In Bayelsa, government’s poor preparedness exposes residents to severe flood risks

NiMET has predicted another flood crisis. In Bayelsa, the level of precipitation is expected to hit as high as 2500mm. As a result, residents of Bayelsa are adopting local measures which they believe could guarantee their safety. However, their effort is limited by the state government’s inaction. In this report for The ICIR, Beloved John reports how low government preparedness puts residents at risk of flooding.

THE residents of Agbura, a small community in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state capital, are building a flood wall. They have been digging out sand from empty parcels of land at the edge of the community to build a sea wall that will circle the neighbourhood.

It is back-breaking work, but after learning about the possibility of another flood crisis from the local radio stations, the people agreed to it. After all, the state authority has been silent.

The flood wall in Agbura
The flood wall in Agbura

The last quarter of 2022 came with a flash flood that enveloped most of Bayelsa and parts of Nigeria. It killed over 600 persons, displaced 3.5 million people and damaged about 569,000 hectares of farmlands, according to data obtained from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The flooding was heavy in Agbura; the water was four feet high, and it flowed into every street, destroying anything in its way. According to the residents, all the farms in the village were submerged. Several buildings collapsed, too.

The federal government blamed the incident on heavy rainfall. Media reports say it was further complicated by the release of excess water from the Lagdo dam in neighbouring Cameroon’s northern region. This is not the first time the government of Cameroon will be releasing water from their Dam. It is almost an annual ritual with severe implications in Nigeria.

The Cameroonian dam affected Nigeria because of the absence of flood defence mechanisms like the Dasin Hausa Dam, which should have been built 40 years ago.  The flooding wrecked 300 communities across eight local government areas in Bayelsa, leaving thousands devastated.

In January, NiMET predicted a high possibility of a flood heavier than the last. The agency projects that the flood would affect 35 states and 314 local government areas. Bayelsa, a place comprising several coastal areas and lowlands, is one state at the top of the list.

An inadequate attempt at self-preservation

Beregee Amos, a 42-year-old resident and a farmer, is one of those who initiated the sea wall project. He is a part of the labour, and he mediates with the community chief on behalf of the workers.

But the farmer cannot guarantee that the mountain of brown sand can resist flooding. “Well, at least it’s something,” he says as he paces back and forth on top of it, his face furrowed with worry.

“This should be able to stop the Agbura River from overflowing into the community when it gets full,” Amos says to The ICIR. “I think so. What else can we do?  We will build it around the area, so there’ll be no way in for it.”

The ICIR observed that the villagers are attempting other self-protection because the flood wall, made of just sand,  won’t be strong enough to resist the flood. The ICIR can establish that the community is still at risk of flooding despite this.

 A temporary flood wall should contain flood-resistant materials like concrete and trap bags, and a permanent one is an engineered structure that requires more technical materials.

Beregee Amos standing on the heap of sand.

But the residents hope to use the heap of sand as a barrier to defy the tides and prevent water from flowing into the community should the flood prediction by the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMET) come true.

Unlike Amos, Most locals are hopeful. Their conversation with The ICIR shows a sense of certainty among them. They believe that with the water inflow under control, all they have to worry about is the food insecurity that would follow the crisis.

Low level of awareness

When The ICIR visited the communities in Yenagoa, Ogbia and Southern Ijaw LGA, it found the locals scrambling for ways to ensure their safety.

Although many residents have gotten wind of the impending flood, their understanding of the situation is still poor. They are unaware of how best to protect themselves, and as a result, some are adopting ineffective measures.

There are arguments over the intensity of the impending flood, the parts of Bayelsa not prone to flooding, the cost of relocation, and affordability.

Also, only residents with access to radio and TV stations are privy to information on flooding.

The ICIR found that the state government is yet to carry out grassroots sensitisation programmes as recommended by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in the flood prevention plan.

Residents say they are yet to see any attempt by the state to clarify why flooding is now more frequent.

“No one has told us anything. The government is not talking or doing for our community. We are just trying what we think can work,” Darlene points out.

According to Philip Geoffrey, the Bayelsa director of the  Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), the state authorities have failed to actively sensitise the people and make efforts to reduce the impact of the flood. The government, he says, has been too quiet.

“One would think that by now, the government of Bayelsa would have taken action. Instead, residents are running helter-skelter, hunting for solutions themselves.”

To reduce the impact of the flood, NEMA urged for the relocation of people in flood-prone areas, the creation of refugee camps, a standard drainage system and a speedup of the provision of mitigating factors.

However, The ICIR observed that the Bayelsa state government has failed to adopt any of these measures.

Clogged drainages, water channels

In Azikoro, a small town in Yenagoa, families are filling up their surroundings with sand to guard them against floodwater. 

Comfort Ayagere has been pondering on how to guarantee the safety of her kids since she watched a TV advert sponsored by NEMA.

Comfort Ayagere outside her home.

Her apartment is nestled on a sloping terrain that leads down to a small canal, which she is trying to fill up with sand. But the canal is a major concern because it is clogged with tangled grasses, plastic materials and dirt.

“If the canal is this way till then. What I am doing now might not be enough. This should be a free waterway, but it is covered with thick bushes and dirt. The water cannot flow well. Once it is full, it just flows up here,” Comfort says.

