Some 1.3 million Nigerians have been displaced and 431 have died in what the authorities say is the worst flooding in over 40 years, with 30 of the country’s 36 states affected since July, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Heavy rain has submerged much of Delta and Bayelsa states in the southwest, affecting some 350 communities and making 120,000 people homeless, according to the state authorities and the Nigerian Red Cross (NRC).
Flooding started in Plateau State in central Nigeria in July, spread through Borno, Cross River, Ebonyi, Nassarawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Katsina and Kebbi states in August, hit Taraba Benue, Niger, Kaduna and Kano in September, before affecting Delta and Bayelsa states in September and October.
Thousands of people who had sheltered in dozens of temporary displacement sites in Delta and Bayelsa states have had to flee once again as they have been flooded, forcing agencies to build new ones on higher ground.
In Bayelsa’s capital, Yenagoa, 3,000 people are sleeping in the Ovom State Sports Complex.
Thousands of houses, some 20 health clinics and five hospitals, as well as dozens of schools, churches and government buildings have been destroyed or damaged in Delta State. Six of Bayelsa’s eight districts were flooded, according to Emenike Umesi, NEMA’s zonal coordinator in Port Harcourt.
Most of the schools in the affected area are closed or currently occupied by internally displaced persons (IDPs).
It is not yet known how many hectares of crops have been destroyed but many farmers told IRIN they had lost everything - including this year’s yam, cassava and cocoa yam crop - while most of the fisheries were also flooded. “All my sources of livelihood are destroyed… I am pleading with the federal government to compensate us and find a lasting solution to the flood menace,” said Philip Ofodemu, a farmer from the Kwele community in Delta State.
Aid agencies have been “overwhelmed” by the extent of the damage and the response needs stronger coordination, said Abdul Mariga, an NRC disaster management coordinator.
The agency has prioritized evacuating stranded communities and providing as many tents, healthcare services and basics (such as cooking utensils) as it can from its warehouse in Lagos.
Most IDPs IRIN spoke to were in desperate need of food aid. “We have not been given food since we arrived,” said Evelyn Oyatu, who fled with her four children from Ebedebiri to Yenagoa, which itself faced severe flooding. “I’m weak. The state government should come to our aid,” she told IRIN.
Another flood survivor in Yenagoa, Gloria Ozuo, told IRIN, crying, that she and her children had been given a small loaf of bread the day before. “We die for hungry here,” she told IRIN.
NEMA’s Umesi promised food aid would arrive soon.
On 9 October President Goodluck Jonathan allocated 17.6 billion naira (US$111 million) to states and agencies to respond to flood damage and set up a committee to lead flood relief and rehabilitation efforts.
Several international NGOs, including Oxfam, have launched responses, while NRC, responding in 10 states, is appealing for US$850,000 to boost its efforts.
Many displaced residents are also angry the government has not done more to prevent flooding which occurs every year during the August to October rainy season in these low-lying, flat states intersected by swamps, creeks and rivers.
Bayelsa and Delta States have the country’s largest supplies of crude oil, yet residents have complained bitterly for decades that oil wealth has not gone into improved development in the area.
In August the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) predicted heavy rains this year, warning local authorities and residents to keep drainage ditches clear, but as usual, warnings were either ignored or not taken seriously, said NIMET director Anthony Anuforo.
Seriake Dickson, governor of Yenagoa, pushed the authorities to unblock drainage channels there, significantly lowering the impact of flooding this year, he said. But few other towns did the same.
In Bayelsa, many residents are angry that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), set up in 2000 to boost development and ecological health in Delta State, has not worked on dredging and sand-filling flood-prone areas.
“Until we use funds accruing from the crude oil to address this kind of environmental challenge for the common good, the government will not be seen as responsive and citizens cannot remain loyal or patriotic,” Alagoa Morris, project officer with the Environmental Rights Action group, told IRIN.
NDDC’s director could not be reached as he had been displaced. Meanwhile with more rains predicted, more flooding is expected.