By Alfred Ajayi
TWENTY-year-old Abigail welcomed her first baby one month ago amid joy and ecstasy.
But little did she know that two weeks after delivery, she would be displaced by flood, along with the baby.
Abigail, a salon owner, is now an internally displaced person (IDP) at the Civic Centre, Odekpe, in the Ogbaru Local Government Area (LGA) of Anambra State.
Holding her daughter close to her chest, she bemoaned the experience that has left her displaced.
“Life is not good here,” she said. “There is too much cold, mosquitoes are biting, and we are hungry.”
While Abigail battles for survival in Odekpe, her husband Chinedu is in far-away Aguleri, another community in the Anambra East LGA. Despite the couple residing within the same Anambra State, their endless struggles for economic survival make the two ends farther than the normal distance.
“My husband is struggling to bring something for us, but there is no hope,” the nursing mother said forlornly.
Another displaced person, a pregnant mother of two, appeared prepared for the realities in camp as food items and cooking gas were sighted around her. She was having breakfast with one of her children when this reporter visited.
Choosing to speak anonymously, the woman regretted that the pitiable condition of the IDPs has not attracted the desired attention from the state government.
“My husband sleeps here and rushes out in the morning to fend for us. He provided this food. We have not seen anything from the government,” she said.
Frustrated and disenchanted, most of the IDPs are unfriendly with anyone who fails to render them any form of financial or material help. The reporter had a fair share of their hostility.
“This one comes to take pictures and does videos. I know you people are doing business with our predicament. If you don’t have anything to give, leave us alone,” a woman on a stretcher lashed out to the approval of others.
Agony of displacement
Cries for help reverberated across the IDP camps, while other victims in various communities shared their tales of woes.
“I have about 30 chains (one chain is one plot) of rice farms across the river, which has been submerged. I lost up to N2.5 million as production costs. Instead of harvesting my rice farm, I am harvesting serious economic woes this year,” Ikechukwu Chinwuba bitterly said.
Cosmos Ukwuteyonor, who is displaced with his wife and five children, also laid it bare: “They are feeding us here two times a day. This morning they gave us indomie. But indomie is not the food for farmers. Also, we have been sleeping on plastic chairs.”
Sixty-two-year-old Agbonma Nweke, at the Father Joseph Memorial Secondary School (FJMSS), Aguleri, IDP camp, recounted how she lost her only house to the ravaging flooding.
“I lost everything, including my house. I am homeless forever. I don’t know where to return to when the flood recedes. Who will help me?” she asked rhetorically.
However, for the managers of the camps, the state and local governments had done their utmost to give the displaced citizens minimum comfort.
“The government is trying its best. Individuals, corporate bodies, non-governmental organisations, and politicians are all helping. We supply them with raw food items to cook. Sometimes, we cook for them. Like this morning, we killed a cow for them,” said Chuks Kwazu, the manager at FJMSS, where 4,116 flood victims are being sheltered.
The reporter observed that camps accredited by the government enjoy greater attention than several others established by the communities.
Nnamdi Esimai, the Coordinator, Local Emergency Management Committee (LCME) for Ogbaru LGA, ascertained that the state government had brought some items like mattresses, mosquito nets, foodstuffs and other items to the four designated camps in Ogbaru.
“But, I am pleading to them to look into other camps around all the 16 communities in Ogbaru,” Esimai said.
Flood has negatively impacted the economic and financial lives of thousands of citizens as numerous shops were submerged in water at the Onitsha main market, Otuocha market in Aguleri, and all the markets in Ogbaru and Anambra West LGAs, forcing communities to convert roads to markets.
From the bridge linking Anambra East LGA with Anambra West LGA, the only visible structures are storey buildings, as all bungalows were underwater when this reporter visited there in October. The dry portion of the road now serves as an IDP camp for hundreds of people. There, the IDPs live and trade as they earnestly pray for the heart-breaking episode to pass.
Many roads and bridges are either submerged or cut off, severing intra- and inter-community interactions. The affected infrastructure includes the road leading to Ayamelum from Aguleri junction, the Onitsha-Atani road, and the road linking Aguleri to other communities like Eziagulu-Otu. In some other communities, the IDP camps are inaccessible by road.
Ten years of misery and sorrow
According to the 2022 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) released by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), earlier in the year, Anambra falls among the 32 highly probable flood-risk states. The prediction, which has proven true, is, for some of the victims, a sad reminder of a similar disastrous experience of 2012.
This year, residents of the state mark the tenth anniversary of misery and devastation from which they are yet to recover.
