Delta communities count losses, as flood ravages farmlands

Flooded homes

The unrelenting flood wreaking havoc on farmlands across the country portends food security crisis.

Already, affected communities in Delta, one of the four affected states declared a national disaster by President Muhammadu Buhari, are counting their losses.

The implication of this disaster, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was in the state for an on the spot assessment, is that Federal Government will be working with all of its agencies, states and local governments to ensure that lives are protected.

“We will ensure that your pains are not allowed to continue; and as soon as possible, you can return to your homes and communities, and livelihood.

There is a lot of work to be done, and not just by providing relief materials to IDPs,” he said in his address.

But the farmers, deeply disturbed by the destruction of their crops, are treating government’s promises with distrust. And this is understandable after their unpalatable experience in 2012.

Narrating their ordeal during the last flood in 2012, the Okakwu of Umu-Oko, his Highness Onishe Olisa, said: “We were moved to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp, where hoodlums had a field day, as our properties and farm produce got stolen and vandalised.

We slept on thin mattresses on bare floor with little or no food.

As a title-holder, it is forbidden for me to live in an IDP camp. But if we have food to eat and medical care, we will sleep wherever we find ourselves to survive.”

However, the state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, who had been visiting affected communities, is not relenting in his efforts, as he grapples with the gravity of the issues at hand.

Last week, he sent a Save Our Souls (SOS) to the Federal Government, donor agencies and philanthropists for aids.

“If we see that the danger is going to increase, we will no longer plead but evacuate the people forcibly,” he said. “We are warning those in flood prone areas that were affected in 2012.

This is the time for them to leave, as various camps have been set up for the purpose. For those trapped, I have approved 10 Marco Polo buses to be positioned in different locations.

“I will continue to provide them with relief materials and keep the place free from epidemics of any kind. We will also continue to monitor the situation daily, and if we see that there is need to evacuate them, we will.”

He explained that government’s focus was on farmlands in such affected communities as Burutu, Bomadi, Patani, Warri, Ndokwa, Ukwuani, Ethiope East and West, Ughelli, Isoko, Oshimili South and Sapele.

“It is particularly worrisome, because these areas are the main sources of agriculture produce in the state.

So, the fear of farmers, government officials and the general public is that the effect of flood on food prices can only be imagined,” the governor said.

With hopes hanging in the balance and disbelief in government promises, The Guardian investigation revealed the extent of danger hunger, epidemic and security challenges the state may have to grapple with.

Some respondents at different camps across the state said they held government promises in contempt, because most of the victims that suffered the same fate in 2012 were yet to be compensated six years after.

“Although forms were filled and collated, yet a number of emergency contractors that emerged and made fortunes from the tragedy are walking free.

Sadly, victims were not only denied, but also abandoned, despite billions of Naira donated by government, local and international donor agencies, as well as kind-hearted individuals,” said an IDP.

While all this talk was going on, affected farmers were being fed twice daily, and sleeping on either available wooden school chairs or bare floor.

They, however, complained that there were not enough mattresses for them to sleep on.

The fear of epidemic is another issue, as they defecate in the open and throw it into nearby bushes. 

This may pose a serious health challenge, despite presence of medical personnel and facilities provided by the state ministry of health.

Efforts to get an estimate of the losses from Commissioners of Agriculture, Environment and Special Duties proved abortive.

Only Barr. Ernest Ogwezzy called back to express his unavailability, as he was out of town attending to an IDPs camp.

The oil rich communities, presently sacked by flood are demanding billions of dollars as compensation to enable them rebuild submerged buildings, infrastructures and rehabilitate those whose means of livelihood was destroyed.

The oilrigs and other facilities were not spared, as they were also badly damaged. This has impacted negatively on both the economic and social lives of the people.

In the vanguard of calls for mitigation of losses is Ndokwa National Union (NNU), whose President General, High Chief Johnson Opone, raised an alarm that, “The entire Ndokwa East local government area, host to Okpai Gas Independent Power plant with a dedicated steady power supply to Aso Rock is under water.”

Opone told The Guardian: “The same fate has befallen 79 other communities and over 100 oil producing communities in Ndokwa West and Ukwuani Local Government Areas of the state. These are hosts to six gas flaring oil companies that are demanding N50bn compensation.

“I met with the state Governor in August, and he advised that we help to evacuate people, especially those on River Niger area. Our people are predominantly farmers and fishermen.

The damage is heavy, with properties worth billions of Naira gone with the flood. Data of submerged structures, which runs into N50bn, is almost ready.

“It’s sad that Ndokwa, which produces 110,000 barrels of crude oil per day, is not given deserved attention. Our people have been thrown out of their homes and the Federal Government is yet to show any concern.

“The oil rich Ndokwa East, which is under sea level, as well as Ndokwa West, which is also having its share of the disaster and Ukwuani local governments under my watch have been submerged, as a result of the ravaging flood, which caught residents off-guard.

The situation has rendered my people homeless with nothing left for sustenance or livelihood.”

He called on state and Federal Governments, international community, as well as the Ecological Association of Nigeria, Civil societies and donor agencies, and kindhearted individuals to come to their aid.

