By Chioma Obinna
*Hunger, loss of pregnancies, strange illnesses as victims battle post-flood pains
*Anambra govt: We are focused on response to natural disasters…
The impact of the 2012 flood disaster which ravaged communities in Nigeria lingers. In Anambra State where 53 communities were affected, victims continue to relive the sad experience.
Sunday Vanguard visited hard-hit communities such as Abilibaose, Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area of the state and found that life had changed for the worse for the people. Hundreds of those rendered homeless continued to battle strange illnesses. Dozens of women who lost their pregnancies were yet to recover. Malaria, bites from snakes and insects were palpable.
Okechukwu Emodi was in dire straits. A victim of the flood that ravaged the area, last year, the business man from Abilibaose Atani, was bedridden, no thanks to a strange sickness that had taken over his life. Unable to walk and with his condition deteriorating by the day, a wheel barrow was his only means of moving around.
Okechukwu’s ailment defied treatment. Pushed to the limit, Okechukwu turned to assistance from a herbal practitioner. He swore that since he commenced treatment from the herbal doctor, there had been remarkable improvement.
His story was one of sorrow and anguish. He relived the story with regret. “I lost everything I have laboured for all my life in the same flood that has kept me like this.
To date, I cannot explain what happened to my legs. I still cannot move them. My family is seriously affected. All our food was swept away, that is why we are suffering today,” he stated.
The victim further narrated: “The flood started gradually and we thought that after a few days, it will subside, but how wrong we were! At a point, moving out of the village became pretty difficult. Along the line, I became sick and there was nothing my wife and my children could do.
“When the flood increased, forcing people to move out, things became difficult. My bad legs made things worse. It was then that my wife managed to move me from the house with a wheel barrow because I could no longer walk. We left the village to one of the camps at Holy Trinity
Cathedral Onitsha where we were fed by the church with support from the state government until the flood stopped. “The most painful thing is that I could not arrange anything due to my ill health. My house was flooded. We lost clothes, electronics, farm lands and my old house was reduced to rubbles by the flood. The bus I was using for commercial purpose was also swept away. To date, nobody has been able to recover it.”
For Okechukwu, life in the refugee camp can never be compared to life in one’s home. “Even though we felt relieved then, in the camp, no one can say all is well because we still lack some things but we have no choice than to manage.
“For instance, it is not what you will want to eat that you will be given, but the little that is given at least goes a long way to help. Again, if you are sick in the camp, you are on your own. There were no doctors or nurses around. It is your business to find a your way to hospital”.
Okechukwu, who had a thriving farming business before the floods came, appealed to the state government to help him and other victims of the flood with loans.
Asked if he had received anything from the state government, he said, “The state government, after the camping period, gave us maize, dawa and garri and N5, 000.”
Another victim, Mrs. Caroline Ezuike, a farmer and mother of seven, also lost all she had to the disaster. Caroline, who resides with her husband and children at the Oko farmers’ camp, recalled how the flood swept away their crops among other things.
“It is very painful. What we cultivate is okro and vegetable, but now the water has destroyed our farms. We are hopeless.”
Saying some women put to bed in boats as they escaped from the flood, she said that, at a point, many occupants of the camp became afraid.
According to her, due to the flood, several farmers were attacked by strange, painful illnesses affecting the back, knees and joints.
“We were using kerosene and some herbal mixture to treat the pains. Mosquitoes, snakes, scorpions and flies multiplied but all that stopped after the flood”.
Caroline regretted that the area had not felt government presence. “No government official has visited this camp”, she said, appealing to the state government and donor agencies to come to their aid as the camp needs school and hospital.
Plight of women, children
The flood submerged many health facilities in the area. Several months after, many of the health centres remained unoperational.
Apart from their bad condition, the centres had no facilities and drugs. To keep the centres running, the staff contributes money to purchase frequently used drugs.
