•Triplets, 2 sets of twins, 4 others born in one week
•2,000 pregnant women set to deliver
•Expert warns on imminent epidemic, famine
From ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha firstname.lastname@example.org
The crowd surged forward as has become customary each time they noticed any vehicle enter the camp. They clustered together, struggling among themselves for vantage positions that would afford them opportunity to receive quickly from any “Good Samaritan” who may have come to offer assistance to them. Some were old men – grandfathers already counting when they would rejoin their ancestors.
Others were children and nursing mothers clutching their babies. A larger number among them were pregnant with protruding bellies, showing different stages of their conception. Venue was St. Joseph’s Catholic Church field, Aguleri, Anambra State, and the characters were the internally displaced persons seeking refuge after heavy flood destroyed their farmlands, household properties and sacked them from their homes.
As they wore haggard faces, struggling under the control of armed soldiers and policemen, this reporter spotted a young woman in the crowd probably in her early twenties. She carried a very tender baby boy. The scorching sun was biting hard on the baby, and though the eyes remained shut as a natural defense against the sun, the baby continued to gesticulate with his hands.
The woman, identified as Ugochukwu Mbadiwe, oblivious of the tender frame of the baby, cuddled him with one hand while she used the other hand to ward off people that might injure the baby as they struggled for goodies. When cornered for a chat, Ugochukwu said the baby was born inside the camp and was named Kaosisochukwu, meaning “As it pleases God”, due to circumstances surrounding his birth.
Having suffered monumental losses and rendered homeless by the flood, Kaosi’s mother told Sunday Sun that labour pains suddenly came before her expected date of delivery due to trauma, as they are now refugees in their own land. Before help could come in the form of any vehicle, she had delivered the baby inside an abandoned classroom in the camp. Standing beside her was another mother, Anulika Ozoekwe, cuddling her own baby, a boy too.
She narrated her own experience similar to Kaosi’s mother’s, saying more pregnant women inside the camp were already at the last stages of their delivery date, while others had already delivered. All the new born babies with their mothers pass the night in the crowded camp, without accompanying medical attention. Already, in the past one week, 11 babies have been delivered at the Aguleri camp.
The breakdown, according to Hon. Peter Okechukwu, a Transition Council member in Anambra West LGA, showed that one woman delivered triplets, two delivered twins, while four others delivered single babies. The camp now hosts over 20,000 people, while more people, who earlier refused to leave their homes, are now joining the camp in droves since the water level has refused to recede.
A community leader, Uyanna Ignatius, also disclosed that there are about 5,000 pregnant women in the camp, while about 2,000 among them may put to bed before the next one week. He said unless government and well-meaning Nigerians intensified efforts in finding more relief camps and making their accommodation better, there is imminent break out of diseases when the babies are delivered. At Crowther Memorial Primary School, Onitsha, the Anglican Bishop of Mbamili Diocese, Rt. Rev. Henry Okeke, told Sunday Sun that out of 3,500 people in the two refugee camps in Onitsha, 122 are pregnant women.
He thanked the Anambra State government, churches, individuals and the Nigerian Army for supporting the displaced persons, so far. Accommodation Three communities of Ezi Aguleri Otu, Enugu Aguleri Otu, Mkpunando Aguleri make up the inhabitants at St. Joseph’s Primary School/Church in Aguleri centre. Crowther Memorial Primary School, New Bethel Primary School and Otuocha also house the people from Anam area and the Igala-speaking part of Anambra West. People from Ogbaru area are also scattered in some primary schools in Okoti. Government agencies, individuals and corporate donors are trying to alleviate the suffering of the displaced people by providing relief materials, including mats, foods, and mattresses, but it is hardly enough. Painting a picture of the situation, a camp assistant in New Bethel Camp, Hyacinth Madukasi, said what the people pass through every night is better imagined than seen.
