Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Flood - Health Challenges of Communities Cut Off By East-West Road

A stitch in time

BUT for the intervention of a non-governmental organisation, Rural Health Africa Initiative, RAHI, which set up a reprieve camp for flood victims in Patani and surrounding communities in Delta and Bayelsa states in particular, the Federal Government would have had a major health disaster in its hands because of improper management of the devastating flood.

The governments of Delta, Bayelsa and Anambra states also have the NGO to thank for its role in providing free healthcare and food for more than 3,000 internally displaced persons, IDPs, from the three states, who were cut-off from the rest of the country, by the ravaging flood, which turned the East-West Road into a river.

Vanguard Metro, VM, learnt that more than 100 persons would have lost their lives to more than a few health complications arising from the flood, but for the medical outreach programme of the group that placed doctors, nurses and food at the disposal of IDPs free- of- charge.

Some of the flood victims are farmers from Anam community in Anambra State. They are sheltered in RAHI's Camp B. IDPs from Kaiama and other Bayelsa communities in Sagbama area are also in the RAHI Flood Victims Camp, more populated by victims from Patani axis of Delta State.

NEMA yet to access Patani

When VM last visited the relief camp, housing over 3,000 flood victims, located at New Town, Patani, along the East-West Road, the National Emergency Relief Agency, NEMA, had not been able to access the swamped communities in the area because of the submerged East-West Road. Officials of RAHI were, however, seen distributing waterproofs which double as roofing sheets for the makeshift homes that leaked in the rain of the previous night.

No road to bring relief materials

It was gathered that desperate efforts had been made to reach NEMA, but the officials said there was no road to come to the camp, as East-West Road was cut off.

Neither the Delta nor the Bayelsa state governments have also been able to send food to the victims because of the same problem. Communities in Bayelsa State affected by the flood, which could not access Yenagoa, the state capital, ran to the RAHI camp for succour.

In fact, Bayelsa is standing alone now, having been cut- off from Rivers, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom on one side and Edo/Delta states on the other side. Patani itself and other adjoining towns in Delta State are also cut-off from other parts of the state by the flood on the East-West Road. Therefore, for medical care, there was no other body to run to, but RAHI.

When VM got to the camp on October 23, after passing the "River Jordan" and "Red Sea" on the East-West Road with boat, it was discovered that the camp's clinic has been converted to a sickbay for people in the area because there was no government hospital to turn to.

Even the dead were not spared

In fact, the General Hospital, Patani, which would have provided medical attention for the victims, was sacked by flood. The morgue was not spared either, as corpses were swept away. It took the sagacity of inventive morgue attendants to retrieve the corpses and create an emergency platform, between the ceiling and roof of the hospital, to stack the corpses.

How we beat the East- West Road ambush

Coordinator of RAHI, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, a former national president of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, whose residence in Patani was also under water told VM that the NGO was able to beat the East-West Road conundrum because it mobilized early enough and moved into Patani.

"We moved in here on October 2 and set up the multi-purpose camp you are seeing here by October 5. I was actually in New York, United States, when the flood started. I wanted RAHI to carry out its humanitarian work in Asaba because that was axis that was first hit in the state. Government had already set up a relief camp there.

"We had spoken with some government officials when it spread to Ndokwa area and we said our NGO would go to that area since there was nobody attending to them yet, but Patani was overrun at the same time. All what I am talking about are happening in a space of 48 hours.

"So, on the plane from New York to Nigeria, I directed that RAHI should move to Patani since I am already a victim. They were able to move in before I came in from Port-Harcourt end, where I was forced to strip to my trousers, abandoned my vehicle with my driver in Ahoada area of Rivers State, to meander through the flood on East-West Road before I found myself in Patani," he said.

"An overnight flood completely dissected the East-West Road and split the region. People could not come in or out except by boat. By the time I arrived, some people were still commuting with mercedez benz trucks since cars were out of it. But now, no vehicle can access this area, except boat, or did you come by air," he asked VM.

Health disaster forestalled

Confirming our findings that there would have been a major health disaster if not for the intervention of RAHI, he said: "Yes, it is true, we attend to at least 100 persons daily in our clinic here in Patani camp for flood victims. It is not only people in the camp that we attend to, non-victims also come because there is no functioning clinic around they can go to, except here".

