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Food crisis looms as climate change negatively impacts Anambra communities

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By Alfred Ajayi

“I have lost all I have worked for this year. Yam and cassava farms were submerged by the flood. I don’t know how to recover from this. The whole of Anambra West Local Government is under water. We really need the Federal and State governments to help us so we can get back on our feet”.

One of the farmers and stakeholders in Mmiata Anam, Chief Mathias Ameke, lamenting the impacts of this year’s flood on him and the entire community.

While many residents are still not able to come to grips with the cause of annual flooding that devastates their livelihood, experts say it is not unconnected with Climate Change, which is increasingly becoming more threatening globally every year. Anambra is one of the states in Nigeria that is considerably impacted by flood disaster, a harsh spinoff of climate change, largely caused by man’s actions.

Flooding took a dangerous dimension in the state in 2012 and has since become a major environmental concern in Anambra State, leaving thousands of residents including farmers with unquantifiable losses, from which some of them are yet to fully recover. Recovery seems impossible because the disaster has become a recurring decimal which leaves farmers with varying degrees of loss anytime it occurs.

Flooding is caused by excessive rainfall and expanding seas due to global warming, which warms up and causes the ice to melt.

The Director, Centre for Water and Climate Change at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Dr Emma Ezenwaji, further explains how climate change causes excessive rainfall, which in turn leads to flooding.

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“The expansion in the sea is because the rainfall actually depends on water it takes from the ground. So, with much water in the sea and massive sun, there is evaporation, which eventually leads to excessive rainfall. Without excessive rainfall, we will not have the flood disaster, which we now face annually in Anambra State”.

Dr Emmanuel Ezenwaji of the Department of Geography and Meteorology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and Victor Otti of the Department of Civil Engineering, Federal Polytechnic Polytechnic, Oko, in a publication in 2013, argued that excessive rainfall, which is one of the evidences of climate change, has a major contribution to flooding in the Anambra North Senatorial District, where most of the worst hit Local Government Areas and communities are located.

The research work also revealed that the area is getting wetter by 6.86mm per year.

“We are aware that rainfall generates runoff which empties into basins and rivers where they exist, but in an area which is poorly drained, flooding will result. Even when the basins and rivers exist to carry the flood, heavy rainfall often causes their carrying capacities to be exceeded, result in flooding”.

Anambra West LGA totally flooded

“The heavy flooding into the water channels often generate pressure on dams where they are located which sometimes force the authorities to open the water control structure to release some water downstream or risk the pulling down of the dam by water pressure in the reservoir section of the dam. The current flooding of almost everywhere in the country including areas in northern Anambra State is as a result of this problem”.
Also, in the journal of Geography and Regional Planning authored by Chukwudi Nzoiwu, Emma Ezenwaji, Ifeanyi Enete and Nwabueze Igu in July 2017, the academics observed that the annual rainfall varies slightly over 1370 mm to more than 2700 mm for the 40 years period under study.

They submitted that: “The annual rainfall in Awka varies from slightly over 1370 mm to more than 2700 mm for the 40 years period under study. The trend shows that at the start of the studied period (1976 to 2015), rainfall decline was recorded within the first decade (1976 to 1985) until 1987 after which increasing rainfall was noticeable for Awka”.

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From Ayamelum to Anambra East and West as well as Ogbaru, Awka North, Onitsha North and South Local Government Areas, farmers tasted the bitter pill but those from Ayamelum, Anambra East, Anambra West and Ogbaru have more heart-rendering stories to tell as a result of this year’s episode of the deluge.

Visits to those local government areas revealed the level of devastation and colossal losses suffered by the local farmers, who most often take loans for their agricultural production. With roads and bridges submerged and farms and livestocks washed away, thousands of farmers can only hope for some form of succour and indemnity first from relevant government institutions as well as corporate bodies, international agencies and public spirited individuals.

