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By Benjamin Atu
On the day Nigerians celebrated the country’s independence, many communities in Etsako Central in Edo North mourned, as a mystery flood came sacking the residents.
Victims of the disaster said no one envisaged that nature would vent its fury on them in the manner it did, washing away homes, businesses, schools, worship centres and farmland in one fell swoop.
According to eyewitnesses, household goods were seen floating freely in the flood. Access roads in the communities were savagely washed away, leaving some communities cut off from the rest. Flood victims could only be evacuated with canoes which turned out to be the only means of navigating the area.
Daily Sun gathered that when the flood began to recede, residents started receiving snakes, crocodiles and other dangerous animals as unwanted visitors. The creatures were dislodged from their respective abodes by the ravaging floodwaters. Even now, some people in the area risk contacting water-borne diseases.
The people are pleading for federal and state governments’ intervention, stating that they needed support especially public enlightenment to avoid another phase of disaster because of the high-level contamination, which definitely might have affected their water sources.
Flood disaster in the communities is a yearly one. When it occurred again this year, many were not surprised that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was taken unawares. Even the Red Cross, it was said, was overwhelmed. And now, the people are wondering when this cup would pass over them.
The correspondent was told that no year passes without communities in Etsako Central, including Udaba-Ekphei, Agbabu, Osomegbe, Ifeku inland, Udochi, Ofukpo, Anegbette, Utsuko and Ukpe Okorile not feeling the severe impact of nature. Each time it happened, the people were left in dire straits. When it happened again recently, the member representing Etsako Central in the Edo State House of Assembly, Mr. Lawani Demain was said to have come to personally commiserate with the victims and assisted in rescue operations, with some of the badly affected persons taken to various camps.
Schools have remained shut in the area which were under floodwaters from the River Niger which perennially overflows its banks during the rainy season. The situation gets worse following torrential rains.
For the people of Estako area, their sacking from their homes on a day the country marked her 57th Independence left a sour taste in the mouth. This, they believed was happening as a result of government neglect. They regretted that the Edo State government and other communal effort in the area to prevent the yearly incident had yielded no significant result. They wanted the various governments to find lasting solutions to their challenge, contending that the region is a major rice belt in the nation. They feared that with the washing away of farmlands, food scarcity might be looming in the communities, a development that is sure to push the people further down the poverty line. The resultant chain of effects, they further feared, might have a spill-over effect on the economy of other areas that depend on Etsako for their food source. Etsako communities are known to produce rice and yams, among other crops.
The correspondent also learnt that last year, the people suffered similar fate. What happened during the period was a replica of this year’s experience. Several school buildings, markets and worship centres, including mosques and churches were submerged by the floods. The ugly incident brought untold hardship to the people. Then, they cried out to the state and federal governments and relevant national and international organisations to intervene to stave off a reoccurrence but their effort came to naught.
A resident who pleaded anonymity told Daily Sun that the internally displaced people (IDP) camp which government embarked upon to cater to the needs of the victims was abandoned as soon as it was started. “This uncompleted project gives the people a lot of reasons to worry. It tells us how much insecure we are.
“Despite the mobilisation of preliminary relief efforts to the affected areas by the Edo State government, the burden is still obvious because it is too heavy for the state to bear.
“There is therefore an urgent need for the federal government through its relevant agencies to support the effort of the state government to provide succour and hope to the people who are currently homeless. Our people are vulnerable due to this perennial natural disaster and the lack of response from the federal government is worrisome.”
He, however, thanked some government functionaries from the zone for their effort. Among them were the Deputy Governor of the state, Mr. Philip Shaibu; the senator representing Edo North, Senator Francis Alimikhena; the member representing Etsako Federal Constituency, Mr. John Oghuma; the member representing Edo Central in the State House of Assembly, Lawani Demian as well as Mr. Mika Osigbemhe and Mr. Marvelous Zubiri.
The functionaries from the area, he noted, provided support to the people by giving them instant relief materials and also visited the area to ascertain the level of destruction to property, livestock, crops and other valuables. He said one death was recorded whiles the loss were estimated to be worth millions of naira.
Another resident alleged that the effort of the state government to establish temporary schools for the victims was not possible due to the fact that the IDP camp was not yet ready. He said that apart from the losses in the academic lives of the youths and children of the area, there was the fear that the communities might suffer an outbreak of diseases.
“There is an urgent need for the federal government to provide mobile medical clinic to the victims to avoid rapid outbreak of epidemic or emergencies. Provision of boats to ease movement of more victims who are still currently trapped by the flood will help to save more lives.”
Some leaders of the area had said that apart from NEMA and other agencies providing the victims with food and other relief materials, government should find a lasting solution to the yearly problem by reconstructing the damaged roads and providing drain channels. They also said that farmers whose livelihood had definitely been wasted by the flood needed to be supported with soft loans, seedlings and fertilizer, just as there was need for a practical effort to move the people from subsistence to mechanised farming method.
They equally urged government to ameliorate the suffering of the villagers by constructing roads at Udaba-Ekperi to connect Ofukpo, Agbabu and Osomhegbe Udochi communities, asserting that it would help them to easily access the area whenever such disaster occurred again.