12 February 2013

Nigeria: Flood - Trauma, Hunger, Homelessness Ravage Communities

Calabar — The victims of last year's devastating flood in Cross River State have since dispersed from their various camps. But they have not been completely resettled as promised by the authorities.

This surely if very traumatic for them, where their health and total well being would be affected.

Many have emaciated in size and are presently trying to keep body and soul together.

The federal government voted substantial amount of money known as 'flood relief funds' to cushion the traumatic and devastating effects of the flood. Cross River State belongs to category C, getting N400 million.

The committee is yet to confirm how much of the funds they received and how much have been used to resettle the victims who are in dire need of it.

Our reporters visited one of the badly devastated communities in Agwuagune in Biase local government council and observed that little or nothing has been done by the government to resettle and rebuild houses mostly mud destroyed by the flood.

Unfortunately women were mostly affected, especially widows and the aged who appear not to be 'well-connected' as others who appear to be assuaged somehow.

Our reporters could not meet many of the women in the older part of Agwagune community, popularly called the river corner village, where the popular river was said to have overflowed the entire community was submerged, and houses, farmlands destroyed and children killed.

Some of the mud houses were left desolate with their surroundings still swampy.

Few of them spoken to, recalled the ordeal they went through and lamented that those affected by the flood are not likely to benefit from government and private support.

Rather they alleged that those who benefitted were brought in by their relatives who are 'well-connected' or in positions of authority.

Mrs Idam Eyo is 43 years old. She now resides in the neighboring community of Adim. Having been sacked by the flood, she said she moved to Adim with her three children to squat with her relatives.

According to her, her husband had died many years ago leaving her with the burden of fending for the children. Mrs Eyo who lamented that things are really difficult is now selling engine oil in small measures for 'okada riders' at the Adim junction in Biase on the way to Ikom.

"The flood really affected me, all my properties were destroyed as I could not salvage them in the middle of the night. We have been rendered homeless. No food but much Suffering. To get food and medical care has been a big problem for me. Most of my clothes were also swept away.

"Though the flood did not affect my children, it affected my house seriously. How do I get another accommodation if I cannot readily build one soon? My cassava, cocoyam and farm were destroyed.

"That is why this year I cannot farm. I have to be buy food. It is not easy to be buy food everyday to feed the children. The small proceeds from my new business is little and am using the small capital for food", she lamented.

Asked if she did not benefit from the largess from government to those moved into different camps, she said that if she had 'influential' persons may be she would have been lucky too. As a result, she claimed that like her many other people could not access the government assistance.

"I was not part of those government moved to the camp. You know it is man know man. When the flood came, some people on hearing that government was coming to resettle us, went and arranged for their people, like their family relations not even affected by the flood ,to benefit from the government assistance".

Mrs Eyo said that few persons really affected by the flood from the community were selected.

"Here in Adim, not only in Agwagune, the flood destroyed many properties, farmlands and businesses. Water entered people's houses and even killed some. This area is prone to flood, because as you can see it is swampy and becomes worse during raining season."

Pleading for financial support to enable her petty business grow. Eyo said, "this way, I can be able to support my three children's education and feeding instead of living from hand to mouth."

For Mrs Agnes Ogban, 29 years old who is now into petty business, her narration was not much different from that of Mrs Eyo. She too has relocated to Adim. She was however worried about what use her recollection of the ordeal would amount to.

"For me, I do not have anything to say. I do not think any support would come, and even if it comes I doubt it would get to me. My two children and I were seriously affected by that flood but up till now the authorities have yet not done enough to help us".

She also alleged that the government assistance would go to people who were not affected by the flood because they were connected, while victims like her who have lost everything will get nothing.

Apart from the loss of farmlands and destruction of their homes, what impact did all these also have on the children? According to reports, at least five children were known to have either been swept away or out-rightly killed in Cross River state during the early days of the river fury.

Though older persons run to safety during the flood the much younger ones who were fast asleep were 'forgotten' by their parents in the midst of the sudden confusion.

For Samuel Owali, 13 years, who said he is in JS 1 at the Agwagune Government School, said he woke in the night and saw that he was sleep inside water and quickly woke and joined his parents to run outside.

"All my school items like my books, uniform, shoes and my friend football were all destroyed. Our house was also destroyed and we do not have where to live again. We are living with our relatives in another part of town and this is not good for my mother who has to share pots, plates and kitchen with other women", Samuel cried. He said he did not lose any of his siblings.

Grace Bisong, who looks older than her 10 years perhaps because of the tedious works she does to bring food, was also lucky saying, "My mother carried me when the water entered our house. She took me to a place where the water did not reach and returned to bring other things."

Grace said that presently they were not staying in their house because the water brought down a major part of the mud building.

"We are with our grandmother who is taking care of all of us now. I have now started school again", she said.

At least, it is reported that more than six people, including children were swept away by the ravaging flood.

When the Vice President, Namadi Sambo visited the Eja camps in Obubra LGA of the state last year, he was touched by the people's plight particularly women and children that were displaced by the flood.

He told the victims that the federal government was not losing sight of their predicament and that was the reason federal government doled out N400 million to assuage their situation.

The acting governor, Efiok Cobham along with officials of SEMA went to another IDP camp where a baby was born ,Little Miss Patience.

Cobham who was deeply touched by the situation also visualised the traumatized experience of the mother and baby. "If giving birth at a normal place with normal conditions is still a painful exercise, I can imagine how traumatized the mother of this baby, even the baby itself, would be to deliver her baby in a displaced people's camp where the conditions can be imaginably hard."

An IDP at the Eja camp, Mrs. Ofaha James told reporters during the visit of the VP that the idea of living in a camp was alien and degrading for her. Not only did she not have privacy, but that she was also susceptible to all forms of dangers, health-wise.

What major ailment broke out during the period of the flood and how did they cope? Mrs Agnes said she did not quite recall the outbreak of any major disease or deaths in any of the Internally Displaced People's camps near her.

"The major ailment I could recall was the prevalent heart-break. Many people were terribly heart broken because they lost everything, their houses, farmlands and their businesses. I think the shock alone is the major sickness. Like me, many women are very worried because they would start life all over again knowing that to raise business capital, especially for some of us would be a Herculean task", she said.

The Agwagune government clinic did not also report a major challenge attending to the victims. A nursing staff, Veronica Johnson said officials of the state ministry of health came up with medication and beefed up their strength. "As much as I know there was no particular outbreak of diseases during the period. We regularly visited the displaced persons at their camps, to see how they were faring. We gave them drugs and doctors were also available", she said.

Mrs Oyo Ita, the health commissioner in the state said that they were up and about in all the IDP's camps ensuring that personnel and drugs were handy.

But youths and chiefs of Agwagune are pleading with government to come to their aid. Meanwhile, many of them still sleep from one public place to homes of friends that were not affected by the deluge.

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