The whole of Anambra West Local Government Area was under water, with varying stories of devastation to houses, farmlands and forest reserves. Sunday Iloegbunam, Mmiata-Anam, said several farmers had been plunged into debt by the incident.

“There is no place that is not covered by water in Mmiata-Anam. We are not talking of property again. We just want to save our lives. Our farm products are under water – yam, cassava, potatoes. I do borrow money to farm. But I could not get half of the size I farmed out before the flood came. I lost so much”.

Various communities in Anambra East Local Government Area including Aguleri, Enugwu-Otu, Mkpunando, Ezi-Agulu Otu and Anam were not spared as the bridge linking them with other parts of the local government had been submerged. A displaced Octogenarian, Mr Augustine Emeka, recounted the experience with bitter feelings.

Completely flooded Community Secondary School, Atani

“Our yam, cassava, rice are under water. The water this year pass last year. And he still dey come more and more. Water don cover my house. That is why we are running out. The money we take work rice, yam, cassava, all gone like that. I no hear that government say they provide place for us to run to. We are only helping ourselves”.

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In Awka North, communities like Ugbenu, Ugbene and Awba Ofemili were also hit by the disaster. Cosmas Nnamah, a young rice farmer from Ugbenu, joined the farming occupation at the age of twelve and had enjoyed every bit of it but for the perennial flooding, which he first experienced in 2012.

”The flood came again this year with big force. Here at Ugbene, farms are submerged and destroyed. Some farmers have nothing to show for all their labour this year”.

As at 12th of October, 2020, Ayamelum, a Local Government Area, particularly reputed for rice farming, had been largely covered by flood, with several residents sacked from their homes, valuables lost, while the only access road linking the Local Government to the rest of the state was impassable. Those desperate to cross the flooded road had to pay extra as they were ferried by speed boats, tractors, trucks and lorries at a cost.

Mr Hyacinth Okafor, an Aggregator for NIRSAL-CBN Geo-Cooperatives in Anambra State, said the 2020 episode of the flooding has left them with different stories of losses.

“Out of ten hectres of farm we have here, six have been submerged by flood and it is still rising. So, the remaining four are not even safe. The farmer had put a lot into the farm, which was close to harvest. Many of our members are devastated and confused. Hope of livelihood had been destroyed”.

For some of the farmers in Ayamelum, who had earlier lost their rice field to drought, another evidence of climate change, it was a year of double tragedy with the arrival of flood.

Between June and August, we experienced drought and many farmers lost their rice fields. Then, this flood again. As we speak over twenty hectres are inside water most especially in Anaku and some parts of Omor. For farmers, the hope of making profit is dashed, For us the processors, the mills are inactive because we have no paddy to mill. The transporters are also idle because the road is submerged. Mr Abraham Ogwu, a rice processor and marketer lamented.

Perhaps, one of the most devastated local government areas is Ogbaru where the Police Zonal Headquarters, the Naval Outpost, General Hospital, the Chief Magistrate and Customary Courts as well as schools were submerged.

Houses have fallen, many lives lost and none of the sixteen communities in the local government is completely spared.

“As you can see, nowhere is safe from Okpoko to Oguikpele, the end of Ogbaru. This is a terrible situation. It’s almost getting to the level of 2012. But, I thank God, we started the sensitization on time with SEMA and NEMA. We told them to expect high rise of water”.

Some farmers in Ossomala forced to bring their cassava on the road for sale

That was Hon. Nnamdi Esimai, the Co-ordinator, Local Emergency Management Committee for Ogbaru Local Government Area.

Impacts on women and children

“Some of the things that our husbands and men can do in this situation, we cannot do. They can run and escape, but we cannot do that. You see women here in the camp, we have no privacy. You have to go to bathroom or go anywhere at the back of the building to change and have some privacy”.

