PUBLIC POLICIES ON WATER all over the world are becoming a central theme. Experiences with water are varied and diverse in different parts of the world. Some experiences prevalent in the tropics are not necessarily found in the temperate regions. The nature of urbanisation and demographic dynamics also account for the variations in the observations on water use, management and control. It is now clear that water — a commodity — can no longer be left to the vagaries of events around us. The urgent need to understand how water is made available and how it is used, plus the factors beyond human control in the various issues around water, must now be better understood, put in proper perspective while guarding against the confounding variables. In the developing countries with limited or inadequate infrastructure, they are assuming greater relevance, particularly for their livelihoods, health and security implications. Centralised water regulations and supplies policies will be harder to implement in increasingly populous cities that are struggling with outdated or inadequate infrastructure. The experiences of a relatively smaller Des Moines in Iowa, US, cannot be the same with a highly populous Mumbai in India with a population of no fewer than one million slum dwellers. Nor can the experiences of a moderate populated Brussels in Belgium be compared with those of a megapolis Lagos with over 20 million residents.
The challenges posed by water and the kinds of city administrations that tend to handle such challenges are indeed very significant. And because the world is getting increasingly urbanised, the urban water management — in terms of supplies and environment impacts — is becoming more important now more than ever before. Water could have been considered free in the past. Not anymore, especially in the urban settings where conflicts involving quality, quantity, availability and safety need to be resolved and constantly kept under the radar. Historically, many towns and cities were situated near major rivers and water courses which afforded people easier access to water at little or no costs, the major reasons were for consumption and navigation, especially when the only popular means of transportation was by canoes and ships. As engineering and transport technologies evolved with rail and road transport becoming popular, the expansion of the settlements and their growth into bigger cities no longer require nearness to major rivers as a significant factor since those new means of transportation — including air transport — are faster and have therefore come to supplant river navigation in the forms of rail, road and aviation.
There are downsides to these growths and expansions, however, as flooding is fast becoming an existential problem in many cities, particularly depending on their proximity to rivers and ocean shores. The experiences of New Orleans, Louisiana in the US, Jakarta in Indonesia and Lagos in Nigeria are telltale signs of how water could become a threat to cities when they turn to deluge. Low lying landscapes that have become parts of cities are gradually yielding ground to encroaching water and many parts of such cities are gradually becoming submerged. Some parts of New Orleans are now under water and some easily get overwhelmed during the recurrent hurricanes, displacing many families. Some parts of Victoria Island in Lagos began to go under the sea some 20 years ago. Although some reclamation efforts have been made, the extension of sand fills into the sea does not guarantee that such reclaimed areas are permanently free from future flooding. The Indonesian government has concluded plans to move the country’s political capital away from Jakarta because many parts of the city have gone under water and more areas are likely to do so in the foreseeable future. The Indonesian, American and Nigerian coastal cities flooding ordeals are not isolated experiences. They are indeed proofs of rising ocean water levels due to climate change as polar ice melts year and after year and the sea shorelines are overrun by rising ocean water. With the alarming rates in the rise in global temperature, these changes may become irreversible and inland waters may annually experience periodic floods that affect settlements with high concentration of inhabitants, leading to disasters that will claim thousands of lives. This brings the urgent need for municipal administrations and and city mayors to devise sustainable ways of preserving lives through good and elaborate drainage systems. It is noteworthy that the negligence in these areas was responsible for a flood disaster in 1980 that claimed many lives and uprooted many houses on the water channels of a popular Ogunpa River in Ibadan, a city in the South West of Nigeria.
The experiences of cities now becoming accustomed to annual flooding in Africa are a cause for an urgent review of urban water policies. Annual floods in Dakar, Senegal, which still occurred last year and the year before ravaging homes, sweeping away livestock and affecting human mobility, have been blamed on poor urban planning. With this, it is reasonable to expect a repeat of such flooding again about the same period of August and September this year. The 2021 flooding in Niger Republic due to heavy rains reportedly caused several deaths and widespread damage nationwide. The capital city of Niamey, most affected, reportedly recorded at least 62 mortalities, 60 cases of injuries and 105,690 individuals displaced by the floods as dams and dykes did burst and the Niger River poured huge volumes of water into people’s homes, farms and other buildings without warning.
The rain that led to flooding in the early days of September 2021, affected over 61,000 people as the resultant flooding overran 53 villages in White Nile State’s Aj Jabalain locality. This also included 35,000 South Sudanese refugees in Alganaa area, according to findings. Heavy rains and flash flooding reportedly affected 14 out of 18 states across the Sudan, with over 14,800 homes destroyed and 45,300 homes damaged, temporarily displacing over 100,000 people, necessitating some forms of humanitarian assistance. The annual recurrence of cyclones and flooding in Mozambique has led to thousands of deaths and displacements. Many victims, for lack of access to clean and hygienic water supply, have succumbed to cholera or other types of water-borne diseases. These are becoming continent-wide challenges that require continent-wide policy responses. This brings up the need to step up emergency preparedness in all of African cities, suburbs and even rural communities as water becomes a central issue in these various instances.
Prioritising of water supply will become a big political issue of the future. Food security will remain inextricably linked with water supply. For much of Africa, this will remain a big challenge because much of Africa is arid to semi-arid. The North Africa, the Sahel and the southern Africa will be very critical to food security in the sense that these regions will depend a lot on artificial supplies of water to irrigate the fields for food production. Managing the extremes is now a political, economic and moral imperative, apart from the public health, safety and security implications. The reality is that the seasonal flooding now annually recorded in many countries in the arid zone may become permanent features. But these are unlikely to end the perennial droughts in many parts of Africa. Farmers around the western Cape in South Africa are having to endure prolonged periods of droughts and crop failure, just as those in Namibia, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and many countries in West Africa. Lasting solutions need to be found to these, or Africa may become jeopardised by alternating extremes of droughts and flooding. Either way, they are disasters that must be permanently avoided.