When Sunday Vanguard contacted the Anambra State Commissioner for Health, Mr. Lawrence Ikeako, his response went like this: “I am not directly in charge of the primary health centres but call me concerning anything about secondary and tertiary facilities in the state. I must thank you for the observation. It is under the care of local government”.
In a telephone conversation, the state Commissioner for Local Government, Mrs. Azuka Enemuo, said she could not discuss the matter on phone and, therefore, invited this reporter to book an appointment for a visit.
From Atani 1 PHC to Obodo – Otu PHC to Umuem 11, down to Community Reproductive Referral Health Centre UNFPA Assisted Project, Oroma Etiti- Anam, Anambra West Local Government, it was the same story of no drugs and equipment submerged by flood.
At the Community Reproductive Referral Health Centre UNFPA Assisted Project, Oroma Etiti Anam located in Anambra West Local Government Area, the impact of the flood was glaring.
The items destroyed by the flood included vaccine storage system, solar energy, refrigerator, delivery beds, weights, generator, tables, chairs, drugs and case files.
The only thing salvaged was the blood pressure apparatus. A nurse at the centre, Ngozi Umeze, said : “We could not saved anything because more than 10 people were staying in a room. We were not able to move some of the properties because you needed to have a place to stay first before you could think of packing loads. Most of the people in the village survived, thanks to the high rise areas in the village. A large number of people did not go to camp but moved to those high rise areas. The marks at the wall will tell you exactly what we went through.”
Stating that government was yet to respond to their appeals, Ngozi lamented that lack of drugs in the health centre was affecting treatment of women and children in the area. “Since the flood, we have been having more cases of malaria especially in pregnant women and children. It is sad that the government has not done anything since the flood stopped. We have reported and reported but we have not got any response.”
She hinted that the drugs being used for treatments were bought from the money the staff contributed.
Asked about the normal free treatment usually given to children and pregnant women, she said: “Before now, there were treatments we offered for free but most treatments are paid for now apart from immunization. The only treatment we give free is tetanus injection.”
At Obodo – Otu PHC, it was discovered that the flood affected the whole building. The flood was said to have reached the ceiling of the health centre.
Narrating the victims’ harrowing experience, Victoria Okeke, also a nurse, said: “The flood destroyed everything. Due to the high level of the water, it affected the ceiling and the floors. Now, the whole building is a write-off.
“We have been appealing to government to repair the centre, but we are yet to receive any response. We are just tired. You could see with your eyes that this place is not supposed to be called a health centre any more.”
Okeke lamented that the condition of the health centre was no longer conducive for obstetric deliveries.
“To keep the centre running, we borrowed some things from the village. Everything got spoilt in the flood. Now we buy drugs in addition to the ACTs the local government supplied to treat people.
“We still participate in immunisation and, because we do not have solar to store the vaccines, what we do is to go to Umueze-Anam and carry vaccines on daily basis. We no longer have drugs permanently in the store.”
Like others, she appealed to the state government to come to their aid. “We want them to come and see the building first hand. We also need some equipment. Since we have mosquitoes and flies around here, we need mosquito nets and malaria drugs. We are just here to while away time.
“We need urgent renovation. The present condition of the health centre is not right. We have no cleaner, no security personnel, and, most especially, drugs to continue treatments. We need delivery beds, tables, nets, chairs, solar for drugs and vaccine storage system.”
At Atani 1, in Ogabaru Local Government Area, a staffer of the hospital, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard under anonymity, stated: “Although the flood did not affect the building of the health centre apart from the fence and the quarters, we have not been having drugs. As we speak now, we do not have a single drug. We have been writing to the local government to supply us with drugs, up till now nothing has been done.”
She recalled that the last stock of drugs they had was after the flood. “After the flood, the state government supplied us with some ACTs following the increase in malaria cases. The government also brought some drugs for children but the drugs did not go round and we stopped when the drug got finished.”
