By Alfred Ajayi
Several months after reported how Anambra residents were caught in a devastating flood in this report [Flood series] The harrowing tales of residents caught in Anambra flood, Alfred Ajayi went to the communities to follow up on the resettlement process.
“This is the situation we find ourselves just because of our ancestral settlement. It gives me belly cuts, a real bad feeling that I am from this terrain,” said Mathias Ameke, a community leader in Mmiata-Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area (LGA).
He was reacting to a poser from the reporter on how victims of the 2022 flooding are coping with resettlement and recovery across at least five local government areas of the state, whose livelihood was irrecoverably compromised.
Floods are the most frequent type of natural disaster that are often caused by heavy rainfall, rapid snowmelt or a storm surge from a tropical cyclone or tsunami in coastal areas.SEMA
According to World Health Organization, (WHO), more than 2 billion people were affected by floods globally between 1998 and 2017, while those who live in floodplains, non-resistant buildings, or lack warning systems and awareness of flooding hazards, are most vulnerable to the disaster.
The 2022 episode of the annual flood disaster left deaths, injuries, displacement and homelessness as well as hunger and starvation on its trail.
Remigius Alfred is one of the flood victims in Mmiata-Anam. His truck and a major source of income have been stationary since the flood receded.
Alfred was doing well prior to the disaster, as could be seen in his building project, which has been grounded due to the current ugly realities around him. “I have been riding it for some months. I just packed it and the flood came, took over everywhere, and I could not drive it away”.
“After the flood ended, I came back and wanted to drive the tipper away to resume my business. Sadly, I couldn’t move it,” the heartbroken man said. “The mechanic told me that the engine spoilt completely and it would cost me two million naira to get another one. Many other things were also damaged”.
The dire implications are not only for Alfred as everyone around him feels the hit. “I cannot pay my bills, including school fees of my children. I have been going to the farm again to see whether I will get money to repair the vehicle so I can resume my work again”.
The University of Central Florida identifies five stages of disaster management cycle as prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Out of the five, recovery is the greatest challenge confronting victims scattered mainly across Awka North, Ayamelum, Anambra East and West as well as Ogbaru local government areas, The gathered. They said the harder they try, the tougher recovery becomes due to the unfriendly economic realities in the country.
“Everything in this house was affected,” Ameke said as he asked the reporter, “Come with me inside and see how I tucked my valuables, such as certificates, into the ceiling”. He led the reporter to a small store within the building and resumed narration.
“We all lost farm seedlings and harvested crops. Snakes and scorpions attacked people, and some died as a result. We suffered cholera due to contaminated water”.
As he recounted the sad incident, the hand of the plastic chair on which he was sitting broke. “That is the consequence of the flood,” he remarked. “The plastic chairs stayed inside water for so long and got weak. See this door,” he drew the attention of the reporter. “It cannot close again since the flood receded”.
“I learnt that Government brought some planks for sharing to flood victims. But, it’s like a drop in a large ocean. They compiled names across communities of Anambra West about three to four months ago”.
“Yet, the help so far from government is nothing to write home about,” Ameke submitted as he led the reporter on a short stroll to the residence of another victim, Emeka Raphael, who immediately led us to one of his farms totally devastated by flood.
“I couldn’t evacuate my crops. My cassava and yam were washed away,” he said regrettably. “I lost between N150,000 to N200,000. I had this size of farm in three or four places. But, I was only able to re-cultivate this one all by my personal effort”.
Ayamelum also devastated
“Flood washed all my cassava and yam away. I am doing whatever I see to survive,” Chijioke Ekwunife, a subsistence farmer in Anaku, headquarters of Ayamelum LGA, lamented.
He was at a site making blocks with another younger person. “This is the work we get for today. Other times, we go to work on other people’s farms”.
“The flood spoilt my rice farm, cassava, and potatoes”, Cecilia Udegbunam, who was supervising cassava harvesting in one of her farms, also recounted with regret. “In this our village, the government has not helped anyone. I didn’t see them”.
This propelled the question about how she is coping. “Hmmmm!,” the emotion-filled woman took a deep breath as she responded. “I don’t know what I will say now. Anyway, God is in control. I don’t have money, not even one naira to go back to my farm”.
Twenty-two-year-old Ifeanyi, in his father’s company, was clearing the farmland around the popular Coscharis Farm, which was completely devastated by flood last year.
“My father and I cried seriously. We are just trying to plant the farm again with cutlass and hoes. We don’t have the money to hire a tractor. I can only wish that government will help us,” the helpless youth prayed.
