The trauma felt by flood victims is often wrenching and debilitating. Floods not only damage property and endanger the lives of humans and animals, but have other effects as well.
Rapid runoff causes soil erosion as well as sediment deposition problems downstream. Spawning grounds for fish and other wildlife habitat are often destroyed. High-velocity currents increase flood damage. Prolonged high floods, delay traffic and interfere with drainage and economic use of lands. Bridge abutments, bank lines, sewer outfalls, and other structures within floodways are damaged. Also, navigation and hydroelectric power are often impaired.
Across the globe, financial losses due to floods are quantified in millions of dollars each year. In Nigeria, however, cost of flood devastation in the last few years has grown in leaps and bounds and is estimated in billions of naira.
Though the cost of the current flooding is yet to be fully evaluated, experts believe that it may exceed the total cost of all previous flooding incidents.
In its extreme scenario, supply of portable water on which human life depends is seriously hampered. Needless to say that sanitary condition deteriorates and outbreak of epidemic becomes palpable.
Experts suggest that the greatest danger to human life from flood is usually from subsequent spread of water-borne diseases snowballing into epidemics.
Against this backdrop and amidst the hues and cries that greeted the recent flood disaster, a team of Port Harcourt based journalists under the aegis of ‘Reporters for Friendly Environment’ (REPFE), on Wednesday November 7, 2012, embarked on a tour of some of the camps for an on-the-spot assessment of the prevailing condition of the victims in the camps.
The first point of call was St. Stephens Primary School camp Ahoada East. We got to the camp at about 11a.m. and had unrestricted access because the camp was not fenced off. It was a beehive of activities. A medical team stationed in one of the rooms attended to displaced persons while cooking and washing went on in other corners of the camp.
A widow, Mrs Angelina Peters told newsmen that the flood was a blessing in disguise because the medical team had saved her only son from typhoid fever.
“Prior to the flood, I was taking him to a prayer house in our village because I thought it was a spiritual attack.” She narrated excitedly.
The supervisor of the camp, Rev. Felix Ekiye who conducted the team around, said that despite the large population of displaced persons numbering over five thousand people, government has been up and doing in ensuring that the displaced persons do not lack such basic necessities as food, water and sanitation facilities.
“You can see that people are fetching water freely from the multiple taps connected to the borehole so they have enough water to cook, bath, wash and flush the toilets. The stores are also overflowing with relief materials” Rev Ekiye stated. He however expressed regret that the camp is not fenced off from the East-West road. “The absence of a perimeter fence has created room for wanderers to stroll in occasionally to share in the food and drugs meant for the displaced persons ” He said.
From St. Stephen’s, the journalists drove about 10 kilometers northwards to Erema camp where we met little Promise and his playmate jumping in and out of a big plastic bath. The bath was filled with fresh water sourced from a set of twelve new public taps about ten feet away. The taps were discharging directly from a 3,000 litre capacity tank that distributes water from a borehole recently built for the displaced persons.
Erema flood relief camp is one of several camps established by the Rivers State flood relief committee, ostensibly to complement the eight camps established by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) South- South zone aimed at alleviating the sufferings of those affected by the recent flood disaster.
For six-year old Promise and his friend, life is good in the camp because everything seems to be at their beck and call including continuous flow of fresh water.
“In my village, we sometimes bath in a small river, but when the water started growing big and entered our house; my daddy brought us to this place. Since that day, we have not gone to the river which is on the way to our farm and we have not also gone to our farm.” Promise told this reporter. Asked if his family ever drank water from the river, he said no, ‘It is pure water that we drink and any water my mummy put into our drinking pot.’ He retorted.
For most flood victims currently quartered in camps across four local governments in the State, one basic need they now take for granted is portable water. They can drink, bath, cook, wash and maintain healthy sanitary condition as long as they remain in the camps. This is one key area where the rapid response by the Rivers State government through the flood relief control committee headed by the State Deputy Governor Engr. Tele Ikuru has recorded amazing success.
