By Samuel Oyadongha
First it was considered to be an isolated issue limited to settlements in the upper River Niger given the fact that flooding is a perennial occurrence in the lower River Niger.
But the event of the last couple of weeks has turned out to be a traumatic experience for the communities in this lower Niger spanning several communities in central and western senatorial district, of Bayelsa State. The number of communities that have been taken over by flood lately has been a source of grave concern to the natives.
Virtually all the communities along the river bank such as Sagbama,
Adagbabiri, Peretorugbene, Agbere, Ofoni, Ayamasa, Sabagriea, Igbedi, Famgbe, Yenaka, Ogu, Fortorugbene, Agbura, Aguadama-Epetiama, Oporoma, Ndoro, Tombia, Peremabiri, Elemebiri, Asamabiri, Angalabiri, Opokuma, Odi, Kaiama, Biseni, Gbarantoru, Tombia Amassoma and Ekeremor among others have been were submerged.
In some of these communities, residential and public buildings including schools, banks, churches, town halls have been overtaken by flood leaving thousands of families homeless with their means of livelihood destroyed.
Sadly, indigenes of some of the few unaffected communities are now living in fear as the rampaging flood appeared to have defied some of the artificial barriers put in place in these communities to mitigate it.
Also the recent warning that communities in the Delta should expect more flood in the days ahead has heightened anxiety in the area where hundreds of thousands have been sent on exile due to no fault of theirs by nature.
The situation to say the least has assumed crisis proportion in this predominantly swampy state where reptiles and other aquatic lives have noticeably taken over structures whose inhabitants are currently searching for shelter elsewhere.
Investigations in some of the riverine settlements such as Sagbama, Kolokuma-Opokuma, Yenagoa, Ogbia and Southern showed that a greater percentage of the riverside communities have been sacked by the rampaging flood.
In Sagbama community, not less than 2000 houses have been submerged as the indigenes were forced to join their relations in neighbouring Patani in Delta State . Patani community which over years had survived perennial flooding associated with communities in the lower river Niger ostensibly due to its shore protection embankment erected in the early nineties was at the verge of succumbing to the rampaging Forcados River. If this relatively upland Ijaw settlement eventually goes down as now being threatened by the flood, it then means the entire Bayelsa communities in the lowland stretch of the River Niger and tributaries of Forcados and Nun and its adjoining creeks would not be spared.
Already, all the public and private schools in Sagbama have been sacked by the swelling flood while the road connecting neighbouring Tungbo community had been cut off. Also the community old road along the bank of the river leading to the community market has been washed away by the rising flood.
An indigene of Sagbama, Mr. Ogbo Akpoeyi, who conducted Saturday Vanguard round the submerged area in a dug out canoe expressed fear of possible outbreak of epidemic in the area following the contamination of the community source of drinking water by exposed human waste.
“This is the worst flooding we have ever experienced in almost 50 years. The last time we had this type of ugly incident was in 1969. Sincerely, if not that it was clearly stated in the Bible that God would not destroy the earth with flood again one would have concluded that the end has come,” he said.
“Look at the entire Mile I community is under water,” he lamented, pointing at the deserted homes, he pleaded with the authorities to find a lasting solution to the flood menace wondering how long they would continue to suffer and passing the night under such harsh condition.
Another native who gave her names as Adonkia Nurse told Saturday Vanguard that her bakery business had been crippled by the flood. “Blessed Bayelsa Bakery had since closed shop with machines worth millions of naira lost to the flood,” she lamented.
For Ebiere Adou, who refused to relocate from her submerged home, she said, “it is not as if I enjoy the situation here, there is little I can do. I need to remain here and safeguard my properties. Leaving this house means exposing my belongings to hoodlums now roaming the community in search of homes to loot because of the absence of such house owners.”
She added, “several persons have lost their properties not to the flood but to some unscrupulous youths masquerading as concerned community folks assisting distressed families to evacuate their belonging to dry area only to disappear into the forest with such items.”
“This is really a nightmare that will forever remain with me. Imagine me that was living in a comfortable apartment now forced to take refuge in an uncompleted two storey building about 100 metres away from my original abode because I have no relation in the state capital and no where to go.
It is my fervent prayer that the water level recede fast so that we can go back to our homes,” another concerned settler lamented.
Also, mobile policeman who spoke anonymously said he was forced to relocate to an uncompleted duplex for the time being until the flood ebbed.
The situation was not different at Adagbabiri, Odi, Tungbo, Tombia, Gbarantoru, Amassoma and others visited. At Imiringi in Ogbia, the bridge crossing the Kolo Creek was on the verge of being swept away while a classroom block at Tombia town located on the bank of the Nun River had collapsed.
Thousands of families displaced are now exposed to the outbreak of epidemic looms in the affected communities.
The paramount ruler of Odi Kingdom, King Shine Apere, expressed concern over the plight of his people and called for urgent action before the entire community is swept away.
Mr. Seyeifa Uzaka whose Sabagriea community is over run by the over flowing Nun River noted with concern the devastating impact of the flood on his people.
“The economic frustration and loss of property in submerged communities and farmlands is one of the major source of anguish and despair in the area,” he lamented adding “As you can see, “our people are now racing against time trying to see what they could salvage from their already submerged farmlands.”
Reacting to the scenario in the state, an environmentalist, Comrade Alagoa Morris attributed the perennial scourge to the natural environment of the state.
“Bayelsa is the typical example of what a delta is, very flat with mot communities below sea level,” he said and called for dredging, sand filling and construction of shoreline protection for the communities to tackle to the perennial problem.
He also called on the management of Niger Delta Development Commission NDCC and the National EmergencyManagement Agency NEMA to intervene to mitigate the plight of the people of the impacted communities.
Though a high powered delegation led by the state Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Sylvanus Abila had been on a tour of flooded communities to ascertain the extent of disaster, Governor Seriake Dickson who returned to the state Sunday after nearly three weeks stay abroad to woo investors Tuesday left behind his busy schedule to embark on an on -the -spot assessment of the affected communities to see things for himself.
The governor whose Toru-Orua hometown is also affected by the flood sympathized with the various impacted communities stating that his administration was doing all it can to fast track development in the state.
The governor had earlier directed the Deputy Governor to ensure the release of relief materials to the affected communities to cushion the hardship being experienced by the people.
According to him, this issue of flooding is not peculiar to Bayelsa State as it is a global phenomenon caused mainly by global warming and other issues related to the environment. ”You will recall that our government took early steps to address the issue of blocked drainages in Yenagoa and that was why we did not experience any form of flooding in Yenagoa metropolis.
Special Adviser to the Governor on Emergency and Relief Matters, Mrs. Faith Opuene also described this year’s flood as most unfortunate.
She said government had established a relief camp at Sagbama town and working out modalities to set up some in other areas while Odi community had also set up a makeshift camp to accommodate the displaced families.
“There is a relief camp in Sagbama. Others are ongoing. Foodstuffs, drugs and mattresses, blankets and buckets have been distributed to victims. These items will make them manage the situations.
“It is the worst that I have seen so far. People are really suffering, farmlands are destroyed. We don’t know what will happen to us next year, there will be starvation in the state as the whole Bayelsa State is covered with flood, apart from Brass and Nembe local governments. Every community is flooded.
All the six local governments are affected. Yenagoa, Sagbama, Ekeremor, Kolokuma/Opokuma and Ogbia, Southern Ijaw local governments are flooded. As a state we are trying to do the little we can,” she said.