[LAGOS] Scientists in Nigeria say that warnings that the country and its neighbours are at risk of being hit by a tsunami are unfounded, but stress the need to plan for risks from other extreme events.
Yevgeny Dolginov, a professor of geological studies at the Russian University for People's Friendship, told the Pravda news agency last month that African countries including Cameroon, Gabon and Nigeria were at risk.
"I feel it is necessary to warn the embassies of the countries located around the equator about the possibilities of massive earthquakes in the near future," Dolginov told Pravda.
Olusola Dublin-Green, assistant director of the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research says, however, that the risk of a tsunami striking Nigeria is remote. She points out that the Atlantic Ocean has no history of such events, as it is not geologically active.
"We do not expect tsunamis in Nigeria or in the West African sub-region either now or in the immediate future," agrees Ernest Afiesimama, head of environmental and climate predictions at the Nigeria Meteorological Agency.
"The only area where we could probably think of a natural disaster is in the western boundary with Cameroon, where there is an active volcanic region. Other than that, we do not expect a disaster here."
Afiesimama says the Nigerian government must invest in early warning systems to face this threat.
Other scientists say that despite the risk of a tsunami being remote, Nigeria's coast is at risk from extreme weather. Much of the land along Nigeria's extensive coastline is below sea level, and the coastal cities of Lagos and Port Harcout have experienced seasonal flooding in recent years.
"Flooding similar to what happened in Asia is possible in coastal Nigeria," says Wilson Mangi, of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency. "This is especially [true] around August when you have very strong surface winds."
Reports from South and South-East Asia that the tsunami caused more damage in areas where mangrove forests had been cleared, could have relevance for Nigeria. Pollution linked to the oil industry in the Niger Delta has long been reported to have devastated the region's mangrove forests.
Another threat to the mangroves is the expansion of the export shrimp industry. The multi-national oil company Shell and the US Agency for International Development have entered into a partnership to build a large shrimp farming project on Nigeria's coast, but environmentalists are concerned it could lead to more mangroves being cut down.
"The recent tsunami nightmare is a vivid warning to Nigeria against any intensification of coastal zone development without complementary understanding of related oceanographic processes," says Ako Amadi, a marine ecologist.
Link to SciDev.Net's news focus 'Tsunami update'