Photograph — African Environment

On August 14th, the nation of Cameroon, situated in West Africa, initiated a deliberate process of releasing water from the renowned Lagdo Dam. According to Clement Nze, Director-General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, the Cameroonian authorities initiated this release at 10:10 a.m. on August 14, 2023. However, this crucial information was only conveyed to the DG of NIHSA on August 23, 2023, by the Cameroonian hydrologist responsible for the dam.

This delayed communication is a cause for concern for Nigerians. It highlights a significant gap in communication between the two nations. Although Nze shared on August 29th that the Lagdo dam’s hydrologist had informed Nigerian authorities about halting water spillage by 11:00 am the day before, it’s important to recognize that if torrential rains had persisted in Cameroon, leading to dam flooding, this practice would have persisted, negatively impacting unprepared communities downstream.

While the recent development appears positive, it’s crucial to emphasize that historical water management practices at this dam have tragically resulted in the loss of lives and livelihoods in numerous Nigerian communities downstream along the River Benue Basin. These states include Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Kogi, Anambra, Enugu, Edo, Delta, Rivers, and Bayelsa.

The importance of relieving Lagdo Dam’s water pressures

Dams are designed to withstand a certain level of pressure exerted by the water they hold back. Excessive water buildup due to torrential rainfall can create immense pressure against the dam structure. This pressure can strain the dam’s components, potentially leading to structural damage, erosion of the dam’s foundation, or even dam failure. The Lagdo Dam’s maximum permissible reservoir level is 214.02 meters. When it exceeded this range, the Cameroonian authorities had no choice but to open the floodgates of the dam to prevent potential disasters and ensure the safety of both the dam structure and downstream communities.

Releasing water through the floodgates helps alleviate the pressure on the dam, reducing the risk of structural damage or catastrophic failure. This action by the Cameroonian authorities safeguards the dam’s integrity and prevents a potential breach that could have devastating consequences for downstream communities along the Benue River Basin.

Moreover, the act of opening a dam’s floodgates and releasing water during heavy rainfall is a crucial strategy employed by dam operators to prevent flooding, maintain the dam’s structural integrity, and ensure the safety of downstream communities. It represents a proactive approach that balances regulating reservoir levels and mitigating potential hazards associated with uncontrolled water discharge. Dam operators carefully monitor meteorological forecasts, river currents, and reservoir capacities to make informed decisions that prioritize the welfare of both the dam and the surrounding areas. However, the central issue in the entire Lagdo Dam scenario revolves around a breakdown in communication between Cameroonian and Nigerian hydrological authorities.

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