Nigeria witnessed one of its worst natural disasters this year when some states were overtaken by flood. Reading Bridge's Mina Ogbanga just concluded a tour of major states in the Niger Delta region ravaged by flood. She visited the affected communities, evaluated the impact of the disaster on the internally displaced people in the areas as well as their lives in the government makeshift camps. In this special report, she appraises the efforts of the federal and affected state governments to address the sudden national disaster with a review of suggested recommendations by experts to forestall future occurrence
As she walked quietly towards me with head tilted to the side and all smiles, I was glad I was part of the volunteers that affected her life. Some days back, no one would have believed the little girl that looked so cute and lively had no clothes, books or food; she was ill and in so much pain. As she ran into my arms and said, "Welcome Aunty, we missed you so much," I almost shed tears; not for her predicament but for the fact that she was moving on. Mary Ezeikel Ula Ukpata is among the many victims of the recent flood disasters that hit some parts of Nigeria this year. She may have been lucky to have gotten rehabilitated by the volunteer group I joined to assist them, millions of victims had another story to tell and their tales are not as pleasant as that of Mary.
What would be described as the worst natural disaster to hit Nigeria in 50 years occurred this year in the form of a flood that overran 23 out of the 36 states in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), properties worth billions of Naira were washed away; internally displaced persons (IDP) were in their millions while hundreds of communities were left submerged. Despite an early warning by the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) about an impending situation due to some unnoticed soil moisture saturation which could lead to serious flooding in 10 states of the federation within the rainy season months of August-October which was contained in the Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) for 2012 released to the public, there was insufficient follow up action as suggested by the agency to state emergency agencies in the predicted states. With not much awareness campaign done to sensitize the people living in the riverine areas, when the disaster came, it appeared like a thief in the night taking its victims unawares.
The state of preparedness was so low and the management of the situation very slow that death toll from the flood in no time rose in its hundreds leading to various local and International media labeling the incident as the worst natural disaster arising from not only the opening of key dams but from the over flow of the banks of the River Niger.
Visiting the flooded communities was quite a task, from Delta through Bayelsa to Rivers states and the other affected areas showed the extent of devastations that mother nature unleashed on the people; mud houses completely washed away, children trapped in some homes screaming for help and the efforts of rescue teams trying to save the lives of many others. One thing was constant; pain. Hope seemed lost on the many faces of the victims as they watched their labour of so many years destroyed by rising water that came to do more harm than good.
The mere site of several storey houses submerged in water whose level varied from 5 - 15feet showed the intensity of the impact. Cars and trucks, some in make shift garages, were floating at different places with personal belongings sailing away with the tide. The height and ferocity of the flood affected rescue efforts as getting to the people trapped in the villages was a challenge; in some cases, it took about 4- 6 hours boat ride to get on to some affected areas in the coast of the River Niger.
At the IDP camps, the situation was more pitiable; most camps were of a make shift nature and housed thousands of the people who had lost their homes. Some surviving primary or secondary schools were converted as camps and the conditions there was not quite conducive. Many of the classes which were turned into rooms housing close to 20-25 persons including women and children did not have windows thereby exposing the victims to Mosquito bites and possibly Malaria attacks. Many of them had different stories to tell.
Eleka Peter returned home after a hard day's work and was awakened in the night when he felt a chilly feeling of liquid on his feet.
"I rose swiftly and felt the fast movement of rushing water beneath me and within seconds, the level reached my ankle. I summoned courage and quickly rallied round to get my family together and we could not salvage anything. Within a split second, the house was taken over by the water," he said. Looking back gave him no comfort as what was left of his house is the sight of the windows and roof.
Janet Oleh Not So Lucky
At least he is happy that he survived with his family but Janet Oleh was not as lucky as her bloated body was washed ashore after being declared missing. Her family said she had gone to the farm when the flood caught up with her and washed her along with the current.
Serena Undie, a student whose hope of completing her secondary school certification exams was not only shattered but her school submerged in the flood, lost her father also.
"I don't know what to do again. My father is dead, my school has been sacked and I cannot write my exams again. I may be forced to quit my education in order to support my mother until help comes my way," she said at the IDP camp at Ahoada, Rivers State.
Many of the pregnant women were among the persons that made up the number of the dead; there was inadequate health care for the community even before the flood and with the disaster, getting prenatal care was herculean. Mirian Jonathan, a mother of three, was expecting another baby when the flood happened. Coupled with the trouble of taking care of her delicate condition, she had to grapple with providing for her three children. She was sitting outside the makeshift healthcare facility at the camp when I came in contact with her. She complained that one of her kids was in a serious health condition and needed help urgently.
"I noticed the paleness in one of my children and took her to the clinic. On examination by the nurse, I was told the child is Anaemic," she said. When further test was carried out, it showed the case of her child might be hopeless and she could die unless she undergoes a blood transfusion.
"I began looking for N10, 000 and it took the help of a Good Samaritan that came to my aid. There was nobody I could have gotten the money from," she said with her heavy stomach indicative that she might deliver at any moment.
For another victim identified as Mama Goldks, her condition was very critical. The old woman who may be in her late 70s or early 80s, looked frail and weak as she lay on her own stool with flies all over her; no family member had been located and doctors said with the situation little could be done for her considering the load of work on them.
The men cried out in pain as years of infrastructural investment was washed away; important documents, equipment and other valuables were gone with the flood. One worry written on the faces of many was what the future held for them.