“We are like the Israelites in the wilderness on their journey to the promised land. The night scene evokes tears as everybody competes for space within the compound. People walk with measured steps to avoid stepping on another person lying in front and tripping over. Shrill cries of children everywhere. Different sounds of coughing from women and children. Some of the old women among us are asthmatic and suffer from stubborn cough that gets severe in the night. In fact, the situation is terrible,” he said. Victoria Obi, Mary Enede and Josephine Uzor, three women among the pregnant ones inside the camp, said they were due for delivery next week, while they’ve not bought any material for childbirth or even sure how they would cope with the new babies inside the camp when they arrive.
At Aguleri camp, though government has through the army provided mobile toilets, water-tanks and mattresses, some of the displaced people said these were not enough and that most people sleep on the school’s field, using the grass as beds. While the displaced people in Onitsha camps receive attention from medical personnel from Iyienu Hospital Ogidi and Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, the inmates at Aguleri lack proper medical attention. An inmate in the camp, Ben Okeke, lamented that the survival of any of the women and children in moments of illness depends on divine grace. Okoli brings succour Perhaps, in answer to the prayers of the inmates for proper medical care, Managing Director of Emzor Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Mrs. Stella Okoli, has provided drugs and other relief materials worth several millions of naira to the displaced persons.
She was accompanied by Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof. Boniface Egboka, and other management team, including the new Director of Chike Okoli Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, UNIZIK, Edmund Egboh. Items donated included several cartons of drugs, mattresses, pillows, towels, cups and an undisclosed amount of money. Overwhelmed by the predicament of the people, Mrs. Okoli wept. She told Sunday Sun amidst sobs: “I just came back from overseas trip and I opened the newspapers, but I could not believe what I saw. However, what I read in the papers and what I saw here are different.
The situation is very hazardous and horrendous, and needs all hands on deck to ensure these children and families remain healthy. This is why we brought some drugs to de-worm the children against water-borne diseases. We’ve had first-hand information on the situation and this is a state of emergency that requires collective assistance.” With members of the Chike Okoli Foundation, the displaced persons were also given free screening for hypertension and blood pressure. She also presented cash gifts to all pregnant and nursing mothers in the camp and appealed to all well-meaning individuals to assist in assuaging the plight of the displaced persons. Come to Anam and weep While the victims continue to re-live their experiences in the refugee camp, a visit to some of the flooded areas evokes tears.
It was weeping and tears galore when this reporter visited Anam community in Anambra West. Places hitherto known as markets, schools, major roads and bridges have been swallowed up. Houses, including two-storey buildings can only be recognized by their roofs. Schools were covered by the flood, while farmlands have been erazed. Some people of the community rescued through motorized boats now live on the main road along Otuocha, headquarters of Anambra East LGA. Boys resort to canoe business At Umueze Anam and Atani, youths in the area have resorted to building and paddling canoes to keep body and soul together. At Anam, a canoe builder, Nwakor Chiagozie, told Sunday Sun that he joined the business because of increase on demand for the product. “They say that necessity is the mother of invention. These days, we have more demand for canoe because this is a flood-ravaged area.
You can see that even the house of our traditional ruler has been submerged. The other day, Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, came home and used our canoe to get to her compound. Now, we sell between N30,000 and N70,000, and many people buy them because they have no option,” he said. The paddlers also make brisk business as fare for crossing the floating “rivers” ranges between N100 and N300 per person. ‘Epidemic, famine looms’ A Professor of Environmental Hydrogeology and Vice Chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Boniface Egboka, described the flood disaster ravaging parts of the country as a consequence of not listening to predicted expert advice.
“This was accurately predicted by experts. People were warned against building on wet lands and river channels, but this is the outcome of such negligence in taking proactive measures. It is good that Mr. President has devised an intervention plan as he announced in a nationwide broadcast. This problem will remain with us for sometime as the water will remain stagnant for sometime. Buildings under water may be submerged, while there will be hunger and famine, because many farm products have been destroyed. Public health will also be endangered because the water has been polluted, while it is clear that water-borne diseases normally kill children.
Let the government involve researchers and proffer a lasting solution on how to handle the post-flood experience so as to reduce the adverse effects to the barest minimum. International organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) should also come in to assist,” he said.