According to Biage Tornabor, a teacher at UBE Erema, the challenge is not having regular supply of water but in ensuring that children don’t leave the taps running all the time and getting the environment muddy and flooded.
“Many times I stand around the taps with cane to chase away children when they have filled their containers. It has not been an easy task but everyone is happy that treated water is flowing continuously”.
Access to clean water has helped to check the spread of water borne diseases as confirmed by Mrs. Happiness Obene, a public health officer attached to Erema camp in Ahoada East Local Government.
“When we came here initially, we noticed that the sanitary condition was poor because there were no modern toilet facilities, so we wrote our report to the flood relief committee and they responded immediately. They came and constructed many toilets such that can easily be flushed with water; they also rehabilitated the borehole here. You can see the toilets are all clean.
At Omoku, an indigene Mr. Vincent Lawson told our team that he was satisfied at the speed with which the flood relief committee responded to distress calls from the indigenes of the affected communities.
“You will recall that the Chairman of Omoku Evironmental Committee, Rev Mike Eluozo, once raised alarm over possible outbreak of epidemic diseases due to pollution by human waste and dead remains of animals in the affected areas and even in the camps, but the government was swift in ensuring that the victims are provided with portable water at the shortest time. No one can say what would have happened by now if nothing serious was done,” Lawson added.
Unlike in the previous camps visited, some of the displaced persons at Universal Basic Education (UBE) camp in Omoku complained of high handedness by the camp officials who they accuse of shortchanging them. A displaced person Mercy Johnson said the officials do not allow those returning to their homes to go with their mattresses despite the fact that the flood destroyed their belongings.
Every government flood camp in Ahoada East, Ahoada West and Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Areas is equipped with functional water boreholes connected to water treatment facilities and multiple pumps from where the displaced persons fetched water freely.
While the water boreholes at St. Paul’s Primary School, Ahoada and St. Stephen’s Primary School camps were fitted with 3000 litre capacity overhead tanks from where water is distributed, Erema and UBE Omoku camps are served by two 2500 litre capacity overhead tanks.
Meanwhile, a physically challenged victim, Comrade Appah Ebenezer, complained that he had been visiting St. Paul’s Primary School camp since the disaster but said that he was disappointed that no camps were provided for his kind who cannot share many of the facilities meant for able bodied people.
“I came here the first day thinking that I and some other people in my condition will be taken to a special camp, but when I realised that there was no camp meant for the physically challenged I had to go back,” he lamented.
Only two weeks ago, the State Deputy Governor and Chairman of flood relief committee, Engr Tele Ikuru assured displaced persons during a tour of camps that the government has a post camp rehabilitation plan. According to Ikuru, government is already sourcing for crops that will be distributed to victims to enable them regain lost ground in terms of agricultural produce.
Also last week, the State Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Emmanuel Chindah stated, while inaugurating an inter-governmental committee on flood disaster in his office that the government would set up registration point for flood affected farmers in the state. He confirmed that more than 30,000 tons of grains have been allocated to Rivers State and noted that the committee would meet to work out modalities for the distribution. While commenting on the post flood plan Special Duties Commissioner, Hon. Emeka Nwogu assured it would cater for the food, healthcare, sanitation and housing needs of the victims.
Though for logistic reasons, our team could not tour all the camps, but by the time we departed UBE camp Omoku at about 4.15 pm for Port Harcourt, one thing was sure; as devastating as the floods have been, the case of flood victims in Rivers State was unlike that of Chaucer’s Ancient Marina. ‘Water, Water! Everywhere’ but the government has been able to provide enough for the victims to drink despite obvious challenges.
Going by the vote of confidence passed on the State flood relief committee in the provision of healthcare, food and sanitation, it is expected that flood camp residents like young Promise and his playmates will return to their homes and resume their normal life without difficulties.