There is a humanitarian crisis ravaging flood-prone communities across the Niger Delta and beyond, writes SHOLA O’NEIL
Floods are wiping out communities, submerging homes, eating up farms and villages in the hinterland, hapless citizens are fleeing their areas and moving into neighbouring towns, which also soon feel the wrath of nature. Those fleeing are leaving behind mud and brick houses that are being washed away and in agrarian communities that are being submerged by unrelenting floods.
From Patani to Aven through dozen other communities in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State, thousands of residents have fled to take refuge on the shoulders of the Warri-Port Harcourt axis of the busy the East-West highway.
A primary school in Aven, which used to house some of the internally displaced persons, is overflowing, but not just with IDPs; it has been taken over by the flood. Those giving succour to embattled family members and friends are now also refugees with no refuge in sight.
Our reporter met one of the v ictims, who simply identified himself as Mr. Ayamkpor. Chased from his home by the water, he set up a makeshift shelter at a layby on the busy highway. The shelter is just a few meters away from his comfortable brick bungalow, which he is sinking by the inches deeper into the puddle.
“I could not take anything out when the flood started, because I was away with my family. When I came back, my house was already full of water. See (he showed our reporter a box of clothes) everything inside has been soaked. My mattresses and those of my wife are all destroyed by flood,” said Ayamkpor who looked dejected.
His family’s fate mirrors those of thousands of others in several communities in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Edo among other states in the Niger Delta region. From Kpakiama, Bomadi, Esama Ayakoromo, Tuomo, Bulu-Angiama and Abare communities in Delta state, to Zarama, Sagbama, and Agge in Bayelsa, the pathetic tales are similar – sufferings, farmlands ravaged by floods, communities sacked and means of livelihood wiped away.
Mrs Tobra Kasikoro-Kilipirite of the Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta described the situation as a national disaster and source of concern for the people of the region.
Speaking during a visit to some of the disaster area, Kasikoro-Kilipirite called for urgent and holistic measures to address the menace of flooding, which, she said, has become a yearly tragedy for the people.
“The yearly outburst of the flood is another menace bedevilling coastal communities’ dwellers. It is a devastating effect on the populace, especially the Niger Delta Communities, have posed a serious threat to the people. (Flood) are streaming down coastal banks from Bayelsa, Edo, Delta, and other Niger Delta states.
“Properties worth trillions are being destroyed, educational and socio-economic activities are put on hold, healthcare facilities/utilities are ravaged, lives are lost and families displaced daily as the flood rises.”
MOSIEND groups, including Western Zone Woman Leader, Comr. Boyelayefa Ambakederemo, Secretary of Women Initiative for Values Empowerment and Sustainability International (WIVES Int’l), Comr. Timipre M. Torokro and the Director of Programs WIVES Int’l, Dr. Prince Dennis A. Kilopiri told The Nation that the situations are replicas of happenings in affected communities in Bomadi, Burutu, Ughelli North, Warri South-West and North, LGAs.
Expectedly, the deplorable living condition of the victims of the flood is creating health concerns, as the displaced persons live under very poor hygienic conditions where portable water, proper sanitary condition and lack of healthy human waste disposal are luxuries.
At Aven, two children swam in front of Mr. Aymakpor’s submerged house. The naked children while diving and playing in the water use their hands to wade away faeces and animal droppings that are washed into the water from the main floor. Sadly, they cannot see or wave away the streams of urine, bacteria and germs that seep into the ‘pool’ from the road and burst or washed away septic tanks.
A few meters away, 15-year-old Ebipamo and his little brother sat shade provided by withering plantain trees. They are hurdled over a meal of garri and the hastily prepared pot of soup. Their ‘home’ consists of two mosquito nets tied to plantain stumps. The net keeps away as many mosquitoes as possible but does not stave off cold or the rain.
Nearby, their wet clothes are spread on the grass, and they constantly look overhead into the sky, with silent supplications that the heavens hold up and do not open up any time soon. The younger of the duo merely nodded when asked if he is in school, but he refused to disclose his class or school. His countenance indicated that he was more concerned about surviving the flood than talking about his educational interest.
Schools in hundreds of affected communities have remained close despite the re-opening after the COVID-19 pandemic because of the rampaging flood. Schools in some states resumed last Monday, but children like Ebipamo and others in Aven, Patani and other ravaged areas are more interested in staying alive than returning to school
Famine, hunger loom
“We are tired of people coming here, snapping photographs every time there is the flood. Nobody is willing to help us. We hear of money, millions budgeted for relief to flood victims but what do we get? It is nothing every year,” Mrs. Ayamkpor, who also lost her building and belongings to flooding, ranted at our reporter in frustration.
She is a dark, sturdy and a very hardworking woman, who looks 50ish. She is a buxom beautiful woman, but her face is striated and marked with anxiety as she spoke. She was peeling cassava with her daughter-in-law along the Port Harcourt highway when she saw our staff. Despite her anger, she is a friendly woman, who is burdened by the environment and hardship around her. Her current accommodation of a tiny space shared with her husband and seven children is a far cry from the modest multi-room house that has been washed away by the flood.
She explained how her movement from her farm and house in the innermost part of the community to the highway because of the flood. “I did not salvage anything from the flood, everything is gone. We are peeling cassava now to make garri but for how long will it survive me, my husband and my children? Our farm is gone, everything is gone; where do we start from?”
There are indications that it could get worse in the days ahead unless the heavens dry up and there is respite.
As floods race towards farms, farmers are forced to hurriedly harvest their crops, mostly prematurely. Cassava and yam are some of the root crops mostly farmed along with plantain and banana in parts of the delta area. But the flood has wiped out a substantial part of this years’ harvest already.
In some of the communities our reporter visited, tiny crops that were salvaged by the farmers are seen on yam barns. They are premature and barely 30percent of their usual sizes. But even those are not spared by floods, as the water level continues to rise and barrels of water are emptied daily into the land.
“We kept these yams here on a place we thought is highland but before we knew it the flood had risen to that level and destroyed some of them. You can see for yourself that the crops are now in the water. It is not as if we have given up, but where else do we go? We cannot dig government roads and erect barns on them,” Ayamkpo told our reporter.
Still, the worse might yet be ahead as many rivers in that axis continue to overflow their banks and spilling into communities and the highways. Footpaths in towns have village have become waterways where boats are the preferred means of transportation.
A long stretch of the Uwheru-Ughelli-Evwreni axis of the expressway has already being taken over by water, raising fears that motorists going to Port Harcourt and Calabar routes might now look to the longer Ughelli-Asaba-Onitsha-Owerri route, as was the situation in 2013/2014 when the road was washed away by flood during construction. At the weekend, running streams of water surfaced on sections of the road and some part is already being washed away.
Alleged govt neglect
The perceived abandonment of the victims of the flood is causing anger, amidst alleged refusal of the states and local government authorities to distribute relief and other materials to cushion the suffering of victims.
One of the victims in Kpakiama said past experiences have taught them not to expect anything from the government. She said even when relief materials are provided; they end up in the homes of government officials. “The last time we heard of millions of naira being provided along with foodstuffs and other materials, but we got nothing.”
At Aven, Mrs Ayampo said her family of nine, including her husband and seven children, were given a carton of Indomie noodles with nothing else. “How long will that last us? But we keep hearing millions and billions upon billions but there is nothing for the common man.”
Speaking in the same vein, Kasikoro-Kiliripite said, “It is quite sad that days after the floods started, residents have complained that there have been no official communication or provision from the Federal or State government, nor interventionist agencies in respect to measures they are putting in place to curb this natural disaster, IDP camps or provision of palliatives to those affected.”