Floods, another looming pandemic?

Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging countries across the globe, the wave of rape incidents being recorded in several parts of the country have been likened to a pandemic. However, with loss of lives and valuables to floods in different parts of the country, PAUL OKAH wonders if this natural disaster is another pandemic lurking.

Usually, at this time every year, when rainy season has stabilised, farmers expect bounty harvests in a few months while certain businesses boom. However, the rains lead to floods which destroy buildings, cash crops and even loss of lives.

Apart from the loss of lives that sometimes, notable personalities, children and defenceless Nigerians die as a result of this natural disaster. Last week, a girl’s corpse was recovered from a canal in Lagos, after she had drowned in a flood that took over the city.

However, the unfortunate girl in Lagos is not the only victim as long as floods this year are concerned. This has led to fears that the country may have another pandemic apart from Covid-19 and rape cases.

NIHSA’s warning

In 2019, flash floods hit at least 124 local government areas across the 36 states and FCT and affected 210,117 people, with 171 casualties and 130,610 people reportedly displaced. Therefore, ahead of the 2020 rainy season, the Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA) on February 4 predicted more intense flooding.

Its director-general, Mr. Clement Nze, who disclosed this when he briefed newsmen on the 2020 flooding season in Abuja, advised Nigerians to make adequate preparations to avoid loss of lives and property.

Nze said Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), on its Seasonal Rainfall Prediction made available recently, recorded that South-south areas would start experiencing rainfall on February 24, adding that NIHSA was the most active and visible agency in the prediction and issuance of flood early warning alerts in the country.

He said, “This is also the right time to pull down structures that are within the flooding plains and flood paths, this dry season is a reasonable and better time to do that before the rains set in. The northern states of the country will experience rainfall from June 22.

“The respective predicted cessation date for south-south is December 28, while northern parts are September 26. This implies that Nigeria is likely to experience longer period of rainy season in 2020, compared to 2019. This, however, does not automatically translate to more flooding incidents.

“It is believed that flooding will continue to persist as long as expanding activities of man also continue. Therefore, there is the need to control human activities, environmental adjustment and purposefully adopting actions in certain areas that will make the adjustment possible.

 “Additionally, dust haze during the Harmattan season could result in poor visibility, which also leads to disruption of flight operations. Therefore, aviation stakeholders should take precautionary measures, especially during the onset and cessation of rainfall for smooth and safe operations.”

Ebonyi community’s lamentations

Residents of Amaechara Ezeke, Amasiri, a community in Afikpo North local government area of Ebonyi state, on Monday, June 29, sent Save Our Souls (SOS) messages to Ebonyi state Governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, pleading for timely intervention in saving their lives and property, as he promised upon assumption of office on May 29, 2015.

Speaking with our reporter, a resident of Amasiri community, Agha Becam Ogbonnaya, said the floods are perennial and always cause damages, including destruction of school certificates, farm lands, houses and even loss of lives, pleading with Umahi to, as a matter of urgency, come to their rescue.

He said: “This is what we suffer every 3 or 4 times in a year. We are pleading with the government of Ebonyi state to see to the end of this. I could count how many school certificates of some persons that have been soaked by flood in Amasiri. Years ago, same thing happened, where a soul was lost. Many persons have been rendered homeless as we have no other place to call our home. We can’t sleep any longer with our two eyes closed, as a result of keeping vigil against flood whenever it rains.

“This year alone, we were dislodged from our homes on Sunday, June 22, 2020, around 1:30am as it rained till dawn of the next day, being Monday, June 22, 2020. Fortunately, no life was lost, but properties worth millions of naira were damaged. Even some houses collapsed. My own mother’s house was not saved as well. Properties are being carried away by the flood. Visit our farm settlements, where we planted groundnuts, cassava and some other products, they have been submerged. It’s such a painful experience.

“As I speak with you, Amaechara Ezeke Amasiri in Afikpo, Ebonyi state, has been submerged. We can’t continue suffering what our forefathers suffered in this 21st century. Therefore, we are calling on the government of Ebonyi state to come to our rescue as we no longer sleep with our two eyes closed; for fear of being submerged or carried away by floods. We hope to see the government of Ebonyi state to be responsive to our cries.”

Similarly, posting on Facebook on Thursday, alongside pictures, a resident, Mentor Miles, said the situation of Amasiri people is becoming pathetic by the day and called on government for urgent intervention.

He said, “This place is known as Elumahi, the road between Amasiri and Okposi. Three days ago, this very place in pictures was as dry as a field, but within a few

hours of rain, everywhere was covered with water. It is no longer news that such incident has been repeated over and over.

“Some believe that the floods normally come from Cross River state, while some believe it comes from Akaeze. Amasiri people have been pleading with government to come to their rescue, but at the end, all they see are pictures being taken by government officials: who end up not doing anything. Two years ago, floods claimed five lives in Amasiri. Please, those in authority should please help us out before the resurgent floods destroy our buildings and valuables.”

Furthermore, a pastor and resident of the community, Okochi Chukwu Obeni, said that floods have destroyed investments of people and that there may be a possibility of their dying of hunger if there is no intervention from concerned authorities.

