Humanitarian crisis looms as Bayelsa floods recede, unveil massive losses

River explore
Daniels Igoni

This year’s flooding has wreaked havoc in Bayelsa State, leaving in its wake devastated lives, livelihoods, and property. DANIELS IGONI writes

This year’s floods hit Bayelsa State like a thunderbolt with the floodwaters spreading like wildfire, aided by torrential rainfall that pounded the state for days. A similar calamity befell the state a decade ago in 2012 when floods submerged hundreds of communities.

Experts say the riverine and estuarine nature of the state, which is below sea level, predisposes it to high-risk annual flooding with dire consequences.

By mid-October, seven local government areas of the state, namely Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama, Yenagoa, Nembe, and parts of Brass, had already been severely impacted.

Sooner than later, the floodwaters submerged over 300 communities and rendered about one million people homeless. No fewer than six persons, including a footballer, Ernest Peremobowei, a father of three, were reported to have died across the state as the raging water currents swept them into eternity. In many areas, residents move around and communicate in canoes.

At the Azikoro suburb of Yenagoa, corpses were seen floating from submerged cemeteries. The fury of the floods destroyed houses and livelihoods. Public infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, and schools, including universities and polytechnics were greatly impacted. For instance, Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri relocated medical services to the Diete-Koki Memorial Hospital in the state capital.

The ravaging floods also cut off the state from the rest of the country with the destruction of the East-West Road at the Okobe-Ihuike-Ahoada section in Rivers State and the Patani axis in Delta State. As a result, foodstuffs and petroleum products, among others, could not be conveyed to the state, leading to the astronomical rise in the prices of goods and services by more than 100 per cent.

Some victims, including farmers, said the flooding had rendered them homeless and also destroyed their means of livelihood. A victim and farmer from the Biogbolo-Epie community, Chief Yakie Alfred, lamented that apart from his house, the flooding also covered his farms, and expressed fear that there would be hunger when the floodwaters finally recede.

He said, “I have cassava and yam farms and plantain plantations. They have been taken over by flood. There is no place left. Everywhere, all my farms are inside the water. This flood will affect us next year because we are harvesting the ones we can, and when we finish eating everything, what will be left?

“So, there will be hunger after now, especially next year. These crops that we are harvesting now have not matured very well. We didn’t know at the time that this year’s flood would be very big.”

Another farmer, Mrs Ruth Larry, said, “My farms are inside water. I plant cassava, cocoyam, yam, and plantain. The whole farm is flooded, and all our crops are underwater. She said, “With this big flood, there will be hunger after now. There will be serious hunger because of the flood. Already we are experiencing difficulty because everything is costly. Our cocoyam and plantain are not ripe enough to be harvested but we have no choice.”

In anticipation of the rising water levels, the state government, in September, directed all public and private primary and secondary schools to proceed on “flood break” to protect pupils from flood-induced dangers.

Although the Nigerian Meteorological Agency had earlier predicted that there would be high-risk flooding this year in many states of the federation, including Bayelsa, the state government under Governor Douye Diri did not make preparations until mid-October when it constituted a Task Force on Mitigation and Management of Floods, headed by the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Iselema Gbaranbiri. It did not also activate the State Emergency Management Agency.

Diri mandated the flood committee to “urgently identify and inspect areas ravaged by the flood as well as provide succour to victims.”

Bemoaning the impact of the floods in a state-wide broadcast, Diri described the situation as dire and overwhelming, adding that it had resulted in a humanitarian crisis. He called for a post-flood dialogue towards finding a lasting solution to the menace of flooding in Bayelsa and other flood-prone states.

He said, “From my personal assessment, the situation is dire. Nearly a million people in over 300 communities in the state have been internally displaced. Unfortunately, some deaths have been reported. The narrative is the same across Sagbama, Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Yenagoa, Nembe, and Kolokuma Opokuma Local Government Areas. Businesses have closed, properties have been destroyed, and farmlands washed away. We have a humanitarian crisis.

“Critical infrastructure like hospitals, roads, bridges, and schools, including the state-owned Niger Delta University, Amassoma; the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri; and the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, have been severely affected.

“As I make this address, Bayelsa State is completely severed from the rest of the country as portions of the strategic East-West Road, the sole access to and from the state, between Ughelli and Patani in Delta State, as well as Okogbe and Ahoada in Rivers State, have collapsed with a high volume of flood water occupying the stretch. Economic hardship has set in as food, medical provisions, and energy are now in short supply. The situation is desperate and getting worse.”

An investigation by The PUNCH showed that about 4,500 IDPs are sheltered and fed daily at Oxbow Lake while there are about 2,600 IDPs at the Igbogene centre. Since the camps were established, several individuals and groups, including the Nigerian Air Force; the Ijaw National Congress led by its President, Prof. Benjamin Okaba; and the Bayelsa Elders’ Council, have visited the camps and distributed relief materials including bags of garri, rice, noodles, insecticides, vegetable oil, and palm oil, among others.

Among those who have visited and commiserated with Diri and the people of the state over the flood disaster are the presidential candidates of the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, as well as the Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel. A Bayelsa son and Chief Executive Officer of Azikel Group of Companies, Dr Azibapu Eruani, also visited the governor to sympathise with him and the state.

While Obi’s pledged support was not disclosed, Abubakar donated the sum of N55m, Eruani gifted N350m worth of relief items, and Emmanuel gave N100m.

The LP presidential flagbearer expressed surprise that the Federal Government had yet to respond three weeks after massive flooding unsettled Bayelsa. Obi, who toured the state in a helicopter, lamented the hardship experienced by people. He wondered why the Federal Government had not sent a high-powered delegation to the state to assist the people.

He said, “There is no way anyone will be happy with the situation in Bayelsa. My appeal is to the Federal Government to send a strong team to come to see what is happening here. I was a governor in 2012 but I did not see what I have seen today. The Federal Government needs to declare an emergency in Bayelsa considering the strategic importance of the state to Nigeria.

The Federal Government’s response to the plight of flood victims was, however, very slow. The President, Major General, Muhammadu Buhari (retd) had issued a directive to all federal emergency agencies to provide support for Bayelsa but the president’s directive was not carried out until more than a week after the surging floods submerged the state.

A visibly displeased Diri expressed dissatisfaction with the government at the centre for not showing concern towards the plight of victims more than two weeks after the state was sacked by the disaster.

Speaking during Obi’s visit, he said, “The last time I checked, Bayelsa State is still one of the federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While Mr President has given us hope, I want to thank you for still joining me to call on the Federal Government to show more empathy and love to the people of Bayelsa, from where oil and gas flow in this country; from where others feed fat in the Federal Republic of Nigeria; from where our resources are taken to Abuja to be allocated.”

Also, the Bayelsa Elders’ Council, led by the immediate-past Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha Jonah, urged Buhari to visit the state to personally see things for himself. He said in line with the National Disaster Management System, it was the responsibility of the Federal Government to take the lead role in response to the flood disaster rather than leave the state to contend with it.

Jonah, who led other elders to distribute relief items at the Oxbow Lake IDP camp, warned that the situation was very dire and had snowballed into a humanitarian crisis, urging Buhari to act swiftly and come to Bayelsa to see things for himself.

He said, “The Bayelsa State Elders’ Council is not comfortable with the attitude of several federal agencies who are engaged in buck-passing. Advising Bayelsans to move to higher grounds is advice out of misunderstanding because there are no high grounds to go to in Bayelsa. The Federal Government should rather build flood shelters as it is done elsewhere to provide comfortable accommodation each time a flood occurs.”


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