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2018/2019 Floods: The recurring story of submerged communities, displaced women, children

Last year, ActionAid Nigeria intervened in Kebbi, Kogi, Niger and Delta states, and brought laughter and hope to countless women and children, in locations which…

Last year, ActionAid Nigeria intervened in Kebbi, Kogi, Niger and Delta states, and brought laughter and hope to countless women and children, in locations which had been submerged by massive floods. A year later, in yet another cycle, the floods have returned, and entire communities across many states (including majority of the states affected in the 2018 flood) are currently under water, and women and children are at the mercy of the surging waters.

Plight of women, children

2018: In a strange twist, a baby is born with a deformity at the IDPs camp in Suru, Kebbi State. The midwife is taken aback when she realises that the baby does not have an anal opening. It has to be rushed to Sokoto for urgent medical attention and this is done after a brief consultation with the Hakimi (District Head). Suwaiba Jibrin, Head of Programmes, ActionAid Nigeria who was present at the camp, narrates the story. Its parents are poor and don’t know what to do, and there is no medical facility nearby. Many IDPs gather to sympathise with and support the mother. A 3-month-old child in the same camp has acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis and needs help. Both eyes are closed and Hausisi Haruna, its mother, looks on bewildered. Again, the case was presented to the local government council for intervention. Another baby is born to Ladi Lawal under the sweltering heat of close to 40 degrees Celsius, and its skin turns dark. Ladi recently lost her farms and property to the massive flood.

Many pregnant women are in the camp which houses 150 families, and births are common. The numbers increase with every passing day. Aisha Lawali, 25, is from Mala Mawa, Kebbi State. She gave birth to twins, but one twin passed on as a result of complications which developed shortly after birth. The camp is an open land given by the host community upon which many persons build make shift shelters, for their dwellings were carried away by the massive floods. Here, there are no toilet facilities, and open defecation is common. On account of the fact that there is no pipe borne water and no wells, the women trek a distance of three kilometres each day to source water, and the fear of disease is very real.

Jibrin adds “We did a-needs assessment and categorised the households; they were orderly, and were given everything they require, including the needs of expectant mothers and new born babies.”

Ibaji, Kogi State, is another community devastated during the floods of 2018. Floods expel many families from their houses, and the construction of bamboo platforms by the locals commences. These are elevated places upon which mothers and children live. But they have little or no food to eat. The people are hungry, for flood waters have destroyed or taken away the food stuff previously stored in barns, and floods have buried their farms. Many now survive on a diet of unripe coconuts and gari as they live on the bamboo platforms, a new form of architecture which is widespread in Ibaji at the peak of the flood. The River Niger functions as kitchen, bathroom, toilet, playground, and source of drinking water. Stories similar to the ones outlined above, emerge from communities in Niger (where a cash transfer of N30,000 was initiated to help women) and Delta states where flooding also occurred.

To the rescue

The initial intervention of ActionAid Nigeria was from her community sponsorship fund where the sum of N10.5m was committed to the intervention. A START network funding of £102,000 was used for the intervention in Niger State. In the four states, ActionAid Nigeria began by doing a situation-report which meant getting first-hand information on the level of displacement, the extent of damage caused by the disaster, and people affected, bearing in mind the target group being women and children.

Over 100 communities were submerged in Kogi State, and over 50 communities across 2 local governments in Delta State were flooded. In Niger State, 50 communities were submerged across 6 local government areas. At every point of the intervention, the line ministries were taken along, and there was constant feedback between the government and affected persons. All procurements were locally done, and there was the use of indigenes as volunteers. The organization has a policy of consciously seeking to take relief to ‘hard to reach’ communities, while coordinating a very transparent process. Flooded rivers, divided roads, high cost of transportation, misunderstanding of its intentions by communities that are to benefit, were some of the challenges faced by ActionAid Nigeria in the course of its flood intervention.

2019 floods

The floods that spread across many states in 2018 have returned with a vengeance. The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had in August this year put the nation on alert when it announced that there will be flooding across 36 states including the FCT, and the agency added that all the states would experience varying levels of flooding. It mentioned that ‘flood from the upper reaches of the Niger basin will be arriving Nigeria in a month’s time’ (September). Shortly afterwards, 500 families were displaced in Jigawa State, while 150 communities in Kogi State were submerged.  In Ondo State, the government imposed a 3-week holiday in public primary and secondary schools, as there were massive floods in Ilaje, Apoi as well as Ese Odo areas of the state. 8,875 families were hit by rains and flash floods in Borno and Yobe states. Reports indicate that Patani local government of Delta State has been overwhelmed by flood waters, leading to 5000 individuals taking up residence at the IDP Camp.

Flooding occurred in the Shiroro and Mokwa parts of Niger State. There has been a rise in sea levels in Lagos, and flooding has occurred in many parts of the state. ActionAid Nigeria and her partners, Care International and CAFOD are currently intervening in Kebbi, Delta, Adamawa, Kogi and Borno State to ease the suffering of thousand of Nigerians who continue to be impacted and affected by the suffering of recurring flood across the country.

Way forward

Heavy rains, rising sea levels, indiscriminate dumping of waste, blocked drainages or the absence of drainages, a lack of dams, inadequate embankments, the preponderance of plastics which block gutters, construction of buildings within the flood plain, are some of the factors which explain the repeated flood cycles across Nigeria today.

Flooding in Nigeria witnessed intensification from 2012 onwards. To tackle this development, there is the urgent need for the dredging of rivers, construction of dams and embankments, a vigorous policy on plastics, the need for resettlement of affected communities, new effective policies on waste disposal, mobilisation of locals, as well as the use of pumps in low lying areas like Lagos, to pump Ocean water back to the sea, as is done elsewhere.

Firm political will on the part of government is critical here, and will help to turn around the cycle of recurring floods in Nigeria which have negative impact on education, health, markets, transportation, and the general rhythm of life. Federal and state governments, together with Action Aid Nigeria, in concert with its partners and donors, can turn around the lives of many, by rising to the many challenges posed by the recurring cycle of floods in Nigeria.

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