Sunday, 7 October 2012

Caught-in-between: Harrowing experiences of internally displaced persons

As predicted, ravaging floods have in the past few weeks wrecked severe havoc in parts of Nigeria. Sad tales have been emanating from states like Adamawa, Jigawa, Kogi, Edo, Delta, Lagos and Bayelsa.
Aside the stories of houses and properties worth millions which were lost, people killed and federal roads that have to be blocked, worse tales about how some families were hit by the floods have largely gone under- reported.
 In Kogi state for example, there was a story that a man mistakenly shot and killed his own child in a flooded area, having mistook him for fish.
There have been tales of people giving bath to babies in camps while a particular woman delivered her own baby in a boat while being taken to a camp. 
Inadequate attention and care from state governments have also been observed, leading to tales of woes by the victims. This is aside the fact that the same government failed to take adequate preventive measures to mitigate the effect of the flood since it was predicted. Relief materials have been short in supply at the camps while they are also too short or too far in some places to really take care of the accommodation needs of the victims. 
Theft of relief materials
There have been cases of stealing of relief materials by some unscrupulous elements while a lot of persons have also taken advantage of some flooded parts to carry out ceaseless looting. Despite stories flying in the media that state governments are doing a lot to help the victims, smiles have since deserted the faces of those who were caught by these angry floods.
Though, a natural disaster, the human (Nigerian) factors that have made the effects of the floods more devastating are inexhaustible… 
Contaminated food
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Benue state, for example have complained bitterly of being given unsafe food items by officials of National Emergency Relief Management Agency (NEMA) as well as the State Emergency Relief Management Agency (SEMA). 
This is even as they lamented over being poorly fed in spite of the large quantity of foodstuff given to them by individuals and corporate organizations. 
Peoples Daily Weekend observed at St. Catherine camp located at JS Tarka Way that a sack of 25kg rice which was distributed to some women and children were glued together like cake which made it look unsafe for consumption.
An elderly man, Mr. Shikaa said the quantity of the food given to them is usually too small especially for some of them with large families, crying out that urgent step needed to be taken to reverse this or else they may die of starvation.
“A measure of rice is given to me and my 6 children in an interval of 3 days. Up till now we still sleep on bare floor. This is unfair,” he lamented. 
An aged woman, Mrs. Wandoo Aper corroborated Shikaa’s lamentation, accusing the camp officials of hijacking the materials meant for the victims for their personal use.
“These officials including the SEMA state chairman are very wicked. They are exploiting this incident for their selfish gain while the victims suffer untold suffering and pain. This is cruel,” she frowned. 
Mrs. Aper equally decried the poor sanitation around the camp, noting that they are usually bitten by mosquitoes and cockroaches as the medics have refused to provide them with mosquito nets or chemicals to fumigate the classrooms. 
It was also observed at the camp that over 40 mattresses were stocked, three 50kg of Miva rice bags, two 25kg bags of rice, 2 bags of gari which appeared to have spoilt, 25kg bags of rice, toiletries as well as cartons of biscuits and other snacks.
In an apparent reaction to the alleged spoilt bags of rice in the camp, commandant at St. Catherine, Mrs. Dinah Akera explained that it was in the course of transporting the rice by NEMA officials from Abuja that some of the bags were beaten by the rain.
Although she said she was not giving the spoilt rice to the displaced persons, at the time of filing this report some of the affected rice were seen spread in the sun at the premises.
State Chairman, Benue SEMA, Mr. Adikpo Agbatse however confirmed in a phone conversation that the affected rice were beaten by rain in Government House after they had presented them to Governor Gabriel Suswam, stressing that he had instructed that they should be quickly distributed but his directive was flouted by his officials.
In Kogi, it was harvest of babies as not less than seven babies arrived into their parents’ world of floods.
Most of the pregnant women who were caught up by the flood and evacuated to four different camps in Idah and Lokoja were midwifed by fellow victims when labour came calling.
Mrs. Amina Shaibu who delivered a baby girl in Lokoja told Peoples Daily Weekend that she had asked the husband permission so that the baby could be named after her sister Babiana, who died in the flood. 
Pregnant woman swims in flood, delivers in boat
In an interview with our correspondent, one of the new mothers who had her baby in a boat, Mrs. Philomena Victor said though heavy with the baby, she had to swim alongside her mother in the flooded waters in search of help.
According to her, at a point, she became too weak to swim and her mother was aiding her to keep afloat the water till rescue team from the Catholic Diocese of Idah pulled them into the boat.