The clogged waterway in Azikoro
The clogged waterway in Azikoro

According to the area’s residents, the canal, which has not been cleaned in about four years, contributed significantly to the flooding in the community.

Beatrice Ebite, a dark, petite woman also residing in the area, believes their suffering is guaranteed if there’s another flooding because the canal will overflow.

“I don’t know how we will survive this flood they predicted. Last year was difficult, and I don’t want to go through that again.”

The ICIR found blocked water channels to be common in many flood-prone areas in Bayelsa. This is despite the approval of N2.6 billion for erosion and flood control in the 2023 budget.

Bayelsa is a flat, low-lying, swampy basin crisscrossed by a dense network of meandering rivers and creeks. This makes it very susceptible to flooding, and the absence of a standard drainage system in the state worsens the situation.

In the 2023 approved budget, Bayelsa budgeted N8 billion for the construction of standard drainage statewide. However, The ICIR did not see any ongoing drainage projects in the flood-prone communities it visited.

The ICIR contacted the Bayelsa information officer for the Ministry of Works, Dei Epunus, but he declined to discuss the issue. Epunus told The ICIR over a phone call that he is unauthorised to address the subject.

IDP camp in poor condition

There’s only a handful of residents in Elebele new Berger Yard, but neither of them are considering relocation. The villagers cannot afford it.

A house in Elebele New Berger Yard community
A house in Elebele New Berger Yard community

Instead, they are opting for alternatives. Edna Udugwodo has begun to buy some of the tools she would use to build a flood camp. She has identified where the camp would be; it is a small part of the Elebele highway that was not affected by the flood in 2022.    

“I have gotten wood and nails. What I need to buy now is a tarpaulin and some things to set up that place when the flood starts.

“It is not the best, but it is manageable. It is better an IDP camp. I can’t stay there.”

Edna Udugwodo outside her home
Edna Udugwodo outside her home

She recalls how most locals slept on the highway and any dry land they could find because the Public school buildings used as IDP camps were in congested, terrible condition.

The ICIR observed the case might be the same this year as there are no active plans to provide conducive camps for people at risk of flooding across the state.

Most of the locals in Elebele and other flood-prone communities share the same opinion as Edna. There is no conducive IDP camp, and relocation is too expensive.

The people prefer to look out for other alternatives rather than move to an IDP camp.

“Rather than stay in a classroom, I’ll get some blocks of cement to lift my tent high and keep my properties above the water,” says Faith Monday, another resident of Elebele community.

Also,farmers are opting for early harvest. Godfrey Kalazeri, a resident of Ayama community in Southern Ijaw local government, is set to harvest the cassava and plantain he cultivated early in the year.

Losing all his farm produce to the flood in 2022 kept him on edge. He was unwilling to take the same risk this year.

“I didn’t have enough crops to plant this year. Even stems for cassava were scarce and expensive. I just did the little I could do around February, and I   amy harvest is ready now,” the farmer tells The ICIR.

Many farmers who did not cultivate early in the year did not farm to avoid incurring more losses. And the few who did, according to their conversation with The ICIR, are ready to harvest them prematurely.

What is Bayelsa government doing?

The ICIR found government flood preparedness to be abysmal,  although the state, according to NiMET, will be one of the most affected.

The landscape is close to the water level, and the government knows this. Still, preparedness is poor, according to Fyneface Dunmamene, an environmental activist and YEAC executive director.

“Issues like the clearing of waterways, inadequate drainages, low awareness and absence of good emergency accommodation that could complicate the situation are yet to be addressed.”

Dunmamene points out that “the conditions of living at the emergency camps are dehumanising, and, understandably, residents are reluctant to use them.”

 The ICIR observed the repair of damaged roads in the state. One of the major roads undergoing construction is the La More Water road in Elebele, Ogbia LGA. In the 2023 approved budget, Bayelsa budgeted N15 billion for the rehabilitation of damaged roads.

La More water road in Elebele under construction
La More water road in Elebele under construction

Save for this, no active measures have been adopted to protect residents and reduce the impact of the impending flooding on the state.

On September 4, The ICIR also attempted to contact the state Commissioner for Environment, Iselema Gbaranbiri. But he did not respond to phone calls, and text messages sent to him.

However, when The ICIR contacted the Director General of the Bayelsa state, Directorate of Flood and Erosion Control, Omusu Wilson Omuso, he claimed the state is better prepared to deal with the impending flood compared to the previous year.

According to him, clogged drainages and creeks are being cleared to ensure free water passage.

“This year will be different,” he said.

“We are prepared and much better than we were last year. We know that clogged creeks and Rivers contributed significantly to the flood in 2022 and as a result we have commenced cleaning. We are opening them so that when there is a flood we won’t be too affected.

“We have been clearing a lot ever since. We have also looked out for higher grounds to accommodate people in each local government and we intend to provide the basic amenities. This year will be different.”

While the residents scurry around in search of safety, the inadequate preparedness of the state government reduces the chances of minimising the impact of the flood.

Beloved John is an investigative reporter with International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

You can reach her via: [email protected]

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