Otuocha back to life
It was a market day at Otuocha in Anambra East LGA when The ICIR visited and all the stalls which were submerged in waters during the disaster have become visible. Although normal activities have since resumed, the agonising memories of the incident still traumatise the traders.
“See the impacts of the flood water on the wall here,” Innocent Ifeatu, a trader in his thirties, said as he pointed at the marks.
Ifeatu, who sells building materials at the market, further narrated what he witnessed. “Some of our goods were washed away. Those of us who have only one source of money were badly affected. Look at those ones there. Some of them have started rusting.
“Government knows what to do to help us, after all they make a lot of money from this market,” he argued.
Rosemary Onwuegbuka, a smallholder farmer, has led other women farmers in her locality since 2007. But the penchant by the government to always renege on its promises, has got her distraught. She took her disenchantment with the authority out on the reporter for attempting to interview her on the resettlement issue.
“I will not grant any interview about Government again. My members are calling me 419, a scammer. They said I always collect their data and get money from the government and I don’t give them anything. Yet, I have not gotten anything from the government. Let them eat their money alone,” she concluded frustratingly.
In Ogbaru, still no help
In Ogbaru LGA, which recorded the highest number of death, the struggle for recovery is still apparent. “This question is like opening a healing wound,” Mike Opia from Akili-Ogidi, responded still heartbroken about the incident.
“I lost yam and cassava on the farm they planted for me after spending about N450,000. We could not save anything, including the upholstery and foams, from my house. I found out from enquiries in Akili-Ogidi that nothing has been given to any victim”.
Opia, a civil society activist, maintained that citizens’ docility has contributed to government’s unfulfilled promises. “We have a state that does not care for its citizens. But, the citizens also don’t hold the government to account. When we begin to hold duty bearers responsible for their actions and speeches, they will be careful with promises,” he concluded.
A resident of Ochuche, argued that the International Organization on Migration (IOM), an arm of the United Nations, has done much more than the state government. “We have not gotten anything from the state government. But, one international NGO, IOM has been coming to distribute palliatives (money, foodstuffs, toiletries and the rest)”, he said.
But, Eunice Nduka, another smallholder female farmer in Atani, acknowledged the efforts of the state government. “Soludo is trying. They once brought some relief items. I was told they gave each person N31,000”.
However, she submitted that government’s effort is inadequate. “Even those, who collected N31,000, it is not enough for their farming business.”
“We are suffering here. It is better for the government to do much more for the farmers,” Nduka noted”.
Devastating facts and figures
The 2022 flooding affected 34 of the 36 states of Nigeria, displaced over 1.4 million people and killed more than 603 others. 2,400 persons sustained varying degrees of injury while the disaster damaged about 82,035 houses and affected 332,327 hectares of land.
In Anambra State, the October 7 2022 boat mishap reportedly killed 76 persons at Umunnankwo on their way to Nkwo market, Ogbakuba. Although the casualty figures remain controversial, deaths caused by the incident are undeniable. Two days after, a three-storey building housing Madonna Catholic Church in Iyiowa, also collapsed, while six family members were killed in Nzam, Anambra West LGA, when their residence was suddenly flooded.
In November 2022, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) said flooding in Nigeria is a consequence of above-average rainfall throughout the year’s rainy season, exacerbated by shorter spikes of very heavy rain leading to flash floods as well as riverine floods.
Twenty-seven designated Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps were activated by the state government to cater for the accommodation needs of the victims. While on camp, they were visited by prominent individuals and government functionaries, including the state Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, who promised to stand by them when they returned to their ancestral settlements.
They are all back home, welcome by cruel pangs of hunger, starvation and homelessness while the battle for survival rages on daily basis.
Sixty-two-year-old Agbonma Nweke represents many others, who are hopeless in their homelessness.
“My house collapsed. I don’t know where to return to when it is over. Who will help me?” she asked rhetorically six months ago while still in camp.
Another collapsed house belonging to a widow was pointed to the reporter at Otupu-Mmiata Anam, while a roofed structure owned by a deceased legal practitioner, John Nwasah, equally fell to the ruthless current of the flood.
Dissecting the situation
“Leaving the victims of the 2022 flooding to struggle alone for survival has grave consequences for the state and the nation”, an Agribusiness Specialist, Abraham Ogwu, remarked as he shed further light. “Many of them will be discouraged to farm this year. Others will farm just a little. Investment will be low, and that can lead to insufficiency which will increase prices of goods in the open market”.
“He plants this year, flood takes it away. The following year, he tries again, same result on and on. He remains within the poverty circle”.