Shortly after the rescue, she continued, she began to feel labour pains and was delivered of a bouncing baby boy few minutes after in the boat as they were being ferried to Idah.
Another victim of the ravaging flood disaster from Ibaji, Mrs Grace Egwuche equally had a baby boy on Wednesday in one of the camps as she went into labour and had the baby before medical attention could reach her.
Grace was however, taken by the catholic emergency and rescue team to the catholic church-owned Holy Trinity Hospital in Idah where she is currently receiving medical attention.
The chairman of the Catholic rescue team for Idah flank, Rev. Father Elias Ojoma, said the Diocese under Most Rev. Bishop Anthony Adaji made available six vehicles and some boats for evacuation when the mission got wind of the ravaging flood.
He confirmed that the team, last week, saved the life of Philomena Victor who was in a critical condition, adding that the entire Ibaji LGA had been submerged with many victims still trapped there.
Ojoma said all catholic schools in the area had been converted to camps for the victims, adding that the camps created by the Diocese and the registered victims had been handed over to the state government.
He called on the state government to close down all post-primary public institutions in the area to accommodate people from Ibaji local government who were still being rescued.
Ojoma added that the Ibaji experience was particularly pathetic and required special attention,
Baby dies in camp
The Liaison Officer 1 for Ibaji local government, Mr. David Ogwu confirmed birth of the six babies on four camps in Sabon-gari area of Idah, adding that one of the women lost her baby before she could be attended to.
He appealed to well-meaning individuals to come to their aid and called on security agencies to beef up security around the camps as hoodlums were taking advantage of the vulnerability of the people to steal from them.
Ogwu hinted that so far, one motorcycle, money and various household items had been stolen from the people by ‘’merciless miscreants. Marine police and men of the Nigerian Navy have however taken over the high water where miscreants perpetrate these nefarious activities.
Meanwhile, the former military administrator of Kogi state Col Bizigu Afarkariya has made available relief materials worth about N2.3 million to cushion the effect of the disaster victims.
Recently authorities of the Cameroun Republic issued a statement assuring Nigeria that there shall be no more release of water from Lagdo dam.
The release of excess water late August this year had claimed at least thirty lives and sacked over five hundred communities in Adamawa just as other states sharing borders with Cameroun suffered their own share of calamity.
The state government had swiftly camped displaced persons in public schools and later relocated them to temporary camps following the resumption of schools.
The state commissioner for special duties, Salisu Hayatu Zumo and secretary to the state government, Kobis Ari Thimnu at the official flag off of the relocation recently, said victims whose homes were in highlands where the water has receded and dried up, could return to their homes.
Zumo said the state government was considering evacuating residents of flood prone areas who are now occupants of the temporary camps and settling them in highlands as a permanent solution to avoid an annual recurrence of the unfortunate incident. 
A visit to the camp in Yola North however indicates that the population is a lot less than it was in the past three weeks as most of the displaced persons have left the camp.
Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Shadrack Daniel told Peoples Daily Weekend in an interview that some of the displaced persons have gone to live with their relatives or elsewhere but maintained that the agency would still reach out to the IDPs with relief items to ease their suffering.
Abandoning the camp by these evacuees may not be unconnected with the hardship being faced with regards to beddings, feeding and health concerns.
Monica Rinyi, a mother of six who conducted Peoples Daily Weekend around the camp, said feeding has become a challenge to them at the camp, adding that both children and adults are ill.
Only five medium sized rooms have been completed at the camp, each accommodating between eight to nine persons while the other structures have since been abandoned.
Fadimatu Umar who put to bed barely three weeks ago just before they were relocated to the temporary camps said both herself and the baby are sick and malnourished.
No health care
“The water has dried up from my house but when I went to wash it in preparation to return, it was all muddy and ever since we came back from there we all took ill, the flood water must have brought
diseases. If you see my son’s body you would think hot water poured on him, we are all scared of going there again unless the government would help us with sand and chemicals to fumigate our homes.”
Aisha, mother of seven, stated.
Red Cross officials also revealed that out of the 1,084 registered Internally Displaced Persons at the centralized camp, only 72 sleep at the camps for obvious reasons.
They also bemoan shortage of food items, drugs and water; adding that if not checked it could be disastrous as those ill could not access any health care.
Experts predict famine
Meanwhile experts have predicted impending famine in the state unless farmers who lost their farms to the flood are encouraged to engage in dry season farming.
Patigi, a rural and agrarian/fishing community is about three hours journey from Ilorin, the capital of Kwara state. The people will not forget September 2012 in a hurry. 
