Monday, 8 October 2012

Tears from Taraba: Poisonous snakes, deadly flood

Tears from Taraba: Poisonous snakes, deadly flood

From PAUL ORUDE, who was in Taraba
If recent figures and bitter experiences of victims are anything to go by, then the recent flood that hit six local government areas in Taraba State, killing 28 and affecting almost 200, 000 persons is no doubt, one of the most devastating in the country. The overflow from River Benue passed through Taraba and the devastating flooding affected most rural communities along the riverbanks.
Sacked from their communities and having lost their farmlands, the victims are stranded with little or no intervention from the federal government as at the time of this report. As the suffering increased, most victims of the flood who fled their communities have returned to their homes as the state government that has committed over N30 million runs helter-skelter looking for further intervention having been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster.

With 28 dead already, due to the flood in the state, victims are now faced with hunger, epidemic and death. “It started on August 1, at about 3am as I was sleeping”, said Ibrahim Usman Shomo from Shomo village in Lau Local Government Area. The 40-year-old father of six told Sunday Sun reporter that he woke up to ease himself when he saw water everywhere in his house. “I did not know what to do. My elder brother, Shehu rushed to my house as I contemplated what to do. His house near mine was almost covered by water too.”
The children were sleeping when Shomo, a popular teacher  at Ashomo Primary School, a farmer and fisherman woke up his two wives. Shehu went back to his house to alert his family. The women and children were roused from sleep by the time he came in. The water rose gradually, covering the rooms in the mud house and it could have caved in as the families panicked. “I told myself that if we did not act fast, the water would kill us all. When the water came, we took our loads and children to the nearby hill”, he said. Shomo who spoke to the reporter in Lau where he took refuge in the house of the Vice Chairman of Lau local Government, moved his family to his relatives in Lau.
Snake invasion Shomo said that seven people died in Donada when their boat capsized as they were being rescued. “A big snake entered their canoe as they were being taken to Lau and they all dived back inside the water from the boat. The current was too fast for them and there were no trees for them to hold on to and they were washed away.” Indeed as the reporter gathered the fear of snakes is now the beginning of wisdom as wild reptiles are competing with human beings for space. “The danger is that if poisonous snakes bit you, there were no clinics to treat you as most of the clinics and schools have been submerged,” he said. How bad was it?
The flood in Taraba was made worse by the seeming indifference of the relevant government agencies that were slow to evacuate the victims. By the end of August, the situation in the state, particularly in Lau, Karim Lamido, Ardo Kola, Gassol, Ibbi and Wukari, the six areas affected by flood, had become an unbearable nightmare. Figures obtained from SEMA office at the time of this report indicated that Karin Lamido was worse hit with about 30, 000 victims, followed by Ibbi with 10, 525, Gassol 9,919, Ardo Kola 7,381, Lau 5,500 and Wukari with 4,870 victims. Investigation by Sunday Sun revealed however that the figures could be higher and over 200, 000 persons might have been affected by the flood with over 10, 000 hectares of land in Wukari alone submerged by water.
Mr. Manja Martin, Secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross in Taraba State, disclosed that 28 people died in the flood. Speaking with the reporter, Martin said: “It is pathetic because early warnings came but the people thought it was one of those warnings that never happened. “We have never seen this kind of flood in Taraba before. It took many people unaware in such magnitude that they did not remove their property and their crops were washed away, nothing to eat. “It affects not just the people along the riverside but even the people up land were seriously affected. “We recovered 25 bodies initially and three later in Didango area. We are one of the first organizations to send reports to the federal government agencies such as NEMA and they have responded.” Dan Habu said:  “Ours is rural-based. Those living by the riverbanks were mostly affected and some of the places can’t be reached.
The suffering of our people is not something you can easily quantify. In spite of the devastation by the flood, people are not talking about it. Our people lost all their farmlands, all they had and yet, no help has reached them. Governor Dan Baba Suntai through affected Local Governments approved over N30million to the councils and he is still doing his best. We appreciate the little NEMA has done but we appeal to the Federal Government to still find a way to reach out to the victims and assist them urgently.” What went wrong in Taraba flood Unlike in other countries where the Army, Police, Air Force and the Navy are deployed to rescue people in such difficult situations using helicopters and motorized boats, none of that type of rescue came for the victims of the Taraba flood. In Karin Lamido for instance, where more than 15 people died, people narrated how they struggled to escape. About 50, 000 were displaced in Karin Lamido and Lau,. As the flood spread, it was like a raging fire, submerging more communities.
