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FEATURE… Surviving the flood (2): Climate disaster destroying lives, communities

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In Nigeria, flooding has displaced millions of people due to climate change effect that is intensifying rainfall. KEHINDE OGUNYALE takes a look at the situation, in the second part of this report. Read the first part here

Ubaru Obaro, 35, invested N700,000 into a fish farming business in Isoko, Delta State at the beginning of the year. Now, he has lost the profit from his investment, which he looked forward to collecting by December, due to a climate-induced flood that damaged over 300,000 hectares of land in Nigeria.

The flooding, which began in mid-September following the opening of a Cameroonian Lagdo dam that leads into Nigeria’s River Benue, increased after rainfall became consistent between September and October.

More than 82,000 houses in over 600 communities were sunk under floodwater, while some communities, like Oleh – where Obaro lives, became a safe habitation for displaced victims.

“The water is dangerously rising daily. As I speak, the water level is at chest level on all the access roads. Although it has not gotten to where I live, the access roads are flooded, and it is very tough for us,” Obaro explained.

For some farmers in the community, Obarao mentioned that the disaster has wreaked havoc on their farms, destroying crops like maize, yams, cocoa and plantain which were to be harvested in 2023. A survey estimates that over 23 million people will battle food crises within the first eight months of 2023 due to flooding.

Climate change, which worsens extreme rainfall, is increasingly causing various disasters, like flooding and sea level increase, in several countries, including Nigeria.

In Africa, countries like Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Central Africa Republic, Ghana, South Sudan, Gabon, Benin, and Ethiopia have been hit by overwhelming flooding. UNICEF said that about 27 million children in 27 countries are at risk of flood crises.

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Nigeria is facing the worst flood in decades which has killed more than 500 people within two months. Authorities say that 33 out of 36 states have been affected by this impact.

From rumour to hell

In the first weeks of October, all Obaro heard were news about flood-sinking communities. Four days later, his place of work was submerged.

“My school is located at the end of the community. After some time, the flood got to the school. The water was not much but as we woke up every morning the water kept increasing until the whole school flooded,” Obaro, who volunteers as a community teacher explained.

He was left with no option but to survive in his apartment. According to him, IDP camps had been overcrowded with a lot of displaced victims

Obaro noted that Oleh, an oil-rich community, had suffered several infrastructural setbacks even before the flood but, “the flood made it worse,” he stressed.

It is a similar story for Kelly Rufus, another flood victim who lived in Onelga, an oil-rich community in Rivers Sate. He said that the flood broke away all escape roads out of the community.

“We do not cook, we hardly eat. It’s hell here in my community. It came in a hurry. No one expected it to overshadow the community and most states of the Niger Delta region in a manner it did,” Rufus explained.

Recounting his encounter, it was difficult for Rufus, a large-scale business farmer, to choose between relocating from his submerged duplex to any available space or harvesting his farm products early.

“The flood took everything. It damaged my property and caused me lots of inconveniences. Everywhere is bad. No food, no escape plan. No electricity, no gas. People may die because malaria and hunger,” he lamented.

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Warnings were ignored

In Bayelsa, Reuben Seiyafa, 34, said the state government and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) issued a warning alert to the public and schools to go on a flood break.

“A lot of people did not see the urgency in the statement. They took it for granted and we all paid for it,” he claimed.

According to Seiyafa, residents in Bayelsa ignored the warnings because of their previous experience with flooding.

“Nobody understood the magnitude. So many people had witnessed other flooding in the past and they understood how flooding happens in the state. It is just some streets and a couple of houses, especially those in lower ground,” he said.

But this experience became different.

As flooding became a disaster in Bayelsa, most victims ran to schools besides the roads for safety. Seiyafa noted that many victims, beyond damaged properties, were forced to live in contaminated environments.

For Seiyafa, he had to abandon his house to stay at his office. “My house was not affected but getting to my house is the problem. You have to walk in water at your chest level,” he said.

Deforestation forced flooding

In some rainforest communities in the south-south geopolitical region, climate change activist, Emmanuel Bassey, said that the uncontrolled illegal logging of forest woods has forced floodwater into these communities.

Nigeria has lost 14 per cent of its primary forest within a decade. While trees help to mitigate excessive carbon emissions, they can also hold back water, reducing the flow during floods.

Bassey claimed that exploitation of the forest by farmers, and other agencies has made residents of these communities live with the consequence of the flood.

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“If Nigeria would get it right, we have to go back to the very grassroots. REDD+ was supposed to provide carbon funds and incentives to farmers who promote ecosystem service. Forest plays a large role in ecosystem services.

“The essence of the funds was that the government would pay those who will allow trees to stand in their community, farm and field and would not go into bush burning and other to cushion the effect of hardship on people,” he stated.

What comes after

Seiyafa believes that the impact of the flood might be minimal compared to what comes after the waters are gone. He recounted that some displaced victims were still be living in, bathing and cooking with the contaminated water

Some, he said, might have contracted various waterborne or airborne diseases within this period.

“Most businesses lost revenue because they are placed out of operation, were taken by water or clients have been displaced. Post-flood would mainly be about people getting back to their feelings and health challenges,” he said.

Victims like Obaro, despite being aware of the natural occurrence, look forward to the government providing more economical relief beyond sharing food palliatives.

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