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Lamentations of flood victims in Anambra IDP camps

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In three weeks, over 17, 000 persons displaced by flood in Anambra State have been living at the mercy of the same mother nature that swept them off their homes. Our correspondent, OKEY MADUFORO, who visited most of the IDP Camps, tells the story of how they have been salvaging their fate.

The Royal Niger Company may have underestimated the impact of the economic conquest in the banks of Omabala River before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorate of Nigeria. It was at the banks of the river that the company embarked on the journey into the hinter land of Igbo land and the river bank was name Otuocha; meaning the “Market Of the White man”

Food market overrun by flood

The market today is the largest food market in the entire Omabala Kingdom made up of Anambra East, Anambra West, Oyi, and Ayamelum Local Government Areas. A great number of Omabala people depend mainly on the market for businesses and it indeed makes great impact on the economy of the area. But a visit to the Otuocha market shows a market that loses its glory every year and is always a shadow of itself as long as the perennial flooding lasts. In the last one month, Otuocha market closed shops following the flood disaster that has been sweeping the coastal region of the country.

Traders and farmers who do business there have been displaced while the uphill buildings and main roads in Aguleri, Umuleri and Umuoba Anam have become markets and Internally Displaced Persons camps. Though Anambra State government provided about 27 Internally Displaced Persons camps, there are other camps formed by the flood victims themselves due to the large crowd of displaced persons at the holding camps. Similarly, the camp at Atani the headquarters of Ogbaru Local Government Area have been submerged by flood and it took the intervention of people paddling canoes to evacuate the trapped inmates of the camp.

Though the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and its sister counterparts, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), have been taking pains of periodic visiting of the IDP camps, the pressure is more than the response of these two agencies. There have been issues of relief materials not getting to the displaced persons and there are also allegations of diversion of the materials to unknown destinations.

Some flood victims sleep on the bridge

Also, there are issues of some flood victims sleeping with their family members on top of the Umueze Anam Bridge which is above the water level by three feet. Over 3,000 of them have been sleeping at the Umueze Anam Bridge in the past two weeks, because they have no shelter. Also, they have accused NEMA of diverting relief materials meant for them, alleging sharp practices. At Umueze Anam Bridge, residents in the area built cubicles and make shift beds where nursing mothers and old people pass the night on daily basis. Similarly, the largest community food market known as Otuocha Market has been sacked by the flood and traders now do business along the Otuocha – Awkuzu Road.

According to a trader and farmer, Mrs Nkiruka Kwalo, who was seen at the banks of the Omabala River; “We are not happy at all, because those relief materials are being diverted to an unknown place and our people are dying of hunger and what we also need is money to go back to farm when the flood reseeds.

“Most of us sleep on top of this bridge, our children are exposed mosquitoes and to all type of illness and nobody is coming to our aid,” she said. At Unity Hall Umuoba Anam, one of the Internally Displaced Persons camps, children were scrambling for sachets of noodles along with nursing mothers.

The President General of Umuoba Anam, Mr Omenwa Victor told reporters that out of 1,200 displaced persons, only thirty seven mattresses were provided, lamenting that the rest sleep on the floor. “We are managing the much we could do, but the number is too much and we only have 37 mattresses for 1,200 persons, so the rest sleep on the floor.

“The governor visited us about a week ago and promised to bring more as well as food, so we are still waiting. “We need food for the children and we thank those who have been coming to help us,” he said. Local government chairman of Ayamelum, Mr Livinus Onyenwe Okafor told this reporter that the IDP Camps were few in the area, as according to him the few places that are not flooded are being used as camps. “The camps are not recognised earlier, but we have moved the displaced persons to a primary school in Umuerum and to some churches in the area. “Also some parts of Otu and Gbamgbaka are not flooded, so we took some of them to that place for them to be taken care of. “We have made representations to the agencies concerned like NEMA and SEMA and last week we were at all the camps with a team of doctors sent by our Governor Charles Soludo and they have been taking care of them, only that we need more assistance because of the number of displaced persons,” he said.