"How do I start life all over again at this age and considering the harsh economic situation in this country," one man Fred complained aloud as he inspected his ruined home.
The conditions at the relief camps were not so fantastic; there was no electricity or any improvisation by a generator. Donations of candles and other materials from concerned individuals sort of helped in illuminating the area at night. Many of the people longed for day break at least to get off from the pitch darkness that envelope the camp at night. Feeding was another challenge with meals served hours apart; breakfast was served at 1p.m and dinner at 12 midnight in most cases. This was worse in some areas; some camps served sausage roll and sachet water as a main course while in others, they had nothing to eat so had to fend for themselves.
Education was among the sector that was affected by the flood and effort to address the need through various strategies by a cross section of well meaning citizens, institutions and agencies was commendable. A memorable day was when thousands of camp victims, mainly children, received thousands of books, toys and relief materials. The excitement of the children receiving these supplies was overwhelming. Creativity on camp was enhanced as children, youths and even their parents joined to listen to stories as read by the kids; lessons were given to those who could not read as well to make feel the fun. An exciting initiative was the On-Camp Spelling Bee competition which saw winners cart home various prizes while the adults laughed through a game of football.
As the waters receded, reality dawned on some of the people. The damages done to their homes were now visible but another worry was the invasion of their homes by reptiles, insects and other animals. The fear of an epidemic was rife and the farmlands were washed out.
"I wonder what will become of my house as from the last I saw, it was overtaken by water" Alaka Darlington told this reporter while still at the camp," We will have to do a lot of Clean up as the water was mixed with debris and worsened too by presence of oil" he added describing the effect of oil spillages they have been exposed to in the past from the big oil companies.
The water is so black you dare not let it touch your body for fear of what it could do to you," Chisom Charles, another victim at the camp said, "I will have to do away with whatever is left in the house as it would be useless" another victim said.
While others thought about their homes and the damages, Ngeri John has nothing to go back to.
"Many are worrying about their homes but I don't even have a home to go back to as my house was among the first to be washed away. It is a mud house and I felt water beneath my feet right in my room. We may not leave the camps until we are sure something can be done as there is no home to return to and no farm to harvest from," he said.
With government still reeling out plans to resettle the victims back to their homes, the victims are still in the dark as to the plans the government has in rehabilitating them. They fault the paltry N5000 they have been offered to go home with, while others rejected the offer describing it as criminal, others have resorted to selling major gifts they received from donors, partners and some governments. Items like mattresses, clothes, shoes and buckets are being sold to the chagrin of the donors. Some claimed it was to make up for the recovery fund to be used to start life afresh as what was being proposed by government.
No Plan to Prevent Reoccurrence
As the Harmattan season sets in, the need for preparedness for a reoccurrence should be the main focus of government and emergency agencies. Sadly, no plan has been announced by government.
Nigerian environmentalist activist and Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Nnimmo Bassey, said so many things went wrong with the management of the flood especially on the part of NEMA.
"In terms of response time of NEMA, I think there has been a lot that went wrong. Take the case of the Niger Delta, the flood from the Northern parts got to Lokoja and yet nobody recognized that the flood was eventually going to be discharged into the Atlantic Ocean via the Niger Delta. So the people carried on their business not warned and not realizing that a destructive flood was on the way. So the predictive and preventive measures are not the best. They are not acceptable. At this moment; post flood measures are not being publicized. What we are hearing are tales of shameful misappropriation of relief resources," he said referring to the N17.6bn donated to flooded states in the country which was not being reflected on the people. The complaints of accessibility of the recovery funds to the affected people were rife within the IDPs in the affected states.
In some states like Delta, N5, 000 was given as exit support fund while in others, N2000 and a small bag of rice were given."
Speaking with Philip Jakpor, also of ERA, if a thorough analysis was done, more appropriate post-flood intervention with more impact would have been put in place as people will now be forced to survive amidst terrible situations in their various abode.
He called for effective maintenance of the water channels as a prelude to finding a long lasting solution.
"To prevent recurrence: all the dams must be properly maintained and a regular schedule of preventing excessive buildup of water in them must be put in place. Building new dams is not the answer at all."
Mr. Larry Boms Country Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) gave some recommendations to prevent reoccurrence and this includes putting in place preventive and early warning structures as is being supported by UNOSAT (UNOSAT is the UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme, implemented with the support of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and in partnership with UN and non-UN organizations).
Also the Head of the Environmental and Sustainable Energy Unit of the Center for Development Support Initiatives, Jackson Jack, said Nigeria's emergency agencies and associates should develop climate change and flooding measures which would be effective for such a disaster in the future which should include improved governance.
Some of the measures include: enforcing environment policy reforms, changes in urban and housing design, building modifications to withstand floods, removal of laws that can inadvertently increase flood vulnerability; appropriating infrastructure investments such as the build-up of unblocked drainage patterns, building embankments, strengthening bridges, flood defenses; increasing investment for the rendering of improved health care through flood shelters and assistance shelters as part of community emergency preparedness programmes. Others included legislative changes in water and land-use management policies; devising land-tenure markets; introducing appropriate town planning, integrated drainage basin management and encouraging use of water ways for higher values such as transportation; developing state backed flood insurance schemes and expansion and provision of alternative water passages as well as development of flood controls and monitoring.
Until that is done, the fear of another disaster will remain in the minds of those Nigerians that reside by the river side in years to come.