Ekiyor added: "We have a functional clinic with a medical ambulance as you can see. RAHI mobilized to Patani with drugs worth N4 million, 70 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, 3,000 blankets, 3,000 mosquito treated nets, which were all surplus from our projects of period years.

"We attend to the flood victims and outpatients from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm daily. We refer complicated cases to the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa, and even though there is no road, we use vehicle, motorcycle and boat, depending on the one that is applicable to the terrain to rush them.

"Initially, we had a very big challenge of water; there was no water here. My younger brother, Theo Ekiyor, an engineer, brought a trailer load of sachet water before my wife dug a borehole for the camp. We ran a soup kitchen in the first three days, but now, we ration food because the population has more than tripled and we do not have enough to go round.

"Ours is a stop-gap measure, it is not supposed to be permanent and that is why we are unhappy that having stayed here for over 22 days, helping government to manage a very delicate situation, government, whose responsibility it is to do what we are doing, has not come to take over".

Enlightenment campaign

He asserted, "When the flood started, even with the corpses of drowned animals, human excrete and corpses from the General Hospital, Patani, that were initially washed away, people were still bathing, cooking and fishing in the body of contaminated waters, which they took as their normal river".

"We had to carry out enlightenment on the dangers of such practices and the ailments that some are presenting are indicative of such harmful practices. We have seen much of diarrhea, but in cases of cholera, we quarantined the victims and treated them. That has helped a lot in saving many lives, who had nowhere to turn to", he added.

Overall, he disclosed that 10 babies were in the camp, while an 82-year- old man that was known to be sick before he was affected by the flood died a day before Vanguard Metro came to the camp.

According to him, "We fumigate the camp every three days against mosquitoes, reptiles and the sanitary condition is okay because we now have a functional borehole".

"Some people, including Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon. Basil Ganagana, Niger-Delta activist, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, Setraco Company and Mr. Bribe Kebo have also donated drugs and other relief materials to the flood victims.

"We cannot run this place without electricity, we are spending an average of N10,000 daily to buy diesel to provide electricity here from 6.00 pm to 7.00 am daily and the police have also deployed eight policemen to take care of security in addition to the youths that are on patrol", Ekiyor stated.

Call for aid

His words, "RAHI is right now doing her best to assist flood victims in the Niger Delta."

In Patani, RAHI team has built a temporary camp and providing emergency relief materials to victims, RAHI is giving free health care services to displaced flood victims.

"At RAHI, we do what we can to stabilize the situation in emergencies, but today's challenge is overwhelming, we are, therefore,. appealing to all well meaning individuals to support us. We are about setting up another camp for the Odi area and Bomadi axis, this can only be possible if we get support as we are already overstretched", he said.

Victims commend RAHI

Thirty-four-year-old Mrs. Helen Bakpor from Toruangiama in Patani told Vanguard Metro that she and her family of five were grateful to RAHI for providing succor for them at a time in need.

Asked what government should do for the victims, she said, "I do not need to tell government what to do, they are supposed to know, this is a private person doing this for us".

Her husband, Mr. Aaron Bakpor, a civil servant in Patani Local Government Council said since he was sacked by flood, he, his wife and three children have been residing in the RAHI camp, adding, "We came here with nothing, Chris gave us foam, he helps us with food, medicine and clothes to wear".

Mr. Ladeini Teiakpo, a driver said Dr. Ekiyor and his RAHI team were giving the victims better attention that they could get in government hospitals.

Mrs. Florence Appah,who said was ill and was being rushed to Benin for treatment after she was sacked by flood in two communities, but the journey was aborted because the East-West Road had been overtaken by flood.

"We were told that there is a camp set up by Dr. Ekiyor for flood victims and since I came here, they have been attending to me, they give me free tablets. My problem is a spiritual one, I was poisoned", she added.

Mother of two children, Mrs. Alice Enekeme, who hails from Bulu-angiama community said, "I was poisoned after my children were killed. I have nobody as my helper now, but God and Ekiyor pickin, I do not know his name. I had stroke, but they have been giving me drugs here and I am eating well. God should bless him for me".

A widow and mother of eight children, Mrs. B. Sarah from Patani, who is part of the 276 household in the camp also thanked God for using RAHI to come to their assistance and urged government to build houses for the victims.

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