It would be recalled that a week ago, the floods from Rivers Niger and Kaduna, coupled with heavy rainfall and overflow of Jebba dam, led to displacement of old and young people including animals and unaccountable property. More than 70 communities in Patigi local government were displaced.
Investigation by Peoples Daily Weekend in the areas showed that about one million hectares of farmland of rice and large number of hectares of maize worth more than N300 million were destroyed in some of the affected communities like Kpata-Gbaradogi, Gunji-Saaci, Gbafun, Gakpan, Vuma, Esungi, Mawogi, among others.
It was gathered that the last time the area witnessed a disaster of such magnitude was about 76 years ago.
Narrating his ordeal to journalists recently, a victim, Mohammed Ibrahim, who was displaced with members of his family, said the flood destroyed his abode, his belongings, farms, animals, boats and nets saying “all I have now is soaked mattress and cooking pots.
Some community leaders of Gunji-Saaci and Gbafun who are now at the Patigi resettlement camp, located close to another river with their family members, said it was the seventh time they were relocating from one location to another due to flood.
The community heads said flood usually destroyed their cash crops, food items and property anytime there was flood occurrence, the situation they said had made it difficult for them to garner enough financial muscle to erect comfortable and permanent structures to live in.
Those who spoke in their local dialect in an emotional laden voice, said what they needed was a permanent relocation to a place and appealed to government to assist them with befitting structures.
One of the affected victims was the commissioner for Solid Minerals and Industries, Alhaji Aliyu Umar, who said the affected people are helpless.
“There is nothing we can do but to pray to Allah to put a stop to all the misfortune. It has happened but we never expected it so soon. We experienced this kind of flood, according to one of my grandfathers who is still alive; 76 years ago way back around 1934/1935. It used to happen, but not as much as it did this year.
“Because of the construction of dam upstream, those of us at the downstream are at the mercy of the flood. Before the dam, we at the downstream knew when the flood would come and how to manage the resources, the level it will reach and how to control it, even the breed of the rice they will plant which no matter the level of the water, it will not affect the rice. But after the construction of the dams, people living around riverine areas as fishermen were forced to become farmers, which they were not just because they don’t have alternative means of living. The same land they were using to plant their crops the flood washed it away. This is devastating. River Kaduna has a confluence of River Niger here in Patigi. The rivers affect us here. So many communities have migrated against their wish,” he said.
Speaking to journalists when he led Kwara state delegation to the areas on Thursday last week, the state Head of Service (HOS), Alhaji Dabarako Mohammed and Special Adviser to Governor on Emergency and Relief Services, Alhaji Musa Abdulahi said no lives were lost, adding that residential buildings, worship centres and schools were washed away by the flood.
The Head of Service who pleaded to Federal Government to commence the dredging of River Niger in order to avoid further disaster, especially in the riverine areas, requested for immediate intervention of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to complement efforts of the state government in bringing succour to the residents.
On his personal view on how to put a stop to the problem, the HOS said the FG should continue the dredging of the River Niger beyond Lokoja and Barro and extend it to Jebba in Kwara state, saying, “this will ensure the water path is deep enough so that the effect of flood will be so minimal before it comes to this side. Secondly, FG has been so slow on Hydro Power Area Development Commission (HYPADEC) issue. If addressed by the President, it will go a long way to assist in solving the problem. HYPADEC can be able to do the dredging or build upland dam even if the FG will not do it.”
While addressing members of the affected communities in Gbaradogi/Kpata Regatta village, the HOS assured the victims of government’s support in the areas of welfare, adding that government would provide relief facilities for the affected victims to cushion the effect of the disaster on them.
While assuring that government had set machinery in motion to provide lasting solution in the affected areas, Alhaji Mohammed urged the people to vacate the river banks, stressing that the flood is likely to persist till the end of November.
Also speaking, Chairman of Patigi local government, Alhaji Taoheed Lata, said the 48-hour flood alert notice, given by NEMA to residents of river banks, was inadequate for the residents to relocate.
He said the agency should give longer notice in case of future occurrence, just as he called on the agency and the FG to come to their aid, saying the extent of the calamity is beyond what the local and state government could handle.
“They should have given up to one month or two months notice. There are crops you can plant for three months and they will germinate. But with rain already going, it will be late to plant any crop again this year and the people will be the one to suffer for this”, he said.
Also speaking, the acting Village Head of Gbaradogi/Kpata Regatta village, Alhaji Mohammed Sha’aba appealed to the governor to take urgent actions that will alleviate their problems, stressing that government should provide alternative accommodation in the up-land areas for a lasting relocation from the water-prone areas and build a new village at the new location offered to them by Etsu of Patigi

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