A 76-year-old woman, Oriaku Akueze, who described the flood as unfortunate, said poor people in the community no longer had access to healthcare due the condition of the health centre.
Recalling that the flood claimed her 2,000 tubers of yam, she urged government to step up efforts towards renovating the centre.
Eze Nwaozekwe Okeke, Igwe Ukwu 1 of Oroma Etiti, told Sunday Vanguard the community had sent a save-our-soul to government to repair the health centre in the area but was yet to receive response. “We have appealed to government for assistance. Another major problem is hunger. Our children can no longer go to school. Many parents borrowed money to put their children back in school while some children are still home for lack of fund. We need drugs in the health centre.”
The President General of Umuem – Anam, Mr, Edwin Udunze, who facilitated the visit to the health centres, also decried their state.
“Some of the hospitals lost all their equipment. You have seen where the flood stopped on the wall of the buildings; you could see that no none of us knew that it was going to be that bad. We were expecting that the flood will stop under two or three days. All equipment in the hospitals and health centres were submerged and destroyed.”
He further alleged that most of the centres were collecting money for malaria drugs provided free of charge by government.
Udunze, who also noted that sand flies increased, the community after the flood, called on government to supply enough medications to the health centres and see that the drugs are managed well. “The community can set up a committee that will ensure that those drugs are well used,” Udunze said.
Farmers in trouble
Farmers affected flood in the state were yet to come to terms with the fact that their dream of farming this season may be a mirage unless there is urgent and significant assistance from government.
Four months into the farming season, many of the affected farmers were still to clear their farms. The flood, which most of the indigenes described as mysterious, left them with nothing to fall back on.
It has remained a season of complaints in all the 53 communities under the six local governments of the state affected by the flood.
From the eight communities of Atani in Ogbaru local government viz; Odekpe, Idemili, Ohita, Atani, Akili Osuzu, Akili Ogidi, Uchuchu, Ami-Umuzu, Ogbakuba, to Oroma Etiti in Anambra West Local Government Area, thousands of farm lands, houses, properties were said to have been swept away by the flood. The riverine areas of Anambra State, precisely Ogbaru and Anambra West Local Government Areas, are predominately farmers.
For decades, the people of the area have depended largely on farming as a means of livelihood. They produce cassava, maize, rice and yam. In the past, an individual farmer in the area could boost of over 5,000 barns of yam. Unfortunately, since after the flood, many of them cannot boost of even a yam seed.
Following the closure of the camps, there have been reports of interventions by various agencies and government. While the government has been applauded over the billions of naira earmarked for the flood affected communities, the victims, particularly farmers, are claiming that they were yet to feel the impact.
More worrisome is the fact that if the farmers did not farm this year, there may be food scarcity.
The Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, said the state had expended N400 million out of the N500 million received from the Federal Government Flood Relief Funds on the victims.
Nonetheless, there were complaints of how some of the food items (trailer bags of rice) meant for the flood victims were diverted.
“What was blown in the air was not properly distributed to the flood victims. What got to the victims was very minute, insignificant amount of money which could go nowhere to ameliorate the plight of the people.
Imagine hearing of billions budgeted for these flood victims. We are disappointed to see that some people went home with N500, N2, 000 and N1000 only. What can N1000 or N2, 000 or N500 effect a change on somebody who has lost his building and yam bans and all the natural
storage facilities used in storing his or her farm products because we are the riverine and our major occupation is farming,” Chief Fredrick Mbanefo Olise, the Oga of Atani, told Sunday Vanguard.
The chief spoke through his personal assistant, Mr. Osemeka Oduoh from Abilibaose, Atani.
“We have been left to our own fate. A lot of fraud was committed with these items before they got to their destination. When they actually do for actual distribution, you discovered that what was getting to the victim was very insignificant. It is just like a child’s play.
“There isn’t enough capital to start farming again. We no longer have money to buy yam seeds, cassava stems amongst others. There is need to support the victims.”
According to him, scores of agencies made donations but those things were not properly distributed.
