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Underground Drainage Project for Commissioning
01 Jul 2011: Anietie Ekong

One of the highlights of the visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to Akwa Ibom State on Wednesday, July 6, 2011, would be the commissioning of the underground drainage project in Uyo. During his last visit to the state, the President had marvelled at the deployment of the “pipe jacking” technology which he described as the first in Africa, to curb the flooding in the state capital.

During the visit on July 15, 2011, President Jonathan while commending Governor Akpabio for the massive project had said, “I am quite happy to be a part of this ceremony to see what the State is doing. One of the projects that is quite interesting to me is the drainage system. I think this is the first time I have seen that kind of drainage system, and I believe it must be one of the firsts in the whole continent of Africa. That goes to tell you that our Country is growing,” he said.

The project which is top-rated by the Federal Government, we learnt, has been documented for National Geographic. This move, another ‘first’ by Governor Godswill Akpabio promises to end the perennial flood problem in the state capital, is part of his vision for a new Akwa Ibom.

One of the major problems that have confronted successive administrations in Akwa Ibom state is the flooding of the state capital, Uyo. Living in some parts of Uyo during the rainy season is always a nightmare. From the Idoro area through Itam road area to Ikot Ekpene Road area, it is always a pool of water after rainfall.

A first time visitor to Uyo after a downpour may think he has driven into a river. It was so bad that many houses in the flood-prone areas were submerged and washed away. In the last dispensation, residents of these areas, out of frustration on their plight, had decided to name the pool of water after the reigning Governor at the time, like “Inyang Attah,” literarily meaning “River Attah”.

In fairness to the immediate past administration in Akwa Ibom State, it was not as if the government was totally unconcerned about the plight of the residents. Our checks revealed that year in, year out, huge budgetary provisions were made to curb the problem of flooding and erosion in Uyo, but the problem simply defied every solution. Governor Akpabio was not unmindful of the popular saying that the best definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing, the same way and expect a different result.

This, we learnt was the reason why the Governor decided to take the bull by the horns and confront the problem of flooding in Uyo once and for all. While some construction companies are also handling flood control projects in some parts of Uyo with low density water, a giant construction company, was engaged and it decided to deploy the “pipe jacking” or “micro-tunnelling” technology to put an end to the menace that had become a yearly horrific experience for the people of the city. Flood water from the city is channelled into a 40 metres deep tunnel which discharges into a river. And for this, the state government had to cough up about N13.6billion, an amount some people have said is being literarily buried in the ground.

But according to a public affairs analyst, Mr. Aniekan Umanah, the government may have decided to bury the money in the ground to save the people and their properties. “The Ekim Itam, Idoro and Ikot Ekpene road areas are largely residential areas. You know some people do not employ the services of professionals when building their houses. Once they see a piece of land in the dry season, they will go and build there, but they cannot live in these houses during the rainy season because these structures would be entirely submerged. So, essentially, the money is buried in the ground to save the people from further calamity” he said.

Apart from saving the structures in the areas from being submerged, we also learnt that Governor Akpabio had reckoned that flood would make nonsense of the billions of naira that had been sunk into road construction and the fly over project in the Itam area if the issue of flooding was not addressed. A Town Planning expert, Mr. Ndifreke Ebong, said that the centre of the city of Uyo is located on a plateau. He said the majority of the flooding problem in the city occurred due to the inability of the drainage system to discharge storm water and this was why the Akwa Ibom State government may have decided to award a contract for an efficient drainage system for the North West Area of Uyo.

Checks revealed that initially, the project was designed to be a surface drain but it was discovered that water would not be able to flow well and a trench of about 40 metres needed to be dug to effectively discharge the flood water. Apart from digging the trench, an open drainage system, we also learnt, would have had to contend with the filth that would have been thrown in it by the people from time to time. There would also have arisen the problem of maintenance.