Adaeze Nwadukwe was a victim of the 2012 incident: “I lost all my properties in 2012. This year makes it ten years. At this present one, people kept calling me that my father’s house has been submerged. That is why I came this morning.”
Adaeze has since relocated from Anambra to Delta State, leaving behind a younger brother.
“My brother is an orphan. Day and night since this flood started, he parades himself on the road. The little thing that he planted, the water has destroyed. As I speak with you, I am looking for him to see what I can do to help him,” Adaeze told this reporter.
Since 2012, flooding has become a perennial experience in the state, leaving deaths, displacement, grief and despair on its trail. The current official figure of casualties could not be gotten. But as of October 14, the death toll was put at 17, including a family of six killed in Nzam, Anambra West LGA; 10 lives lost during a boat mishap, and a 70-year old man, Sunday Mesiobi, found dead in his bedroom in Atani, headquarters of the Ogbaru LGA.
An unofficial source reported that a little boy drowned in Ohita, while the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) also confirmed one Ginikanwa Izuoba killed by flood in Enugu-Otu, Aguleri, after his house collapsed.
This year’s flood disaster is adjudged more fatal than that of 2012. As of November of that year, the flood had claimed 363 lives and displaced over 2.1 million others.
According to NEMA, 30 of the 36 states of the federation were affected by the flooding. Seven million people were estimated to have been affected, while damages and losses were put at a worth of N2.6 trillion.
But as of October 25, this year, 612 persons had been killed by the flood, with 1,427,370 persons internally displaced and 2,776 injuries recorded. About 3,219,780 persons were generally affected, 181,600 houses were partially damaged, while 123,807 houses were totally damaged.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, who gave the figures while giving an update on the disaster, revealed that 176,852 hectares of farmlands were partially damaged, while 392,399 hectares of farmlands had been totally damaged. According to Farouq, Anambra and 20 other states had received relief materials from the Federal government.
Multi-sectoral impact of flooding
The adverse effects of the flood incident on agriculture have further heightened the fear of food insecurity, with hectares of farmlands and harvested produce washed away.
The impacts are already being felt in many parts of the state. Nwafor Ogbonna is a trader at the Marine market, Onitsha: “Before the flood, they were selling yams to us at cheap prices. But now the yams are few coming from Anam area, and because of the flood, they sell it at a high price, and will sell what we buy.”
The effect is predictable on local food items, as the affected local government areas are the food baskets of the state. Consequently, citizens see a gloomy future unless something drastic is done to prevent such an outcome.
“Already, most of us are worried about surviving 2023. As I speak to you, there is nothing like poultry or fish pond in Ogbaru,” said Esimai, the Ogbaru LGA LCME Coordinator.
Apart from agriculture, flood has left an indelible destructive impact on other sectors of the economy. Primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education are jeopardised in some of the badly affected communities, as school premises are underwater, while pupils and students are in IDPs camps.
The health care system is not spared as several health facilities are flooded.
Helen Atuanya, a volunteer at the Odekpe Primary Health Centre (PHC), painted the sorry reality. “You can see that our facility is flooded. It has affected patronage seriously. We are in danger and only pray that it does not rise beyond this level,” Odekpe said.
Many worship places have also been covered by the menacing water. Even government institutions like police stations, the Naval Base and court rooms are not spared by the ravaging flood.
Blessing in disguise
Some commerce-conscious people have been taking advantage of the flood menace to boost their financial fortune. Immediately after the bridge linking Anambra East and West LGAs are food and drinks vendors, who are massively patronised by the displaced victims.
Canoe owners are also exploiting the situation as they charge huge amounts to ferry people from one point to another.
“We charge N300 to take them from here to Ekenedirichukwu area,” one of the boat drivers said of about a distance, which normally does not cost more than N100 by road.
Also, the soaring demand for boats, especially in the critically affected areas, is a boost to the business of boat builders. The period is equally not bad for fishermen as they make new nets to catch fish which are now out in greater numbers. Apart from fish, other aquatic animals like alligators are also being caught at an unusual rate.
Government is not indifferent
“This is quite an emergency,” admitted the Anambra State governor, Chukwuma Soludo, when he visited the IDP camps, adding, “We really have to find a national solution to this. It requires a strategic, multi-country intervention by Nigeria and Cameroun in particular.”
Soludo said, “Millions and billions of naira worth of properties and assets are damaged. Farmlands, private properties and sources of livelihood are ruined.
“As a government, we will do everything possible to alleviate your sufferings. And when you people return home, we will also help you to start life afresh.