Even fishermen are afraid to venture with Canoes, as victims lament lack

When this reporter tried to get to Ayamelum Local Government Area the level of flood was such that even some canoe operators pleaded that the flow of flood may make the trip dangerous.

“Yes we can pass through, but we are fishermen and we study the current to know how safe it would be, but if we cross over you still need canoe to get to the IDP Camps, but I can tell you that the number is more than 2,000 and we use this canoe to supply food to them as well as drugs, but it has never been enough,” one of the operators said.

At Dr Joseph Memorial Secondary School, Aguleri, the inmates at the camp complained that no government agency has visited them since they relocated to the school. Ma Ugo- Oye was found trying to cook beans outside the building and she merely directed reporters to a man who claims to be the head of the camp.

“We are still waiting for the food and relief materials and the things that we are using are the few properties we were able to lay our hands on while running away from the surging flood. “With the help of the school management, we were able to get something to use as beds to sleep,” he said. Agueke Primary school, Ugbenu, Central School, Ugbene and Central School, Oba- Ofemili and Community Secondary School, Ebenebe are the camps in Awka North Local Government Area. Awka North is in Anambra Central District, but its close boundary with Ayamelum Local Government Area of Anambra North District occasioned the flood in the area and it is also a confluence of Ezu River in Awka North and the Omabala River. The camps are also densely populated with more of women and children and the inmates still lament of the insufficient relief materials. “Government has visited once and they promised to supply us with more but we are yet to see them.” St Paul’s Parish Ihiala is yet another IDP camp and has quite a number of displaced persons there. They have been living at the mercy of public spirited individuals and some politicians who have been scoring political points by making donations of items to the victims. While the camps are lamenting inadequate supply of relief materials, the people of Umuzu community in both Ihiala Local Government Area and Ogbaru Local Government Area have resigned to fate as nobody is talking about them. Umuzu community shares dual citizenship as kit and kin are farmers and fishermen in Ogbaru Local Government Area while the others are also farmers and fishermen in Ihiala Local Government Area. That explains why the flood in Anambra North is also causing havoc in Anambra South with Atamili and Oseakwa rivers as tributaries of the River Niger. Prince Chris Okwuosa the President, Children of Farmers Club, an international Non- Governmental Organization, NGO, told this reporter that his people depend on self-help. “There is no functional health facility here and we rely on the pharmacy shops here for health services and the shops have been submerged by flood, so there is nothing we can do. “We have converted the secondary school here to IDP camps, but the flood is coming up to the classroom halls and if it gets here them we have lost it. “We are still hoping that government would come someday to help us or we pray for the flood to go and life goes on, he said. Okwuosa noted that, “there is an outbreak of cholera in our community and about 13 children have contacted it as well as two or three adults, because we don’t have drinking water, all we do is to boil the flood water for drinking.” The lamentation indeed raises moral questions about the response of the relevant agencies to the challenges being faced by the displaced persons at the camps. Even the Deputy Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Environment and the member representing Anambra East and West Federal Constituency, Chief Chinedu Obidigwe, also joined in the lamentations.

We are doing our best

Also the Anambra State Government has continued to insist that it is doing all it can to provide for the inmates. Dr Afam Obidike, the state’s Commissioner for Health, who visited the holding centres at Crowther Memorial Primary School, Onitsha and Unity Hall, Umueri, said the medical intervention was necessary to avert outbreak of diseases in the area. The Commissioner said, “Gov. Chukwuma Soludo has mandated the ministry to carry out regular on-the-spot assessment of the holding centres, to ascertain your health needs and challenges for immediate intervention. “We are here with some team of medical personnel to make sure that everything is being taken care of medically as well as ascertain the hygiene and sanitation of the centres, which is very essential. “More health personnel will be sent to the holding centres in order to ensure that flood victims are adequately taken care of medically,” he said.

