The poverty of Lagos urban planning

We note the increasing speed with which the nearby Lagoon that normally serves as a natural receptacle for surface water in the Lagos Island is been reclaimed for real estate purposes. 

The heavy torrential downpours of the past nine days have succeeded in exposing the poverty of urban planning or lack of it in the Lekki peninsula and also teaching Lagos an important lesson: that megacity does not consist only in reclaiming the lagoon and building estates for the supposedly rich to recede into self-incarceration – all in the mad rush to make quick money. Yes, it is also not about evicting poor slum dwellers and rendering entire families homeless. Appropriate development planning has never been an uncoordinated, knee-jerk, ad-hoc and silotic affair. It has always been coordinated, comprehensive, integral and robust. When you cut through a town with elevated highways without simultaneously rechanneling the drainage system, you make the kind of embarrassing flooding that has swept through large parts of the Lagoon peninsula inevitable.

The truth is that certain elements are entirely missing in our infrastructural and urban development planning. There is just no way to downplay the importance of floodplain analysis in estate development and not reap disaster when the floods come. Flooding in our tropical environment and especially along coastal planes like Lagos is unavoidable and therefore not surprising in any way.  Every city experiencing heavy downpour will certainly have some areas submerged underwater as the rains gather in intensity and duration,  but what determines the extent of damage is the availability of appropriate and adequate provision for surface water runoff after such heavy downpour.  Without the provision of unobstructed channels to convey flood water to either artificial or natural receptacles such as canals, lakes or even the nearby sea as in the case of Lagos, then we have provided just a recipe for disaster.

We note the increasing speed with which the nearby Lagoon that normally serves as a natural receptacle for surface water in the Lagos Island is been reclaimed for real estate purposes. This seems to have been proceeding without due consideration of the natural surface water cycle.  Nobody seems to care what happens to runoff systems coming from the built-up areas. It is also possible that natural water flow paths have been blocked or altered by these developments.

We cannot emphasize it enough that every part of Lagos – not just the Island – must be sufficiently drained and linked to existing canals and that all canals must open up to the lagoons and these lagoons must be dredged regularly.  But it seems that this falls on deaf ears to all and sundry, including government developers. Private estate developers in the Lagos Island seem to abide by no known rules except to fleece unsuspecting Lagosians of their funds in the guise of selling what in fact, are no better than poorly planned neighborhoods that parallels pro-poor council apartments in the UK and elsewhere in the world.  They build estates while neglecting the flow system that interacts with the outside environment. The consequence is most certainly the improperly directed effluent flows that create the kind of floods we have witnessed in the past few days.   Yet we do not see this trend dissipating anytime soon as it is clear that both estate developers and government seem to collude in this crass act of environmental wreckage.

We also note that the poorly constructed roads have all but given way under the unrelenting onslaught of the heavy downpours. Pot holes have quickly emerged even on roads and bridges that were very recently commissioned. You can’t but begin to wonder if the engineers never factored-in obvious ecological conditions in their models and materials selection. If we add that it costs significantly higher to construct a kilometer of road in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world, you begin to understand the sort of sleight-of-hand on display in these things.   The question that challenges people like us is just how could a professional supervisor approve such shoddy work?   It is clear that substandard materials were employed or if not, consideration was not given to the prevailing ecological conditions in materials selection and handling.

My take is that public private partnerships (PPP) remain the most effective mechanism to procure infrastructural services in a corruption-ridden and incompetent system such as ours. By transferring risks to private sector, the later are incentivized to install efficient solutions and in moments like this, there’s a clear culprit to blame. While we are happy that the Lagos State government has responded a bit to some areas, I believe that a sustainable plan would be to create a robust planning system that leverages modern simulation technologies to address the longer term solutions to these challenges. If Lagos, known to have a reserve of more competent and professional bureaucracy – better than even the federal government – can suffer these ugly situations, one wonders what would be the case in other states of the federation that are much less endowed. Yet, I strongly recommend PPPs for infrastructure service provision in our peculiar system.

Adi, an environment expert, wrote in from Lagos.



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