“Our children are no longer in school. Go to the primary schools and see what I am telling you. In a class of 20, after the flood, they are now about10 because the remaining 10 cannot come to school because of lack of school fees. There is no money. Clothing becomes very difficult. Most of the children look haggard in the villages and yet what is echoed in the media is that a lot of money has been given to flood victims and materials transported to the victims. Where are the materials?”
Worst flood in 82 years
In Oroma Etiti, His Royal Highness, Eze Nwaozekwe Okeke, Igwe Ukwu 1, who told Sunday Vanguard that he had never seen the kind of flood in his entire 82 years in the community, said the worst hits among the farmers are those who cultivate rice in the area as they were not able to save even a grain.
“The flood destroyed our farm lands, cassava, rice, maize, cocoa yam.
The water entered into my house. Fishes swarm into my house. My car was submerged. I was going out of the village to see where we could park it, but we were caught up by the flood and we left it there till date.” Confirming that the Anambra government brought some money, he said it was far from solving their problems as some people got just N1,000 which could replace their yam seeds and houses. “There is serious hunger in the land. Many people lost their houses and N1,000 cannot rebuild those houses.”
Government: ‘We remain focused in our response to natural disasters’
Anambra SSG, Obaze, told Sunday Vanguard that the state received N500 million from the Federal Government Flood Relief Funds and that N400 million had been given out to those in the affected areas.
“On our own, we have spent N132 million of state funds,” he said. According to him, the next tranche of relief funds will be targeted at industries, manufacturing and micro finance institutions that gave out loans to farmers. We recently amortized the loans owed by the Ogwu Aniocha Farmers’ Cooperative to the Chukwuneye Micro Finance Firm to the tune of N8million.”
“On preparation for possible reoccurrence of the flood, he said: “We flagged off our early warning flood advisory on April 11, 2013. We are consulting with NEMA, SEMA and the Army on contingency plans for the 2013 flood season. We are looking at quick yielding seedlings that could be harvested before the flood.”
He dismissed the allegations of discrimination in the treatment of the flood victims. “Relief materials were given out to those affected by the floods that had been identified previously. Those who only surfaced after, the fact is that they evidently had problems and complaints. There may be one or two genuine cases of omission, but those are infinitesimal. There were three communities that said they were omitted, Ifite-Aguleri, Uli, Ifite-Enugu. We are revisiting their claims.”
Continuing, he said: “Over all, we in Anambra State remain focused and energetic in our response to such natural disasters. The total of projects (broken down into sectors and local governments) amount to N26, 995,000. This figure is exactly N4,000,000 higher as a result of the inclusion of the actual rehabilitation costs and ongoing reconstruction contract in the works (roads) sector, which was not captured in our earlier report.”
Telephone chat with the Commissioner for Local Government, Mrs Azuka Enemuo went thus:
Commissioner: Where are you?
Reporter: I am back in Lagos.
Commissioner: You have to come back.
Reporter: For now I don’t know when I will be able to book an appointment.
Commissioner: No, for anybody who works under this administration, it is not the routine expectation of booking an appointment, you see you called and I picked it even not knowing the number. What you should do is to send me a text of who you are so that I will record it. Again, you also send a text of any time you wish to come around, I am now inviting you at my own expense and I will make myself available and take you around the health centers. You cannot base your report on propaganda. It is not something we can discharge on phone.
Reporter: It’s not propaganda because I visited all these areas.
Commissioner: It is alright, you are free to make your conclusion on what you saw but I know that good journalism would always take into consideration how it was before now and after, so if you are phoning me to say yes or no, that’s not good journalism.
When you say you have only just left and, as a government official, for any person you come to the government office, and you procure the information you need. Or you can get my phone number on the internet. Your NUJ chairman works in my office, you should have called him. There are so many ways you can use to get my number. Phoning me on speculation is not the best approach. You can go ahead and write what you want to write.