By Samuel Oyandogha
Yenagoa â€”Another season of rains and flooding is causing anxiety among the people of Bayelsa State.
Though flooding is synonymous with the area, the destruction and pain associated with it in this predominantly riverine area are a source of grave concern to the natives.
Ironically, those in the arid part of the countryÂ Â celebrate the rainy seasonÂ due to scarcity of water to irrigate their farmland and for their livestock.
Bayelsa State has the longest coastline in the country, measuring approxi-mately 800 miles and lying below sea level. Therefore, the fear of the natives is understandable, given the recent happenings in some parts of the world close to the sea.
The natives have also suffered more from devastating loss inflicted on their environment by the vagaries of the weather. Investigation revealed that the state landmass which is more of water is yearly being lost to the surging sea.
A classical example of the ocean completely sacking human settlements were the initial settlements of Koluama I and II where the offshore facility operated by Chevron was once on dry land but is now an offshore well.
The fear of the people was further reinforced by the recent revelation that the nationâ€™s coastline is being degraded at the rate of 400 kilometres annually due toÂ rising sea level caused by global warming.
â€œDue to global warming, the sea level has risen to a high proportion and urgent steps need to be taken fast or we lose some of our communities to coastal erosion,â€ the Minister of Environment, John Odey was quoted as saying.
â€œSome of our communities in the border coastal areas will be submerged if nothing is done,â€ the minister added.
Apart from Koluama I and II completely lost to the ocean surge, several other riverine communities in the state such as Peretorug-bene, Agbere-Odoni, Ofoni, Ayamasa, Sabagriea, Igbedi, Adagbabiri, Famgbe, Ogu, Fortorugbene, Agbura, Aguadama-Epetiama, Oporoma, Ndoro, Tombia, Sagbama, Peremabiri, Elemebiri and Asamabiri among others, are on the verge of being washed away by river erosion if urgent remedial steps are not taken to tackle this yearly menace.
With the flood season fast approaching, residents of these settlements are now living in fear, given the unpalatable experience of the past.
Sadly, most of these communities are not linked to the mainland capital city by road and can only be accessed by water craft or helicopter.
The problems of these communities are further compounded by their very low elevation, decreasing to below sea level in some parts of the state which brings about an annual ritual of flooding in which the rivers overrun their banks and floodwaters spread, submerging entire settlements.
Residential and public buildings, including schools, churches and town halls, are often submerged by flood annually at the peak of the wet season, leaving in its trail pains and sorrows to the locals as they are forced to flee their homes and abandon their economic means of livelihood.
â€œThe economic frustra-tion, loss of lives and property in the impacted communities are not quantifiable,â€ a resident, Anderson Nengi, lamented, recalling how some inhabitants of settlements on the coast of Nembe and Brass were forced to flee their homes to distant upland areas from the riverbanks, creeks and waterways.
Nengi noted with sadness that attention is often focused on Yenagoa, the state capital,Â leaving out the hinterland ostensibly due to its inaccessibility occasio-ned by the peculiar terrain.
â€œIt is a general problem in the state but emphasis is always on Yenagoa where the absence of functional drainages is causing flood whenever there is heavy down pour,â€ he said.
… culprits, solutions
Aside the absence of drainages and the shoddy manner most of the roads were constructed in the capital city, â€œland developers have not helped matters by erecting illegal structures along the right of way of the natural canals, some of which residents have since converted to dump sites.
Another concerned resident, Stanley Disi, a staff of the Federal Medical Centre, said â€œit might interest you to know that whenever the weather is cloudy, we are always apprehensive because if it turns out to be heavy rainfall everywhere will be submerged and this you know is not good for our little children.â€
He said, â€œthis is why Bayelsa State government should integrate the professional opinions of environmentalists in all environment-related fields, especially in the areas of drainage and roads construction.â€
On the coastal settlement he said, â€œwe should save Bayelsa from the raging waves and prevent avoidable loss of lives and properties. These problems can be tamed with aggressive shore-protection works all along the coast, to protect the land from the ocean.
â€œIt will take a few years, but we can start right now to reclaim our land and protect what we have left.â€