According to the expert the problems that would have been associated with the open construction method included, “building pit with sheet pile wall and embankment (about 800,000m3 earthwork); temporary construction of road along sheet pile wall and permanent service road on both sides of the cascade necessary in terms of maintenance accessibility; low slope of only 0.3% causing self cleansing difficulties: silting is likely to occur due to lack of maintenance; complicated construction of cascade; strong impact on the environment/risk of erosion and limited construction progress in the rainy season,” he said.

Mr Ebong further said it was after due consideration of these drawbacks of the open construction method that the state government decided to deploy pipe jacking underground technology, which we learnt, the ideal subsoil conditions are available. But apart from the soil condition, we learnt that pipe jacking method has less negative environmental impact.

Since the work is mostly done underground, not many residents of the area where the massive construction work was going on were even aware that a project of such magnitude was being carried out in their backyard. And also with the pipe jacking method, less compensation would be paid in the high density areas as the construction work would not interfere with human habitat, while the construction method is independent from road works.

A source in the construction company handling the mega-project also informed us that the pipe jacking method has water drainage capacity of about 29m3/s with DN2000 and has improved self-cleansing capability of the pipes. We learnt that in the open drains, additional man-power would have had to be engaged after the construction to clean them up from time to time, otherwise they would be blocked. While the present construction work would take care of Ikot Ekpene Road, Itam and Idoro areas, it was also gathered that the advantage of the underground technology is that increased and additional catchment areas can be connected.

Under the pipe jacking method, water is channelled into well lubricated huge pipelines buried under the ground, passing through the discharge drain at Ekim Itam-Ikot Oku Road, Uyo. The suspension for lubrication, it was learnt, reduces friction between pipes and the surrounding ground (earth) and also supports the gap between pipes and the ground in order to avoid or minimize settlements. The fluids for the support, according to experts are long-lasting and able to resist chemical and mechanical attacks. This method solves complicated de-watering problems.

When our reporter visited the project site at Ekim Itam last week, not many people were aware that a project of such magnitude was going on in their backyard. According to a community leader, Chief Etim Uko, “we have seen heavy duty equipment working in our community but we thought what they are doing is part of construction of the fly-over that took them here. We didn’t know that what they are doing here is totally a different project to solve our perennial flooding problem, though we have seen them dig huge trenches. This is because what they are doing does not directly affect us or our farmland,” he said.

Another community leader who said he was aware of the project as he was in the team that had discussed the impact of the project on the environment with the construction company and the state government, Architect Godwin Akpan, was full of praises for Governor Akpabio for the political will in solving the recurrent flooding problem in the state capital once and for all. “I want to tell you that it takes a lot of political will to do this project and we are grateful to our Governor for this.

“This is because if you consider the amount that is involved, I mean he could have decided to use it and build an imposing structure or road for all to see and applaud. But this one is like burying the money in the ground where nobody will see. But I have been told that as people do not see when this project is going on since it is underground, so would they not see when the rain stops and the water will just disappear, and they will wonder where the water has gone.

“I believe this will be one of the “magical tricks” that the Akpabio administration would play on our people. It is then that our people will cease to live in perpetual fear of their houses being submerged during the rainy season,” he said.

The undulating topography where the flood water is discharged has itself become a tourist attraction because of the beautiful scenery. Our reporter noticed many people who had thronged the area to behold the new environmental beautification even though movement into the area was still being restricted by the construction firm since work was still on-going. Governor Akpabio has said that the flow of the discharged drainage water stored in a reservoir could be used to drive a mini-turbine to generate electricity for indigenes of the area and other parts of the State capital. And as is being done in advanced countries, we also learnt that the water could be treated and reticulated to the people to use for domestic purposes.

For now kudos have continued to pour in for Governor Akpabio for the political will he has mustered to execute this project. According to Umanah, “This turn-key initiative underscores Governor Akpabio’s drive towards a holistic development of infrastructure in the state, as well as his vision of moving Uyo from its old rural status to an urban city with modern amenities. The administration wants to ensure a better life for its citizenry and is sparing nothing at achieving this,” he said.

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