The above statement by one of the female victims, Mrs Ijeoma Sunday, strengthens the fact that women and children bear greater brunt during emergencies arguably due to their vulnerability and natural weaknesses. Investigations revealed that the 2020 flood disaster had left far reaching adverse impacts on women and children across the affected communities.

The children were once again sacked from school for the second time in the year after resumption from the long break occasioned by COVID-19. This development worried some parents. Besides the disruption of their academic pursuit, most of those reportedly killed by the flood are infants.
One of the women said: “We have lost so much of our property and farmlands. We have lost some persons most of them children. Our prayer is that this does not continue”.

Soil erosion: evidence of climate change
Apart from flooding, another visible impact of climate-induced flooding is soil erosion, a major ecological problem confronting Anambra State, with severely negative effects on food production. Data from the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Agency, NEWMAP indicates that Anambra State as at the last count, had nine hundred and sixty active erosion sites, which have claimed arable land in the area. Some of the communities in the state have become synonymous with erosion such as Nanka, Agulu, Oko among others.

New gullies are said to be forming with every drop of rain and this worries the Co-ordinator of NEWMAP in the state, Mr Mike Ivenso.
“Unfortunately, the resources to tackle the nine hundred and sixty erosion sites are very limited. NEWMAP is working on fourteen sites across the three Senatorial Zones. But, that is only a drop in the bucket. I am thinking that by now, the number sites should be around one thousand gullies and still counting. This is because the geomorphologic nature of the soil in the area, which is friable and loses its weight easily when in contact with water or moisture”.

Food crisis looms

Indisputably, climate change is one of the biggest threats to food security and the situation in Anambra calls for attention. Food security, which was earlier in the year threatened by the novel Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) lock down, has been worsened by the flood, which has robbed most farmers of the harvest of their toiling round the year and has rendered several hectares of cultivable land useless.
Production capacity of the farmers, which had been badly affected by the twin disasters, promises far reaching multiplier effects for the State, as most of the farmers have lost input to cultivate in the next planting season and may not be able to farm at the rate they have done in the past due to the huge losses they suffered this year. This, for commentators, is an invitation to starvation and hunger.

Some of the children displaced by flood at the holding camp within Ogbaru LG Secretariat, Atani

A Natural Resources Surveying Lecturer in the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Mr John Ogbodo, lucidly explained the link between climate change and food insecurity.

“Soil erosion washes away the nutrients on the surface of the soil and that leads to very low yield for farmers. Deforestation also leads to soil erosion which has rendered thousands of hectares of arable land unusable around the state.
“There is equally increase in weeds, blights and pests as well as droughts and moisture stress. You would have noticed competition for land becoming more intense across the state with farmers and herders clashes. The culminating impact of all these is food insecurity”. Mr Ogbodo feared.

Government interventions

The Federal Government is in partnership with Anambra State Government and the World Bank, implementing the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Programme, NEWMAP, which is currently intervening in fourteen erosion sites across the three senatorial districts of the state. The state had spent about sixteen billion naira in the partnership with tripartite funding arrangement.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently directed that assistance be given to the state affected by flood this year and an Assessment Team, led by the Zonal Co-ordinator, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, in the South East, Mr Fred Anusim, had visited Anambra to give effect to that presidential order.
“We are in Anambra State to assess the impacts of the flooding to see how the Federal Government will assist as it is doing in other states like Kebbi, Niger, and Kwara to Kogi and Jigawa States. Then, Anambra, Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa. After we are done with the assessment, report will be sent back to Abuja so that they can plan for the relief intervention”. Mr Anusim explained.

A Medical Rescue Mission, headed by the Commissioner for Health, Dr Vincent Okpala was deployed to the affected Local Government Areas to save lives of residents and give them all necessary medical assistance.
Four truck load of food items were sent to the four worst hit Anambra East, Anambra West, Ayamelum and Ogbaru Local Government Areas, though under a circumstance many citizens described as questionable and face saving. One of them, who pleaded anonymity, alleged that government could no longer hoard the food items, after attempts by some irate youths, who besieged the warehouse to cart the materials away during the ENDSARS protest.