Thousands were stranded.  “Some people slept on trees and even now some still sleep on trees because no help has come,” one of the locals from Lau said. The rescue operations wee hampered by bad roads leading to many rural settlements in the state.  For instance, traveling from Jalingo, the state capital, to Lau is just 35 kilometres but the road is so bad that it has become a nightmare for travelers as it takes almost two hours to get to Lau. This, it was gathered, also made rescue operation difficult. When rescuers eventually came in canoes, victims like Talatu Abubakar and Ishaku Hassan became the first casualties. According to Ibrahim, “They were escaping the flood on their way to Usmanu when the canoe carrying them capsized. Talatu and Ishaku died.” Ibrahim said that some dwellers in Shomo and Kabara escaped to Juaro, Dobeli and other places. Engine boat drivers were on hand to ferry people from Lau to Karin Lamido through what used to be a vast land but now covered by water, for a fee of N1,500. The reporter boarded one of such speedboats to interview some of the victims.
The sacked villages include Sanga, Bandawa, Usmanu, Gwrowa, Tonga, Shomo, Shomogbai, Kambari, Amar, Jan, Kwatalanga and Kula, while the 20-kilometre road from Karim Lamido to Lau has been submerged. How three-year -old boy was swept by flood Yakub Danladi, a 41-year-old farmer from Madaga village in Lau Local Government Area is one of those taken unaware by the Taraba flood. Although the warning came, Yakub was one of those that did not take it seriously.  There were floods in 1988, 1994 and 1996 but nobody anticipated the magnitude of this year’s. The forecast warnings were therefore ignored.  When it came, Yakub lost his house, farmlands and his three-year-old son.
He was one of the thousands who were rescued without their property. The victims watched helplessly as flood washed away their farmlands. Known for producing a large chunk of the country’s foodstuff like maize, rice, Yakub among several farmers from the area battled for safety as farmlands and houses were submerged by water. But the most precious thing he lost to the rampaging flood was his three-year-old son, Fikia who was swept away as the canoe carrying him and his mother capsized while they were being taken to Karim Lamido. The bereaved father said it started around 8 pm. He had succeeded in moving his family to a hill with few belongings as flood took over everywhere in the vicinity.
He said that he kept making frantic phone calls to his friends outside Madaga to tell them about his predicament. He explained: “We were face to face with death. I moved my five children and my wife to the hill as the water had taken over our house. I made several calls to friends in Lau and Karin Lamido and I exhausted all the credit trying to get help but no help came. I begged some of my friends in Karin Lamido town to send me credit but I discovered that people did not care.
They did not know what we were passing through”. Yakub, a father of five just like all residents of Magaga village was overtaken by fear as the rain poured non-stop. Beaten by the rain and afraid they would all die or be swept away by the torrent, they held on. Yakub who spoke with our correspondent at his relations’ house in Karim Lamido where his family is currently taking refuge, said that it was at 2am that help finally came. Sunday Sun reporter took off from Lau waterside of the River Benue that passed through Taraba to Karin Lamido.
What used to be farmlands are now covered by water. Since the road was no longer accessible, having been flooded by water, boats were on hand to ferry people from Lau to Karin Lamido. “It is easier to go to Karin Lamido through Lau on boat than to go through Numan in Adamwa State,” Ossie Sunday who was on hand to welcome the reporter, advised. The journey from Lau to Karim Lamido was hectic. The fare by engine boat was N1, 000 and the reporter had to wait for other passengers until after almost two hours when the journey to Karin Lamido began. Casualties of the flood were everywhere – women, children and the aged.
It was a pathetic situation.  Some of those who traveled with the reporter told their sad stories. “We have to go back to our villages,” they said. Though the water was yet to recede, some of them said they were going back to see what they could retrieve from their damaged farmlands. “Hunger is killing us,” they told Sunday Sun as the engine boat ferried the passengers to Karin Lamido on what used to be farmlands.  They lamented that they had resorted to self-help as government had abandoned them. Yakub said: “Some boats came to rescue us. We paid N1, 500 and we were ferried to Karin Lamido.  We started rescuing the women and children first.” Sadly, Fikia became one of the victims of the Taraba flood.
