REASONS FOR FLOODING AND BUILDINGS COLLAPSE

By NBF News
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The July 10, 2011 heavy rain has come and gone leaving behind loss of billions worth of property, death and soil erosion. The heavy rain affected Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states.

Residents of Benin City, Edo State are no strangers to flooding as it is commonplace that heavy rainfall comes with flood. Flood also affected some parts of Taraba State. Flood is our own tsunami or hurricane, though could have been managed without any problem.

Flood has only reminded us that the government, be it in Lagos, Ogun or elsewhere, is not addressing the root of our under-development. The recent flood has taught us that sustainable development goes beyond constructing just few roads, bridges and planting flowers on few major roads and go to sleep. In fact, Lagos, like other parts of the country, is moving at a reverse speed. My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones and also those who lost properties.

Different reasons have been adduced to the cause of the damage while some have ignorantly stated that what happened was natural and could not have been otherwise. Governor Babatunde Fashola's response to the flooding is the usual martial order. Fashola had stated that some identified buildings on drainages and refuse dumping in drainages were responsible for the flooding and as such they will be demolished. On the surface, it may look reasonable because there are some houses built on drainages while many have been filled with refuse. However, these reasons are not the root cause of flood, they are just consequences of lack of planning. Where was the same government when these houses were erected on drainages? No one should lose sight of the fact that the flood also affected highbrow areas like Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi.

Besides, many of the drainages and canals were not properly built and have overtime degenerated to the extent that they could not properly serve their purposes; most of the canals have been silted and overgrown with plants; drainages have been filled with refuse and sand. Simply, flood could be caused by heavy rainfall that can force the river or ocean to over flow its banks. The recent flood in Lagos was not as a result of overflow of the Atlantic Ocean but by a heavy downpour with inadequate or poor drainage system.

Lagos, just like Ibadan and Port Harcourt, is densely populated. The more population increases, the more the challenges of basic infrastructures. Lagos, like other parts of Nigeria, was never planned in a holistic manner. Planning means every area of life is put into consideration when putting and expanding basic infrastructures. When houses were built without putting into consideration a central water system, a central sewage, electricity, drainages, canals, roads, bridges, pipelines, rail lines, dams etc, there is bound to be a problem. In the last 30 years, new areas have been developed in Lagos with no corresponding basic infrastructures, like drainages, roads, canals, etc.

Until we recognise that each house or drainage in one street is part of a whole community/city/town there is bound to be disaster. The level of physical development today is largely as a result of self-help or private investment. For example, Mr. A builds his house without considering the environmental impact in terms of what is best for the locality and to others in the community. He is in a race to create a blind alley such as others. A planned society takes into account effective channels of waste water from a building to drainage linking possibly to bigger drainage or floodways and to a canal or dam. And all the drainages, canals, roads etc, must be built to live up to the challenges of a low, high land and the environment in its entirety. When a country leaves everybody to build his or her house, possibly drainages and roads, it is encouraging a state of anarchy!

Building collapse has become a regular menace to the extent that it no longer alarms anybody. Even buildings still under construction fall like a pack of cards. The most recent are two buildings situated at Number 6, Mogaji Close, Idumota and Number 20 Doyin Omololu Street, Ketu Alapere, Lagos. The Lagos State Government has reiterated its riot act of taking over houses that collapse and others with structural defects.

This does not resolve the problem, it is not even a scratch on the problem. It is only a reaction to the problem, leaving the deep-rooted problems unattended to. It is on record that the Lagos State government has its own fair share of collapse of buildings or construction works. On Sunday August 9, 2009, a water tank at the Ikate Waterworks Surulere collapsed and damaged a building within the area; this construction work was executed by HFP Engineering on behalf of the state government. Also, on Monday April 16, 2010, another Lagos State-owned shopping complex still under construction at Oshodi collapsed killing three people and injuring nine others. None of the top officials was sacked or prosecuted; the Governor never resigned - business continued as usual. On Friday December 10, 2010, an Ikeja City Mall widely believed to be owned by Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State that was under construction collapsed leaving five persons critically injured yet the land has not been taken over by the government and nobody has been prosecuted. Whenever government or their top officials are guilty of the same offense the rule that states that 'what is good for the goose is good for the gander' never applies.

Housing is one area that draws no attention from the government at all levels. What is the housing policy of the Lagos State government? It only builds houses for the rich whereas Lateef Jakande's government built low cost houses for lower income earners. People only build houses within their financial capacity, whether structurally suitable or not. In fact, in many instances, the owner of the house plays the role of the engineer, whether trained or not and mostly use quacks in the construction of houses. Substandard materials are mostly used as a means to reduce cost and when it is for commercial purposes it is geared towards making more profit.

So, private builders and disasters they have continued to unleash are products of the absence of a well planned public housing policy. The neglect of the housing sector by successive governments has made it possible for people to seek other ways since nature abhors vacuum.

Some have argued that government should only regulate the sector. Assuming without conceding that government should only regulate, it also means that it will have in its employment a good number of experts to assess all construction buildings across the state from its take-off point to the end, an action the government will not embark upon because of the cost implication.

The rising cost of building materials makes it impossible for most house owners to adhere to standard. Cement, a key building material is selling for about N2000 a bag despite privatizing Benue Cement and Ewekoro Cement industries! The price of other building materials is also rising. Government intervention at all levels is instrumental to bringing down the prices of building materials. Cement can be produced in Nigeria, all government need do is to take over its cement industries already privatized and invest massively on them and make cement readily available at an affordable price. Government could also directly import other materials that could not be currently produced in Nigeria with low import charges on them as a means to bring down the prices. Bringing down the prices of building materials will make possible for more public funded housing estates to be built in different areas of the country. This also implies that a big public construction firms will be created with the right quantity and quality of staff/experts and tools/equipments to work with and placed under the management committee of workers, relevant professionals and government representatives. Any member of such committee should be subject to democratic recall whenever he or she goes against collective interest of the public. In the final analysis, the houses constructed are let out to those who need them at a cost that is affordable. This is the only way sanity can return to the housing sector on a sustainable long term basis. No country could get industralised without viable power and steel industry, reviving these sectors will help in galvanizing the construction industry.

It is only the optimal use of the collective human and material resources to meet the needs of all that will guarantee the basic necessity of life that is free from crises. Anything short of an all encompassing and holistic approach can only at best produce momentary relief at the expense of long term initiative for a sustainable development. So much damage has been done but it is never too late to start planning and rebuilding anew.

Mr Chinedu Bosah, Public Relations Officer, Campaign for Democratic and Workers' Rights, wrote from Agege, Lagos.