“My dear, they simply hoarded those items for campaign next year. Now, they want us to believe they are for flood victims. Yet, just last week, we heard them pleading to the Federal Government to assist flood victims with food items. They went to the camps and never carried any food items to the victims”.

Sensitization and information sharing campaign had been mounted for traditional rulers, Presidents-general and other critical interest groups on issues of flooding, erosion, indiscriminate dumping of refuse and blockage of drains, linking them with climate change.

Dr Emmanuel Okafor, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, further revealed that work on about one hundred and fifty erosion sites across the state are at various stages of completion while some had been delivered. The government, he added is encouraging tree planting in various communities to mitigate flooding and had distributed gas cylinders to households to reduce deforestation.

“We are already partnering with the Federal Ministry of Environment to see that old fridges and radio are carted away because they emit some gases that affect the ozone layers. The Government is executing land reclamation in two sites through the state ministries of works and environment.
“Recently, we met with people in Agulu, Nanka and Oko which are very prone to erosion on how to prevent new ones. Efforts are on to stop sand excavation in those communities. We are also encouraging our people to construct catchment pits in their compounds and to stop interlocking which aids run-off”.

Dr Okafor also hinted that the Ministry will soon champion the incorporation of Climate Change subjects into the curricular of all levels of education, to catch the children young with the message that will help to preserve the coming generation. The State Government earlier this year established the Erosion, Watershed and Climate Change Agency, for which three hundred million had been budgeted in the 2021 appropriation bill.

Other preventive measures by the state government include: setting up a task force for proper scoping and execution of development projects, campaign against indiscriminate building and erecting of structures on water ways and launch of one million tree planting initiative to provide natural cover for the soil.

“Trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen which human beings need. So, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere causes greenhouse gases, which lead to climate change. The Task Force is to ensure that every development project is properly scoped and executed. For instance, for road projects, drainage system attached must be properly terminated into the nearest body of water”. NEWMAP Co-ordinator said.

Preventing the anticipated food crisis

Several measures had been suggested as ways to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and save Anambra State from the looming hunger and starvation. These include: the dredging of big water bodies to enable them contain more water, wide publication of the onset and cessation of rainfall to enable farmers adjust to rainfall regime, early planting by farmers to ensure harvest before the arrival of flood, introduction of flood resilient rice species among others.

For an Agric-Value Chain Expert, Mr Abraham Ogwu, the government must be decisive in finding lasting solutions to the perennial flood disaster.

“Government should fund research institutes to be able to look at Climate Smart Agriculture. They can develop crop varieties that can resist either drought or flooding. Where that had been done, let the Government support the institutes to produce such special specie of rice in a good number to go round farmers who have fields in flood prone areas”.

The need for farmers especially those who cultivate acres and hectares of land to be insured by NIRSAL, against disastrous incidents such as flood and erosion has become more imperative than ever. It is the hope of many that National and State Emergency Management Agencies will come up with good programmes on how best to assist victims in the most impactful manner.

Woman Farmer narrating the ordeals of women and children

Experts submitted that the current situation in Anambra State is a time bomb that must not be allowed to explode to prevent devastation of unimaginable magnitude.

“If not checked in the next ten years, the whole state will be one big site of erosion. So, this is one area that is agitating the minds of experts and scholars because I don’t know how far government has gone in that area. I have said it severally that the Ministry of Environment in the state should not concentrate all attention on refuse evacuation. We have a very big problem in our hands” Director, NAU Centre for Water and Climate Change, Dr Emma Ezenwaji warned.