He charged the Federal Government and Ecological

Association of Nigeria: “To ensure that serious and adequate measures are employed towards dredging water ways and proper protection of shorelines to avoid flooding of farmlands and communities around the shorelines.”

He explained that his team was following development closely, to avoid a repeat of what happened during and after the 2012 flood, when some of those entrusted with the welfare and management of resources on behalf of the displaced persons made away with the money and left the IDPs dry.

Unfortunately, petty politicking played out at Utagba-Ogbe Technical College, Kwale Holding Camp, as over 300 internally displaced persons threatened to vacate their temporary home over who, between Ndokwa East local government chairman, Mr. Joan Governor and his predecessor, Chief (Mrs.) Nkechi Chukwurah, should manage the camp, located in Ndokwa West local government area.

It was indeed a sight, when almost all the female displaced persons staged a walkout on their chairman, insisting they were not safe in his care.

This development degenerated further, when days after, Hon. Governor and some of his councilors invaded the camp to forcibly move the IDPs to Ashaka Camp prepared for them. This led to an exchange of blows, as the IPDs resisted the move.

However, the situation was saved by swift intervention of Governor Okowa, who immediately directed the state Commissioner for Special Duties, Barr. Ernest Ogwezzy, who doubles as Chairman of the Flood Committee, to promptly dissolve Hon. Chukwurah’s committee and hand over the camp to the council chairman, Hon. Governor.

Prince Ned Nwoko, who narrowly lost the Delta North senatorial ticket to Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, said the way forward, was to dredge River Niger from the confluence down to the sea.

“Aside helping to avert flood, the process will also encourage economic activities along the coastline,” he said.

Efforts Of Government And Other Agencies

DESPITE the misgivings, government and other agencies were not relenting in efforts to ameliorate victims’ suffering, by providing needed reliefs.

Expressing his worries about the IDPs’ plight, Vice President Osinbajo said: “It is very disruptive and I know how difficult it must have been for most of you.

We must commend the Governor and government of Delta State for moving very swiftly and putting up this place. I’ve looked round and the facilities here are adequate, especially the clinic and bed spaces, among others.”

To underscore the seriousness attached to Federal Government’s directive in ensuring proper data of the IDPs, Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, a day after Osinbajo’s visit, donated money and food items to Powerline IDPs at their Berger Yard temporary shelter in Asaba, as his little gesture to ameliorating the victims’ suffering.

While 12 of the camps were created by Delta State Government, 10 others were set up by communities and people that are not disposed to moving into government Holding Camps, that are not near their original places of abode.

After inspecting some of the Holding Camps and areas affected by flood, the Director, Relief and Rehabilitation, Kayode Fagbemi expressed satisfaction at what he saw at camps visited.

Interestingly, Okowa also directed the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to organise academic activities for school children at the different Holding Camps.

The governor disclosed this at a recent interactive session with children during an unscheduled visit at Oneh and Ogbe-Afor Primary Schools, Asaba.

At the time of filing this report, however, the children are still out of school, as some parents interviewed expressed worries over what would become of their children’s academic future.

The Incident Commander for Operations Centre (NEMA), Mr. Waltson Brandon explained that the body had stocked relief items at the IDP camps, as well as take census of IDPs.

“The refusal of most displaced persons to come to camp is worrisome and not encouraging. But we will keep pleading with them to have a rethink,” he said.

The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had on May, 2018 warned Nigerians living by the banks of River Niger and its floodplains to immediately relocate over imminent flooding.

In a statement signed by its director of Engineering Hydrology, the agency, which listed the vulnerable states as Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Anambra, Delta and Bayelsa, stated that it is as a result of the middle Niger portion of the Niger basin (Niger Republic) that experienced high flows late April with the flood advancing into the Lower Niger (Nigeria)..

Similarly, scientists also predicted an increase in cases of water and mosquito-borne diseases.

NIHSA noted that both Kainji and Jebba Dams were already spilling over downstream, with the level of water in Lokoja downstream of the confluence standing at 8.69m.

NIHSA’s Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) for the 36 states released in May 2018 projected that Sokoto, Niger, Benue, Anambra, Ogun, Osun, Cross River and Yobe States would have high risks of river flooding.

It also indicated that Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Ondo States might experience coastal flooding. The agency attributed this to a likely rise in sea level and tidal surge.

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) flooding and communicable diseases fact sheet, floods can also potentially increase transmission of typhoid fever, leptospirosis, hepatitis A, dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever, as well as West Nile fever.

Chike Chikwendu, the executive director, Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability, stressed that the yearly flooding in some riverine states are predictable.

“These are states lying along the major rivers of Niger and Benue and include Delta, Anambra, Niger, Edo, Benue and Kogi.

The seasonal rains and the anthropogenic release of water from dams built across River Niger at Kainji and Lagdo, along River Benue, accentuate flooding in these states,” he said.

Proffering a solution, Dr. Ewah Eleri, Executive Director of International Centre for Energy (ICEED), urged Federal Government to embrace a timely dissemination of information and ensure that people in flood-prone states are prepared.

He said: “NIMET provides yearly information. There are no good indications that these have been effective.

Beyond information, a stakeholder platform on flood management, especially coordinating states and federal agencies, could be useful in developing and implementing yearly drainage system management.”

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