By Romanus Okoye
Right now, in many riverine communities in Anambra State, the fear of flooding is the beginning of wisdom. And you cannot blame the people. According to an Igbo proverb, when the tsetse fly stings a child for the first time, whenever the child sees a big butterfly he runs for cover. The flooding currently ravaging many states in Nigeria has woken the inhabitants to the realities of thei terrible experience of 2012. From Nzam, Olumbanasa, Umueze Anam, Mmiata Anam, Umudora Anam, Oroma-Etiti Anam, Onono, to Ogbaru, Osamalla, Oduche all in Anambra State and many adjourning communities in Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States, the fear of floods haunts both the young and the old. Their apprehension follows the flood disaster that submerged their communities three years ago following the release of water by Cameroon.
Since that incident happened in 2012 till now, many of the affected communities have not recovered from their losses. The flood did not only turn them to dependants; it destroyed their farmlands, economic trees and houses. The flood wrecked virtually everything that they had laboured to build in the distant past. The communities were submerged beyond measure by the enormous weight of the flooding. It left their once bubbling land desolate. The people lost their entire means of livelihood. It was unimaginable that people who for many years lived in their homes and supplied food to others were forced to live in refugee camps and depended on other peoples’ benevolence to survive. Indeed, their future appeared bleak, until good spirited individuals came to their rescue. No doubt, the state and federal governments tried their best; but it would have been better if the government had heeded the warning by Cameroon to take precautionary measures to curtail the disaster.
Ordinarily, flooding is a yearly occurrence in most of these places. Ironically, the flooding could be beneficial to the people who are predominantly farmers and fishermen, as their farmlands become more alluvial and fertile after the flooding. It also enriches their canals and ponds with fishes. But the one of 2012 was unprecedented in the peoples’ history.
Meanwhile, after the 2012 disaster, Nigeria and Cameroon agreed that Cameroon would subsequently issue early warning. This year, Cameroon informed Nigeria on time that there would be gradual release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam in that country. And they warned that it would result in massive flooding across the affected areas. In addition to Cameroun’s warning, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency made predictions that the rain would come late, adding that when it does, it would be massive and could be disastrous in terms of environmental impact such as flooding, with its attendant consequences of loss of lives, property, livelihoods, outbreak of diseases and disruptions of socio-economic activities.
Also, the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency presented the 2015 Annual Flood Outlook for the country and it also confirms that there was every possibility of flooding.
Stating their preparedness for eventualities, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment, Mrs. Nana Mede, said that the government was deeply concerned about the likely loss of lives and property as well as other negative environmental consequences that the floods would bring. She said that it had become pertinent for citizens living along flood plains to prepare for relocation to areas considered to be safe and remain at alert. According to her, the states that would likely be affected are Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi, Benue, Kogi, Sokoto, Niger, Benue, Anambra, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Lagos.
She explained that the various flooding types to be experienced include river flooding, coastal flooding and flash flooding. Moreover, she said that flash floods could be experienced in some urban locations such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi, Ibadan and other towns along the country’s coastline. The government urged people living in the outlined areas to immediately clear their drainages, culverts and canals. Emphatically, the ministry appealed to states, local governments, non-governmental organisations, churches, mosques, traditional rulers and community-based organisations to take immediate steps to sensitize the people and communities as well as ensure that all the necessary things are done to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and property.
In extreme cases, she said, the state governments and local authorities should prepare to evacuate residents. Public places should be designated and prepared for any eventuality. She said that the ministry had already called for emergency meeting of stakeholders to discuss on elaborate strategies for tackling the impending flood.
In Anambra State particularly, the local government areas prone to danger are Ayamelum, Anambra East, Anambra West, Ogbaru, Onitsha North, Onitsha South, Idemili South, Awka North, as well as Ekwusigo and Ihiala.
What would be the permanent solution to this yearly problem? The reporter sought out the representative of Anambra East/West Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Hon. Peter Mmadubueze. He said that there was no cause for alarm, noting that all the stakeholders were committed to ensuring that the disaster was contained and palliative measures made available. Reminded by the reporter that he pledged during his campaign to make the ecological problem a priority, the lawmaker assured that the needful was being put in place and would be made public very soon.
Similarly, the chairman of Anambra West Local Government Area, Hon. Simon Onuora said that Anambra State Government had taken charge of the problem but he did not give specific details of what had been done.
However, before now, the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) said that it had taken necessary proactive measures to minimize the envisaged adverse effects. The executive secretary of SEMA, Chief Paul Odenigbo had already begun a sensitization tour of ten flood-prone local government areas of the state to prepare the minds of the people on the impending disaster. He said that the state government had procured enough speedboats and other basic logistical needs of potential victims of the flood disaster in the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps that had been set up.
Odenigbo said that the State Executive Council had directed SEMA to commence what he called early warning interactive sensitization meetings with stakeholders in the flood-prone areas of the state ahead of the announcement by the Cameroonian government that it would release excess water from Ladgo Dam into River Benue in Nigeria. According to him, SEMA had prepared itself for any eventuality, even as he stated that the expected flood disaster this year would not be as devastating as the 2012 incident which took most Nigerians unawares. Odenigbo said the early prediction by the Nigerian Meteorological Institute (NIMET) about heavy rainfall and another flood disaster in 2015, in addition to the announcement by Cameroon, gave Nigerian authorities and citizens’ ample time to prepare to mitigate the adverse effects of the predicted deluge. He also called on local government authorities, the clergy and town union executives to assist his agency and take the message of the impending flood disaster to the grassroots in order to save lives.
In spite of these assurances, some of the indigenes sounded sceptical, saying that like most things in these climes, implementation was always a challenge. One of the respondents said on paper, everything would appear proper and normal, only for the planning to be jettisoned at the point of execution. He therefore called on all the relevant authorities and those representing the affected areas at different levels not to engage in business as usual.
Hyginus Okoye, who lives in Umudora Anam, said no one should use the people’s predicament to score cheap political points without having their interests at heart. According to him, the time was past when such matters were not given enough attention to the detriment of the victims.(The Sun)