It was gathered that the State Government has been taking steps to ensure that food crisis does not result as anticipated. One of such measures, according to the Head of Department, Extension Services in the State Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs Ifeyinwa Uzoka, is sharing useful and timely information with farmers to build their capacities for optimal productivity.
“Most of the flood prone places do dry season farming. If they start early November, they will be able to harvest and make some profit before the flood sets in. Also, farmers in those areas should plant short-duration crops such as: rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables, amaratus green, pepper, okro, corn, and others which they can harvest two to three times before the flood comes. Planting only long-duration crops like yam and cassava can lead them to poverty food insecurity.
“Government is partnering NIRSAL and other agricultural facilities lending institutions to train our farmers and link them to agricultural credits at single digit interest rate. As we speak, the farmers are positioning themselves to access the facilities that are available at the moment”. Mrs Uzoka explained.

Awareness is yet low

One incontrovertible inference from most of the respondents is the hitherto low level of awareness among residents about climate change and its impacts on the state. Obalum Okagbue, a resident of Aguleri Otu, could not hide his ignorance as he responded to the poser on how much he knew about the cause of flooding.

“I no know wetin dey cause this flood. Na you people go fit tell us now. But, I hear people dey talk say na from kainji dam the flood come”. Okagbue responded

Cosmas Nnamah from Ugbenu is aware of the climate change but is pained that majority of the people, who bear its consequences, still don’t know why their farms are flooded every year.

Surviving against the odds

For Chief Ameke, the Government which is expected to take the lead in educating the populace about Climate Change, is found wanting.

“People have not been educated on why this is taking place. They said Kainji Dam has over-flown its bank and excess water must be released. It’s all about climate change. It is however pathetic that burning of bushes and felling of trees had continued unabated, while the fire is burning every day. No one is educating the people”.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Dr Okafor, also agreed to the need to raise the bar on whatever is currently being done.

“I agree with you, we need to up our rate of public enlightenment. However, we’ve been talking to the people and putting up regular announcements through the state owned radio station. We could not scale to other stations due to financial constraints”.

Also reacting to the need for more intensive awareness campaign, the NEWMAP Co-ordinator, Mr Ivenso, posited that enlightenment about such an important issue must not be one-off.
“There can never be enough education. People must be constantly reminded of some of these things so that they will remain in their consciousness. We have a radio programme that is funded by the World Bank, on the state own radio station but must continue to highlight the issues. Other MDAs should please join us. Environmental issue is not just for the Ministry of Environment.

Mrs Ifeyinwa Uzoka, assured that the Ministry, through the Extension Services Department, is poised to bridge the gap in information dissemination.

“My Programme Manager, Mr Jude Nwankwo has plan to make sure that we reach the nooks and crannies of Anambra State to educate our people to discontinue with those practices that impact negatively on Climate Change and for farmers to imbibe the practice that can mitigate its effects. We must retrieve our footsteps and do only those things that will mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Facing the future

The Paris Climate Agreement reached in 2015 is the first single agreement uniting nations of the world to forge a common front in mitigating negative impacts of Climate Change. Its key elements include: keeping the global temperatures well below 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and endeavour to limit them even more, to 1.5C and limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.

Other elements are: reviewing each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge and encouraging the rich countries to help poorer nations with the provision of “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

Medical Outreach to flood affected communities

Bearing the above in mind, it is quite in order to conclude with the submission of the Co-ordinator of NEWMAP in the State, Mr Mike Ivenso.
He said: “The environment doesn’t need us but we need the environment. If the environment is bad to us, we will not survive. So, our practices have to be right to be able to survive and thrive on earth. The entire issue of climate change is a matter of whether we’ll exist or we’ll not. It is the biggest issue of our time. If we take it that seriously, then we have to make that commitment and efforts to continue to educate people and spare no effort to mitigate it”.

Nigeria must take the Climate Agreement seriously and implement those four key elements with patriotic commitment to ensure that negative impacts of climate change are kept at bay in the country. Anambra State Government must be more decisive and be seen as doing its utmost in tackling the challenges posed by climate change across the state.

Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and is made possible through funding support from Ford Foundation.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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