Ogwu suggested measures to be taken to reverse the trend. “Introduce dry season farming sustained by irrigation system. Harvest rainwater during the season for irrigation purposes during the dry season.
“Research institutes have developed flood-tolerant rice seeds, but they have not reached the farmers as most of them still plant the high land seeds like Faro 44 – an upland seed, while they are in low land,” the agribusiness specialist noted as he also challenged the farmers to embrace innovations.
“Farmers must accept climate-smart agronomic practices. Most of them are too stereotyped to primitive farming methods”.
“Apart from things they currently plant, farmers should diversify into other agric-business ventures such as livestock production so that they can survive this harsh economy caused by flood and climate change,” Ogwu counselled.
They are not abandoned – Anambra Government
Anambra State government, through the Executive Secretary of State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Paul Odenigbo, denied abandoning the victims.
Odenigbo said, “2022 flooding was one of the biggest we have ever had. The government fed all the victims in camp. The IOM assisted us with relief materials. And when they were returning home, the government and IOM gave them special packages to enable them start again”.
“Also, they are predominantly farmers. So, the Ministry of Agriculture helped them with yam and rice seedlings, cassava stems, and others. The people went home happy because they never had it so good”.
The executive secretary, however, conceded to his agency’s funding limitations. “We should have standard IDP camps set up with all the facilities so that victims will be comfortable as they would be at home. But, we do not have sufficient funds to do what we are supposed to do”.
“So, we manage with what we have. If you wait to get enough money before you act, you get nothing done. So, I don’t want to over-flog the funding problem”.
Apart from the assistance from the state government and IOM, the Federal Government has equally sent succour to the victims through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the National Emergency Management Agency, (NEMA), and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI).
The latest intervention by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in April saw the distribution of 122 bags of 25kilogramme rice, 122 cartons of noodles, 122 bags of semo, 21 cartons of 4.5 litres of canned groundnut oil, seven bags of sachet salt, and twenty cartons of seasoning to over 1000 persons displaced by flood in Awba-Ofemili, Awka North Local Government Area.
Causes of flooding and 2023 predictions
In Nigeria, experts have blamed flooding majorly on anthropogenic factors (human-induced causes). Professor Leo Moghalu, the Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, recently, during the commemoration of the 2023 World Earth Day, identified causes of flooding and erosion in Anambra to include; deforestation, lack of effective legal instrument, urbanization as well as poor infrastructure construction and management.
He was unhappy that, despite the aforementioned, the state has no Disaster Management Cycle, (DMC) which is the reason SEMA, is largely viewed as not being efficient in managing emergencies. “SEMA has not done enough in managing emergencies in the state,” he contended.
For these helpless victims, the predictions by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, (NIHSA) and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, (NIMET) that 32 states, including Anambra and the Federal Capital Territory, will experience severe flooding in 2023, is quite discomforting.
“It gives me a real bad feeling that I am from this terrain,” one of them said, while Nduka took the lamentation further. “We could not pay the money we borrowed from the cooperative back last year before of the flood. Now they are talking about another flood. I am confused”.
Their earnest prayer is that the disastrous predictions for the year will fail. Be that as it may, the state government leaves nothing to chance.
“We have a flood response committee headed by the Deputy Governor. The team of SEMA, NEMA and IOM has visited flood-prone local government areas to sensitize them.
“We advise them to keep their essentials in boxes such as bank account details, cheques, ID cards, ATM, for women, sanitary pads and other things so that if a flood comes, they pick them and run to IDP camps,” Odenigbo explained.
Studies have recommended measures towards tackling perennial flooding. These include: relocating human settlements, agricultural land, infrastructure, (homes, buildings, bridges) away from flood plains, reversing underlying vulnerability fuelled by high poverty rate and other socio-economic factors like age, income and education as well as ensuring political and economic stability.
In their 2017 academic work entitled “Effective Management of Flooding in Nigeria (a Study of Selected Communities In Anambra State), Ezezue Bernadine etal advised the state and local governments in partnership with the communities to construct dams, wing dykes, diversion spillways, and artificial levee as well as afforestation and legislations to deter erecting structures on waterways.
Again, the respondents called for the dredging of the River Niger and other bodies of water within the state to take more volumes of water.
In October 2022, Nigeria’s Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, revealed that the country needs at least 30 years of consistent investments to control flooding. This means that respite is not in sight for the victims.
Despite that, the Federal Ministry of Environment in 2023 earmarked over N43. 7 billion out of its total N49.7 billion capital expenditure for new projects associated with erosion and flood control, the amount of release made from the budgeted amount and subsequent budgetary commitments will determine how soon the relief will come to Nigerians living in flood-prone communities across the country.