His mother, Monika in tears narrated what happened: “We were happy when a canoe came at last. It was a small canoe. My husband gave the canoe peddler some money. My last child, Fikia and I entered. My husband and the other children would wait for the next canoe to come. Fikia was with the boat driver and the water rushed fast. We came to a place where there were no trees and the canoe capsized. The water took my son away. We looked for him but we could not see him. He was gone; my baby was gone”. Yakub said that no help has reached him from government since the flood. One of the passengers of the ill-fated canoe, Habu Daniel said that a snake entered the canoe and due to panic, it capsized. “Everyone was scared when we saw the poisonous snake. When the canoe capsized, Fikia fell inside the water and we did not see him.
The mother cried, “ my baby, my baby”. It was a sad incident. We looked for the boy for several hours but we did not see him.” At Sabon Gida, Mr Markus Tata, lost all his houses and farmland. Sources told Sunday Sun that Marcus, a very wealthy farmer produced between 200 to 300 bags of rice and maize every farming season. All that is no longer possible as the flood destroyed all his assets. My wife left because flood victims stayed in my house -Village Head. Danjuma T. M. Kanake, village head of Bachama Ta Yanma, Bodeli in Ward B of Lau Local Government Area is a man with a large heart.
When the flood sacked some villages, his house, located near River Benue became camp for the displaced. With most of the flood victims reportedly abandoned by government, Danjuma opened his house to the helpless flood victims. “I accommodated several displaced people in my house including women and children. It is just by God’s grace that we are surviving. The flood destroyed our farmlands were destroyed by the flood. Fortunately the displaced people came with some food that we had been managing but hunger is killing us now. The food is finished and we don’t have help from government. My wife even left my house because she thought I was the one that invited the displaced people to come to stay in our house.
The outbreak of flood, disease and windstorms are natural disasters and nobody can tell when they will come. Because of the nature of these disasters, human beings can’t help themselves. After God, it is government and when this thing happened, we expected the government to help us but we have not seen any help. I call on the government to look at the situation since it is a natural disaster that can happen to anybody. They brought some food but it was not enough. We are hungry.  Our houses, farmlands, schools, hospitals have been washed away by flood. I appeal to President Goodluck Jonathan to help us. I believe that God gave him this mandate and I know that he cares for his people. He should assist the people because we are suffering.” Where do l go from here- asks Mamman, 90-year-old flood victim.
With six children, grandchildren and several grandchildren, life was quiet and simple for Salihu Mamman, a retired soldier from Bandawavivian, sacked by flood.  One of those currently residing in Danjuma’s house, the nonagenarian now steeped by old age said: “I came back home to the village after my retirement. I served in 103, Ikom and 82 Division, Enugu. I also served in Liberia. My house is gone due to flood. Look round, you won’t even know there were houses here and they don’t want to help us. Where we went was once a house in my village. I feel sad, very bad.  I was born and bred here. I have lost everything. Where do I go from here? The government should help us”. Betty Salihu, 25 and youngest child of Pa Mamman said she was in the far working that fateful day in the heavy rain.
“When I came home in the evening, the rain was still falling.  Later in the night before we slept, the water entered our house.  My father is very old and not very strong and my brothers had to carry him inside the canoe that came to rescue us.” Betty’s brothers ran to Lanzai in Ardo Kola local government area where they are currently taking refuge in a primary school.  Her sister-in-law, Naomi Christopher, a mother of four is taking refuge in Danjuma Konake’s house with her children Kinka, 8, Gambo 6, Evelyn, 3 and one-year-old baby since the flood sacked Bandawavivian. “The flood destroyed my children’s school, my husband, Christopher has gone to Lanzai with his brother to seek refuge,” she said. For Betty, “All my children did not fall sick but we don’t have food to eat”.
We don’t have where to sleep -Flood victims in Wukari With six dead due to flooding in the area, Honourable Nelson Bako Matwwende, a councillor representing Chankai in Wukari Local Government Area told the reporter in Wukari that the level of his people’s suffering could not be quantified. He said that many of his people in Addo Yakko, Warawa, Qwa-pa psosa, Onofo, Chinkai villages are faced with hunger, diseases and lack of where to sleep. “Over 6, 000 people were displaced in my area and they don’t have where to sleep. Hunger is a problem but the worst of it is that when rain falls, I don’t have rest of mind. The church and primary schools where they would have taken shelter has been flooded”, he said. Why we are going back to our homes. Having stayed with relatives for weeks, some of the victims said they want to go home and pick up the pieces.
