Flooding In My Hometown

The lower floor of a residential structure in Odekpe, Ogbaru LGA (Anambra State) is under water. Photo by Odekpe-native Lucy Mbanefo.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been devouring news of the flooding in Nigeria.

My hometown in Nigeria’s Ogbaru Local Government Area (LGA) in Anambra State was one of the hardest hit by floods described as the worst the country has experienced in that last 50 years.

In Ogbaru, entire communities were submerged…engulfed by River Niger (as it is commonly referred to in Nigeria).

In Lokoja, the capital of Kogi state, the flooding reached disastrous levels at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers, where residents have been evacuating since July.

An aerial view of flooded communities in the Kogi State capital city of Lokoja. Photo by NEMA

Lokoja-Abuja road. Photo by Sam Adeko

The government called on the construction giant Julius Berger to help it free the gridlock on the Lokoja-Abuja road

Flooded Lokoja-Abuja Road. September 26, 2012. Photo by Sam Adeko

The Terrible Toll

The flooding, according to a November 5th announcement from Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), has displaced more than two million Nigerians. The agency also blamed heavy rains for the death of more than 360 people. NEMA reported Kogi and Adamawa states suffered the worst casualties, with more than 18,000 people injured.

Building structures in my hometown were completely underwater, since River Niger literally runs alongside my father’s village. A story published in Punch, quoted a worker from the Anambra

Water surrounds a structure in Odekpe, Ogbaru LGA (Anambra State). Photo by Odekpe-native Lucy Mbanefo.

state Emergency Management Agency who said no community in Ogbaru was spared.  The story reported that 76,000 residents of the five local government areas hit by the flooding were evacuated from their homes to relief camps in Onitsha (Anambra’s commercial capital) and elsewhere.

The Federal Response

In an October 9th national broadcast, President Goodluck Jonathan announced an allocation of N17.6 billion to flood-ravaged states. According to Jonathan, states will receive N13.3 billion while federal government agencies will receive N4.3 billion.

Vanguard reported that eight states, rated as the worst hit, will receive N500 million each: Bayelsa, Delta, Anambra, Kogi, Oyo, Adamawa, Benue and Plateau states. The remaining states, such as Abia, Rivers, Kwara, Katsina, Gombe, Zamfara, Yobe, Enugu, were categorized on the severity of the damage and will also receive funds.

Amassoma community dwellers wade through a flood with their belongings in Bayelsa state. October 6, 2012. REUTERS/Tife Owolabi

Residents stand outside a house destroyed by rain and floods in Ibadan, Nigeria. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

However, some fear that the relief funds will not get to where they are needed the most, in the hands of the people on ground. According to Vanguard’s Emmanuel Edukugho:

“The Federal and state governments have not put effective monitoring mechanism in place to checkmate fraudulent motives and actions by corrupt officials. Just recently, Rivers State governor had cause to warn officials, traditional rulers against diverting relief materials and funds meant for flood victims.” (sic)

Co-chair of a newly created national flood relief committee, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, told reporters in Abuja that the targeted N100 billion will supplement the government’s efforts to alleviate the effects of the disaster.

Jonathan created the 34-member National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation co-chaired by Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote and lawyer Olisa Agbakoba. The committee comprises a who’s who of Nigeria’s professional elite, with members such as former Information and Communications Minister Frank Nweke Jr., oil tycoon and telecom entrepreneur Mike Adenuga, pioneering health professional Dora Akunyili, economist Tony Elumelu and many others.  This week, the committee plans to hold a fundraiser dinner to encourage and receive donations for the relief effort.  The committee’s target is to raise N100 billion.

The Aftermath

Perhaps, the most frustrating aspect is that much of the disaster could have been avoided. I am among those who believe the flooding would not have executed such destruction if the government had planned accordingly. Seasonal floods are a part of life for millions in Nigeria, but with notoriously poor drainage systems, a nearly non-existent insurance culture, lack of effective forecasting and localized planning, Nigerians remain susceptible to forces of nature and when it comes to flooding, many feel all they can do is pray against the worst. Think about the farmers. Millions of Nigerians rely on their own crop harvests as a means of livelihood.  The dire situation led four farmers to commit suicide.

Will Ross, BBC’s Nigeria correspondent, reported that rural area residents have seen snakes, hippopotami and crocodiles inside their flooded homes.  Victor Afam Ogene, a lawmaker representing the Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the lower chamber of Anambra’s National Assembly recently sent a warning to Ogbaruans to relocate to areas of higher elevation to “avoid being attacked by sea animals.”

Anambra State Governor Peter Obi and his aides wade in knee-deep water in a riverine community

In this file photo from October 2011, makeshift homes lie submerged in floods in Lagos, Nigeria, where more than 360 people have lost their lives in floods over the past several months. Pius Utomi/ AFP/Getty Images

With the receding  of water in some areas (including in Ogbaru, fortunately), food prices have taken an upward spike and an outbreak of communicable diseases seems inevitable. Despite that fact that thousands of hectares of farmland were awash in the waters, Jonathan, speaking in the presidential villa, told journalists, “people should not be afraid that there will be hunger in the land…we have enough grains in our reserves.”

Reuters reported that oil production has been disrupted as the flooding has devastated the country’s oil rich Niger Delta region.

Furthermore, residents of the relief centers have not seemed to have found much relief. Occupants complain that the centers have no shower/bath accommodations, food provisions nor sleeping materials. In addition to poor sanitation,  insecurity has become a problem, as one source told ThisDay that “rapists and hoodlums” have invaded several camps. Take a look at this displacement camp in Odekpe, Ogbaru LGA in Anambra State.

It is no surprise that the flooding in Nigeria has occupied little to no airtime nor print space in most Western news broadcasts and publications. Former US. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell noted the same and remarked that the “Nigerian federal government in Abuja does not seem to be asking for the international assistance it clearly needs.”

By Chika Oduah

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