More early action programs need to be launched to mitigate the impact of flooding on families and their livelihoods. As of now, populations must be made aware of the risks, so that they don’t adopt negative coping mechanisms such as reducing the number of meals consumed, but the good hygiene practices required to preserve their health. The humanitarian community needs to start working now with the state authorities in these countries on a multi-sectoral response to be implemented as soon as the emergency is declared, to meet the needs that anticipated action will not have been able to cover.”