For Fatima Elizande, a mother of eight from Madaga, the flood “swept our houses and we did not come out with even a broom. We were taken to a hill where we waited in the rain till daybreak when they brought canoes to rescue us. Some paid either N1, 500, N2000 or N5000 to cross to Karin Lamido. The smoked fished we planned to carry to Las market was carried away by flood. I tried to carry out our mattress and boxes but could not because the water was much. Everything was gone. I escaped with these clothes I am putting on. I had malaria the next day and was down for five days. If you saw me then, you would not believe I am the same person. I was as thin as a broom because of stress.” In spite of this, Fatima and most victims were returning to their homes in droves.
Now living with her family in one of the camps on top of a hill, Fatima bought some fish and foodstuff for her stranded family from Karim Lamido market. Umar Bala Karim, one of those going back home said he would plant sesame seeds. “I am waiting for the water to recede a little. Our land is very fertile and we dontb give up,” he says. Alhaji Mohammed Tofa, Sarkin  Karim told Sunday Sun that the recent Taraba flood was the worst ever in the state saying that all their farmlands were washed away by flood. “From where I am standing   to almost 20 kilometres that used to be land is now covered by water. All the villages around have been covered by water and their houses have been washed away.
About 4, 000 people in my area are homeless. God was so kind that we lost only seven people in the area. While little help has reached displaced persons camped in places like Ibbi, many communities in Karin Lamido, Lau, Wukari, Gassol lamented that they were given just one mudu of maize by the state government. For 78 –year- old Idris Mazadu, who has been rendered homeless, no help whatsoever has come from government except for some few individuals and family members. Mazadu said: “The flood submerged two out of the three rooms in my house so my wife, five children and I have moved to one house.
It is difficult to survive but I thank God that nobody died in my family although the suffering is much. My children now do menial jobs to get food for us to eat. They use to farm and we did not experience hunger but things are different now. The government should please help us.” With over 20, 000 internally displaced persons scattered across the affected local government area, Martins, the Red Cross Secretary in the state said that the major concern of the displaced persons was food, beddings and medication. He said: “The situation is terrible because most of the farmers affected by the flood took loans.” Please help us, flood victims plead. Sunday Sun reporter observed that little or no federal assistance came to the flood victims in Taraba. It was learnt that apart from Ibbi, all the displaced persons were stranded.  Many squat with relatives and friends.
One of the flood victims, Umar Bala Karim from Ungwuan Ajiya in Karim Lamido who lost two houses and his entire farmland, frowned at what he described as the insensitivity of the member representing the area in the House of Representatives, Hon Jerry Mauwa. “ I learnt that he brought 500 tubers of yam. What can that do for us? They took 20 tubers to Didangio; why should we re-elect politicians like that?  His village, JanPate was affected, yet he has not visited the place. None of them including the governor and the senators has been here. Even if they can assist, let them come and show concern.
It is from God. We didn’t know it would happen”, he said.  Taraba State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Head of Administration, Mr James Abama told Sunday Sun that NEMA bought some food items for the displaced persons in Ibbi camp. The items, he said, include 50 bags of rice, 50 bags of maize, 50 bags of millet, 20 bags of sugar, 500 pieces of blanket, 340 mosquito nets, 100 plastic buckets, 800 mats, 50 cartons of Indomie noodles, 100 pairs of children wares and 99 pieces of mattress.
“The affected local governments and the state government have been assisting with food and mosquito nets; Doctors without borders, Red Cross, T. Y Danjuma Foundation and other organizations have been mobilized to assist the victims,”  Abama said. Farmers, fishermen count losses For farmers, the month in the past years, heralded bounty harvests. But rather than usher in the usual rain of blessing, this August unleashed a devastating flood on Taraba, killing people, animals, submerging houses, villages and destroying their farmlands. Although it was not the first time that flooding occurred in the state, residents generally agreed that the recent Taraba flood was the worst in terms of its scale and level of destruction of lives and property.
Thousands in Taraba would remember August, this year with trepidation because it brought nothing but sad memories, memories of deaths of loved ones and the devastation of people’s means of livelihood. August marked the beginning of hunger, mourning and untold suffering for Taraba flood victims; it brought sorrow and tears to several families.
The month unleashed its ferocious side in downpour and eventual flood, causing untold havoc that will take decades to recover from. It exposed the indifference of government to disasters and rescue operations. It tells of the adamant nature of a people sentimentality attached to their land, history, and heritage against all odds. So attached were the people to their land that they ignored the early warnings to leave. There were several of such warnings in the past and nothing happened. They thought it would be like previous warnings that never came to pass. They went about their usual activities, ignoring warnings and the consequence was devastating.

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