The state’s Commissioner for Health, Afam Obidike, said the government has been providing medical care in all accredited camps, with other necessities like toiletries, soap and water, and hand sanitizer.
“We also provided mobile toilets, and shared over 1000 mosquito nets to prevent insect and mosquito bites. We have cholera kits supplied by the World Health Organisation. We provide ante-natal care with ultra sound to more than a hundred pregnant women.
“We’ve had a couple of deliveries in the camps, with two caesarian sections. One of the women delivered twins. All the camps are linked to general hospitals for referral purposes. Thanks to God, we have not had any death in any of the accredited camps,” Obidike enthused.
The Commissioner for Education in the state, Professor Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, did not believe the incident has had any negative impact on affected children in any way.
“We accommodate the riverine areas in our academic calendar such that immediately after the third term examination, school children in those areas started their first term, while the children in the upper land went on holiday.
“We know that the flood will come. So, the academic life of the children is not affected. This time of displacement period is actually their holiday. So, as the waters are receding right now, they will join us,” the Education Commissioner said.
Also, the NEMA provided relief materials to the state, which were received by the Deputy Governor, Dr Onyekachukwu Ibezim, who heads the Flood Management Committee.
Be that as it may, while Farouk, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, regretted that efforts to avert the consequences of the 2022 flooding season did not enjoy the cooperation of some state governments, Governor Soludo called on the Federal government to demonstrate greater commitment to tackling flood disaster in the country.
“There is need for a national conversation, especially in the run-up to next year’s election. I think the National Assembly and the Presidency must give a more forceful response, especially in the next two to three weeks when the flooding recedes,” the governor said.
Citizens are equally not satisfied with interventions from the government. While Abigail complained about mosquito bites and cold, Elijah Nwokwu, who is battling high blood pressure, was not happy with the manner they are being fed.
“They give us food once in a day. That is in the night. They either share rice or gari,” he complained.
In what appeared like a response to the complaint, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday, October 24, 2022, directed the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, to coordinate his counterparts for the Environment and Transportation ministries, as well as the state governments to produce, within 90 days, a comprehensive action plan for preventing flood disaster in the country. Nigerians are eager to find out what change this will make.
The climate change narrative
Some environment experts have been attributing cause(s) of the current flood disaster to the negative impact of climate change.
The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), in its 2022 Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP), linked the tremendous increase in temperature and rainfall amount that Nigeria has been experiencing to climate change.
The Water Resources Minister, Adamu during the Ministry’s 2023 budget defence, recently maintained that the floods in Nigeria were largely caused by excessive rainfall and not the opening of the Lagdo dam in Cameroun, as was speculated.
He said the Lagdo dam contributed only one per cent to flooding in Nigeria. “It is not the main reason we have floods in this country. Eighty per cent of the floods in this country is water we are blessed with from God from the sky,” he said.
A publication in the New York Times on August 30, 2022, equally indicated that flooding, like other disasters, involves a number of competing factors that may affect its frequency and intensity in opposing ways, while climate change, which is worsening extreme rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix.
The article named factors that contributes to flood development as including precipitation, snowmelt, topography and how wet the soil is.
Preventing looming food crisis
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is recommended by experts as one of the ways to tackle the negative impact of climate change on food production. CSA is an integrated approach to managing landscapes – cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries in a way that addresses the interlink challenges of food security and climate change.
An agriculture expert and Sustainability Manager of Touton Nigeria Limited, Abraham Ogwu, gave an insight into the desirability and benefits of CSA.
“Climate Smart Agriculture is one of the mitigating actions against climate change. It discourages deforestation and helps agricultural practices to stand shocks, increase temperature, and stabilise weather variability or light intensity CSA also helps in increasing farmers’ productivity and the quality of production.
“Developed nations and donor agencies must invest substantially in CSA to ensure that it trickles down to the developing nations. On their part, developing nations should formulate policies that will help average citizens, particularly rural dwellers, to understand climate change and contribute towards mitigating its effects. This will help to ensure food security,” Ogwu said.
The need for storage facilities, especially in flood-prone areas, was advocated while the government is enjoined to explore the possibility of irrigation systems to ensure all-year-round farming.
“If we had a good irrigation system, we would have planted rice on time and harvested before the disaster. Government should please help us,” pleaded Chinwuba, the farmer.
The flood disaster has heightened the clamour for the dredging of rivers Niger and Benue to ensure that they do not get filled up easily.
As the floods begin to recede, the displaced victims are expected to start returning home to face the stack realities of what has happened. Will the government make good the promise to help them resettle and start life afresh? Only time will tell.