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Mitigating the hazards of Lake Nyos’ collapse

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Youths for Public Safety

By Abubakar Jimoh
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Recently, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) drew the public attention to the imminent collapse of the Lake Nyos by 2015. This according to the agency would pose a negative socio-economic effects to some states in Nigeria including Benue, Taraba, Katsina, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Kogi and Cross River, Delta, Akwa Ibom states in the event of the eruption.
Geologically, Lake Nyos is located in western Cameroon and adjacent to Nigeria in the elbow region of West Africa. It lies close to the axis of the Cameroon Volcanic Line, which extends for nearly 1,500km from the gulf of Guinea Islands through south-western Cameroon and goes into northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon.
Hitherto, the emission of Carbon dioxide from the lake in August, 1986, had claimed 1,800 victims; while a lethal gas burst originated from the neighbouring lake Monoun, in the same remote area of Cameroon killed 37 people in 1984.
Both lakes occupy the crater of a supposedly extinct volcano in a region known by geologists for its numerous gaseous water springs and a common feature of old volcanic areas.
In both cases, without prior notice, a cloud of dense gas erupted from the lake, covering the surroundings under a deadly blanket several meters thick, decorating the skins of the victims with burns.
The fact that both disasters occurred at night remained mysterious and had caused dreadful natural catastrophe in the area.
Also, NEMA’s accounts showed physics and chemistry of the lakes still contain huge amounts of carbon dioxide (10 million m3 and 300 million m3 in Monoun and Nyos, respectively) and that this gas is being added at such a rate that saturation could be reached within years in the deep layers of the lakes. This may result to the collapse of the Lake Nyos which is also a volcanic dam that could release up to 50 million cubic metres (1.8 billion cu ft) of water into Katsina-Ala River.
Consequently, the agency has conducted technical study on the situation and developed various measures which is classified under absorption, mitigation, and elimination depending on the location.
Absorption measures involved preparing the threatened areas to absorb the initial effects of the event, considering the prediction of possible collapse of the Lake Nyos Dam and flood arrival time. This include flood inundation mapping, emergency preparedness planning and containment of flood by a buffer dam. Mitigation measures, nonetheless, include reinforcement of the Lake Nyos dam, control of the dam seepage, control of potential rock- fall into the lake, as well as venting of gas from the lake bottom. The elimination measures were aimed at removing completely the dangers posed by the lake such as draining and de-gassing the lake.
The study also it observed that preventive measures is the best option required to manage socio-economic effects that disasters of Lake Nyos may pose to man and his property.
Besides, geologists have further confirmed that the natural hazards presented by these lakes are unique in that remediation is possible before a disaster occurs. It has been recommended that lowering the density of the gas-water mixture by pumping of gas-rich bottom waters to the surface of the lakes will help to remove the gas currently in the lakes, and possibly prevent future gas that may build up using a pipe that continuously flushes bottom water out of the lake.
Reducing the danger of these hazards is very vital just as residents of the area must be educated about risks involved and the level of danger posed to people living around the lakes. In this case, there is a need for adequate alert system that will be coded in several languages of the communities to be affected. This will help to inform the residents about the impending flood and forewarn them to vacate the river banks.
There is an instant need for the states to construct buffer dams in addition to the ongoing construction of buffer dam project across the Benue communities by the federal government to hold the excess water; while the state governments must collaboration with their respective State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to put in place some palliative measure against the impact of the impending disaster. Also very vital is efficient means of transportation and communication to facilitate emergency operation by officials.
Effective collaboration among stakeholders on disaster management such as Fire Services, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Police, medical services, Federal Road Safety Corps, private, Nigerian Red Cross Society, the Disaster Reaction Units of the military, Search and Rescue and Epidemic Evacuation Teams must be encouraged to provide adequate emergency response, and assist NEMA with its ongoing proffered technical measures against the anticipated Lake Nyos collapse. Besides, if necessary workable evacuating systems should be provided for the population living around the danger zone; and facilities must be sufficient provided in the alternative environments chosen for them.

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