By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta
ASABA, the capital of Delta State is a city advantageously situated at the western flank of Niger River, sharing border with Onitsha, a bustling commercial city in Anambra state.
Because of its quiet and peaceful nature, citizens from other parts of the state, residents of Onitsha and other parts of the Southeast region, especially wealthy traders, found it an admirable location to build and rent homes.
However, with population explosion over the years, one problem that struck the town, which successive governments were unable to tackle is flood. The flooding problem in Asaba has remained an albatross for nearly two decades.
Incumbent governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, knows the quandary will not disappear unless government deals with it expansively. Last year, he embarked on storm control projects, which some citizens thought would automatically end the problem before this year’s rainfall.
They were, therefore, surprised that the first major rainfall recently in Asaba swamped the state capital. It was more than meets the eye.
The week before the last rain in Asaba, it was as if Governor Okowa foresaw the predicament, as he revealed to journalists that government was having some challenges in the storm control project. He said he received disturbing information that people built out rightly on the road and water channels and that have affected the rhythm of work by the contractor.
However, to stop flood from overrunning the city, he said government was willing to pay compensation to clear the houses, hoping at the same time that the contractor would be able to finish some discharge points before the rain would come in torrents.
While residents of Asaba are battling with flood, riverine dwellers at Egbema kingdom and others parts of the state are face-to-face with water hyacinths, which have paralyzed fishing, transportation by boat and other commercial activities.
Egbema communities, activists cry out
Worse hit were Opuama, Polobubou, Ogbinbiri and Ogbudugbudu communities along the Benin River. Villagers have been unable to leave their communities in the past few days due to the rampaging water weeds.
A former Commissioner in the state, Mr. Joel Bisina, president of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, Mr. Austin Ozobo and president, Ijaw Youth Development Initiative, IYDI, Nicholas Igarama have raised the alarm over the matter.
Bisina and Ozobo called on the state government and interventionist agencies in the Niger Delta to come to the rescue of riverine dwellers in Egbema kingdom shut in at their homes by water hyacinths.
Igarama asserted, “My people cannot move due to the excess water hyacinth on our waterways, this is the only reasonable route in and out of Egbema kingdom. The only land access is nothing to write home about.”
He called on the acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Prof Nelson Braibafa, to quickly intervene and save the people from the trauma. .
A concerned citizen, Adetokunbo Awodeyi, who urged quick solution, said, “In Kenya this problem was easily solved biologically by using insects that reduce the growth and spread of water hyacinth.”
Havoc in Asaba, Ibusa, Okpanam
At Asaba, Ibusa and other areas, the heavy downpour that lasted for hours not only disrupted business activities, but rendered many homeless.
Flood took over the busy Okpanam Road, while the road leading to the Junior Staff Quarters from Summit Road, Delta Broadcasting Service, DBS, Asaba, were submerged. It also sacked staff of the broadcast station from their offices.
A staff, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard said the contractor handling the ongoing storm drainage project in Asaba, came to DBS to help salvage the situation.
Residents build on water channels, block drainages with wastes
Saturday Vanguard gathered that residents contributed greatly to the flood menace in the state capital with their attitude, not only in disposing their wastes into drainage, but also in encroaching on water channels. Some property owners have also erected new fences in areas the drainage will possibly to attract compensation.
A source said, “Can you see in your mind’s eye a situation where a known water discharge point is sold to a property developer, who because of his monetary weight goes ahead to sand fill such a place and erect structures? Of course, water will find its level and the victims of such may not know what to do or will not have the means to do it right.”
“Again, when you are aware that an area is flood-prone and you go ahead to erect structures, naturally, you will be living with fish and other aquatic animals. All that a compassionate government can do in such situation is to set up a transit camp until the flood recedes because you are already aware that annually, flood is virtually bound to sack you from your home
“Residents of Asaba are aware of the Iyi-Abi River at Ibusa road. The road is under threat not because the river overflows its bank, but because its route has been totally cut-off by a developer.”
“I also heard that most of these buildings have no approved plans from appropriate government agencies, but people keep selling and those, who bought keep building in a manner that causes problem to everybody. Go into Asaba town itself, you will also see new houses by some people blocking water channels, so they keep multiplying the problem government is trying to manage,” he added.
Okowa confident of overcoming Asaba flood
Governor Okowa, who inspected the projects shortly before the devastating rain, explained, “We have to manage our finances. We have to be wise in our spending because these projects cannot be abandoned and we also want to be sure that in our planning process that we are not taking more than we can chew, so that we do not get choked.”
Secretary to the State Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie; Chief of Staff, Government House, Olorogun David Edevbie and Senior Political Adviser, Rt. Hon. Funkekeme Solomon accompanied him during the inspection.
He inspected the discharge points of the storm drainage projects at the Anwai River, Government House, Asaba and Corner Stone area of Okpanam. Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Engr. Fred Edafioghor explained the level of job done at the project sites.
“In the first four years we have been able to keep up with payments and projections; obviously, there are lots of benefits derivable from the construction of these drainage projects and we will do more.
“From what we saw during the inspection, we are working with specifications; this current project (at Jesus Saves Road) is within its limit and we are being told that the houses around this project are affecting some of the work being done. However, work is going on and it will connect to the sewage by the Lion House while the other sewage drain will connect to the Agric road sewage.
“These projects are all part of the drainage plans for Asaba. We have three major drainage under execution but overall we have a lot more drainage to construct if we are to control the flow of floodwater in Asaba. We still need about five more drainage projects to effectively tackle flood issues in Asaba to the level we want, but we took the three most critical ones which we have been inspecting today.”
…A lot more to be done
“I believe that the completion of these ongoing drainage projects will remarkably reduce the water overflow in Asaba, but there is still a lot more to be done,” the governor stated.
He added, “We will continue to do our best bearing in mind that we cannot attend to all the projects at once. Because we are mindful of the fact that we need to pay our contractors and it is due to the fact that we want to ensure that our contractors are well paid that we decided to start with the three major drainage out of the eight that were planned for Asaba. And as we conclude payment for the projects being carried out now, we will be able to look into the process of awarding new contracts.”
The governor expressed satisfaction with the quality of work done at the projects sites saying, “We monitor the projects; we have consultants who are on ground as well as staff of the Ministry of Works to supervise the jobs; the quality of the jobs are outstanding and we are impressed.”
“We all know the benefits of clean environment; if we have proper drainage channels to tackle flooding of our cities and towns, good network of roads, it is also very important for our people to imbibe the habit of having clean environment. They should ensure proper disposal of wastes – no dumping of refuse in the drainage which can cause blockage, no dumping of refuse on the road, streets because, such does not only litter the environment, it can also, lead to health challenges,” Governor Okowa said.