“What you see inside that water are groundnuts, people’s investments in agriculture worth millions of naira. Everything got damaged and only few people have the strength to use boat in harvesting some, then bring them to the main road. Some are only in tears with no helper. If people should also leave agriculture, then what will they survive with? Groundnut farms worth millions of naira were destroyed by the 8 hours heavy downpour in Amasiri on Tuesday,” he said.

Lagos cases

The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) on June 18 said 20 families were displaced at Orile-Agege area of the metropolis, as a result of flooding that occurred in the state. According to a statement by the spokesperson of the agency, Nosa Okunbor, the flood destroyed not fewer than three compounds in the area.

A mother and her daughter residing at 12, Hassan Adejobi Street, Papa Ashafa, Orile-Agege, were among those displaced. “Upon arrival of the agency’s officials at the incident scene, it was observed that a fence fell on a bungalow boy’s quarters with six rooms located in the same compound and a 10-room bungalow was submerged by water as a result of flood at about 6:00a.m. on Thursday, 18th of June, 2020.

“It was further revealed to the agency’s officials at the incident scene that two victims (an adult female and her female child) living in the affected building sustained minor injuries and were taken to a hospital before arrival of LASEMA Response Team (LRT). Three other compounds were also affected by the flood. Presently, about 20 families have been displaced by the flood,” he said.

The LRT conducted a post-disaster assessment of the affected areas and also sensitised the residents on general safety measures, the spokesperson said.

Several parts of Lagos metropolis were flooded, including major highways in the state and parts of Agege, Lekki, Ajah, Victoria Island, Ifako, Oworo, Ogudu, Ayobo, Gbagada, Iyana-Ipaja, Ebutte Metta and few other areas.

Also, the director-general of LASEMA, Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said on June 22 that the remains of 19-year-old Aishat were recovered from the Onilegogoro canal, in the Surulere area of Lagos state. The flood resulting from a downpour swept away Aishat after she reportedly fell into the canal while trying to navigate her way to a destination in the area.

In a follow-up reaction on Tuesday, Oke-Osanyintolu, however, said the victim’s remains were recovered around the Onilegogoro in Surulere around 8.30am, adding that she was buried around the canal where she was recovered.

Niger’s mishap

Apart from the overcrowded Lagos state, Niger state has always been affected by flood every year, leading to destruction of lives and property, which always lead to desertion of homes and loss of livelihoods in different parts of the state.

Just last week, a devastating flood wrecked havoc in Mokwa local government area, leading to loss of lives, with many displaced, homes and public buildings destroyed and several businesses and farmlands affected and families rendered vulnerable.

Lawmaker’s assurances

Evidently challenged by the situation, in a statement Monday, the member representing Afikpo North/South constituency, Iduma Igariwey, said he has appealed to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to intervene in the Ebonyi floods and promised to capture the Amasiri flood disaster in the 2021 budget, as part of his constituency projects.

He said, “I just read from the newspapers this afternoon of the devastating effects of flooding in Amasiri, particularly in the two very important communities of Ohaechara and Ezeke. As a response towards alleviating the suffering of those who lost property and other personal effects, I have today spoken to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abuja.

“They have immediately directed their zonal officer in charge of the South-east to immediately carry out an assessment of the damages caused by the flooding. I have also reached out to the said zonal officer and obtained a firm promise that they will visit Amasiri community on Tuesday, the 30th of June 2020, for on-the-spot assessment.

“This, hopefully, should be the first step towards any emergency relief response from the federal government. For the long term, I intend to take up the issue of seasonal destructive flooding with the Federal Ministry of Works. This will also be captured in the 2021 federal budget, as part of my constituency projects.”

FG’s intervention

Worried by the situation, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, gave marching orders to NEMA, an agency under the ministry, to work with state emergency services to take charge of the situation and prepare for disasters, in line with the Analysis of Flood Predictions for 2020.

In a statement sent to Blueprint Weekend, which was signed by the deputy director, press, Rhoda Ishaku Iliya, the minister commiserated with victims of flood across the federation, especially Niger state, and advised states and families to prepare themselves against flooding and avoid prone areas.                                                                        

The statement quoted her as saying amongst others, “It is with great sadness and grief that I write to commiserate with the government and people of Niger state over the devastating flood that wrecked havoc in Mokwa local government area.

 “I am deeply saddened by the destruction and loss of lives which has left many displaced with homes and public buildings destroyed. I sympathise especially with the several businesses and farmlands which have been affected by the disaster.

“I am gratified that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) working with state emergency services has taken charge of the situation and has deployed its preparedness efforts with the Analysis of Flood Predictions for 2020. NEMA is also engaging with state governments in high-risk flooding areas to mitigate the effects of flooding.

“As the rains intensify, we call on citizens of flood-prone areas to exercise care and extreme caution as we scale up early warning efforts and strategies to avoid further loss of lives and property.”

“Relying on insights gained from previous years, we are calling on State Governments to initiate preparedness and early warning measures by putting in place necessary structural and non-structural procedures towards flood prevention and mitigation. Residents of risk prone areas and communities must also play their part by adhering strictly to flood warnings and preventive measures.

“On our part, I have directed NEMA to scale up its efforts and improve its response times. NEMA will also be conducting a needs assessment in the affected communities in order to provide relief to the affected areas and people.”

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