SOS to FG, donor agencies

According to the letter by Obidigwe; “I do passionately appeal for your agency’s assistance to provide me with relief materials for the flood victims in my constituency.” “The communities of Enugwu Otu, Mkpunando, Otu, Umueze Anam, Umuoba Anam, Immiata Anam , Oroma Etiti, Ezi Anam, Umienwelu Anam, Nzam, Owelle, Inoma, Ukwala, Odekpe, Aguleri, Igbedu, Igboenyi, Ala, and Onugwa have been sacked by flood and all their houses and farm lands totally submerged by water. “As at Sunday October 16, over eighteen communities have been totally ravaged by flood. “Please I cry unto you for help to provide relief materials to enable me to deliver same to the communities,” he said. Obidigwe said he has so far spent about N70 million on food supply as well as other medical facilities including drugs and has been carrying out visits to the camps in his constituency with medical personnel.

Council boss commends govt

Mr Felix Ikechi, Transition Committee Chairman of Anambra West Local Area, commended the state government and Obidigwe for the prompt response to the plight of the victims. “We thank the state government for coming to our rescue. During the 2012 flood disaster, we did not receive the kind of attention we are getting today medically from the state government.

“But we are still appealing for more government assistance in the area of mattresses as well as finding lasting solutions to the problem of flood in Anambra West,” he said. However, the cry for assistance has known no bound since the flood came and government appears to be under pressure to meet with the demands at those places.

Fear of epidemic grips camps Deepening this situation is the looming epidemic at those camps and this has been a major source of worry.

Apprehensions were high that the twenty seven crowded camps are at the mercy of cholera and typhoid epidemics, hence creating palpable tension in the area. This is coming as the IDP Camps received two new born babies that were delivered last week. According to the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Felix Odumegwu; “We are aware that there could be an outbreak of epidemic in those holding camps which we call IDP camps given the number of displaced people in the camps, so we are observing the highest level of hygiene at the camps.”

“We have sent people to carry out grass cutting at places that are over grown by weeds and the situation as it is today is one that we are not leaving anything to chance and we have the State Emergency Management Agency SEMA which has a steering committee headed by the Executive Secretary, Mr Paul Odenigbo who is well experienced.”

Odumegwu noted that; “All the relevant ministries that have stake in this activity are well represented and at Bishop Crowder Camp we discovered that there was a leakage at the sewage system and it has been rectified while the Commissioner for Power and Public Utilities and his team have revived all the bore holes and has ensured steady power supply in those camps.” “The Commissioner for Health has been carrying out routine visits with his medical personnel to those holding camps and two days ago and yesterday we carried out a caesarean operation on a pregnant woman and she delivered her baby and also another woman delivered of a baby and she was rushed to the hospital and with the help of Dr Obiora the women and the babies are in good condition,” he said.

Presidents-general unite

At the embattled Ogbaru Local Government Area, the sixteen President Generals of the affected communities have lamented what they call starvation occasioned by hunger in the area, expressing fears of sudden death among the aged men and women in the area.

According to their spokesman and President General of Akili Ogidi community, Chukwusa Michael; “Our people do not have access to food and water and the worst hit are the old men and women in our towns as well as children and since the flood has washed away farm lands and even the markets where we can buy food we have resigned to fate.”

“We are appealing to everyone not just government alone to come to our assistance, before we begin to record deaths of old people and children and we know that the state government is doing its best, but we still cry for more due to the number of displaced people in Ogbaru Local Government Area,” he said. Apparently, it is clear that the Federal Government is always caught napping every year when this type of disaster happens and there has not been any concerted effort at meeting those challenges beforehand. Questions are also being raised over the yearly appropriation for NEMA in view of the quantum of challenges that trail the perennial flooding in the country.

It is also being touted that government should use the current experience of this year’s flooding as a bench mark for future budget and appropriations for emergency interventions, if indeed it is serious in dealing with the situation effectively.

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