By Chidi Nkwopara
OWERRIâ€”No fewer than 460 life-threatening erosion sites requiring immediate Federal Governmentâ€™s attention have been identified by Imo State Government.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim, who raised the alarm in a chat with Vanguard,Â lamented that the disastrous situation has continued to sack families from their ancestral homes, as well as deprive them of their arable lands for farming.
He recalled that his administration had in its early days, ordered a detailed study of the situation, stressing that about 31 sites would cost about N12.8 billion.
Meanwhile a high powered delegation of Senators led by the Senate President,Â David Mark, has visited Imo State to ascertain first hand,Â the degree of damage caused by the ravaging erosion in many communities of the state.
Vanguard gathered that the visit was part of the activities lined up for the Senators during their one week retreat, organised at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu State.
Ohakim was of the view that â€œif the ugly erosion menace was not tackled methodically and immediately, it may result to relocating the people of the entire stateâ€, adding thatÂ other states in the South East were not better in this regard.
He was particularly worried by what he termed â€œthe phantom of non-performing erosion contracts, which worsen the situation rather than ameliorate itâ€.
On what should be done to check the ravaging erosion, Ohakim pleaded that the entire South East geo-political zone should be declared a disaster zone.
â€œThe Federal Government should declare the South East a disaster zone, which requires emergency intervention.
There should also be massive forestation and comprehensive channelization of flood water, massive infrastructural development and adequate budgetary provision for the affected states to tackle any future environmental degradationâ€, he added.
TheÂ high powered delegation of Senators led by the Senate President,Â David MarkÂ inspected Nekede erosion site, the Njaba gully erosion site along the busy Owerri-OrluÂ highway and Umuonyeali erosion site in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of the state.
Speaking to newsmen at the end of the tour, the Senate President described the erosion menace in Imo State as â€œa disasterâ€,Â lamenting the damage this natural phenomenon had caused the people of the state.
Assuring the government and people of the state of the preparedness of the Senate to contribute to finding a lasting solution to the problem, Senator Mark promised that erosion control would receive greater priority in the 2010 budget, soon to be deliberated by the Senate.
â€œErosion menace in the South East is truly serious. The current ecological fund in the federation account would be strengthened to contain erosion controlâ€, Mark promised.
Fielding questions, the member representing Imo West senatorial zone, Chief Osita Izunaso, described the erosion sites they visited as horrible, stressing that those who have not visited the sites may not fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem facing the communities in Imo State.
â€œAll the erosion sites we visited are horrifying. Families have been sacked from their ancestral homes. Peopleâ€™s farmlands and means of livelihood have been destroyed and more would be destroyed except immediate measure are taken to stem the ugly tideâ€, Izunaso said.
He appealed to the Federal Government to step in immediately and save the people from further hardship, adding that it would be a better gift for the affected communities in the new year.