Nigerian flood victims decry government’s response to disaster | Climate Crisis News

Lagos, Nigeria – Peremoboere Geku was preparing her grandson for school in late September when she noticed floodwaters around their bungalow in southern Nigeria.

She and her grandson waded through the water in Epie, a community in the state of Bayelsa, to get him to school, but when she returned, she noticed it had increased rapidly. Within a few days, the water was on her head. Geku is 1m65 (5 feet 5 inches) tall.

The 21-year-old caterer and the rest of her family of eight fled to a camp for displaced people in the town of Okukukutu.

The camp was once a school. About 55 families, or more than 200 people, currently live in its 20 crowded classrooms without electricity. They share two toilets and cook in the classroom where they sleep.

But food is scarce. Prices have skyrocketed in recent months, and such costs are hard to meet for those who have lost most of their belongings in the flood. According to camp insiders, the authorities were not doing enough for the victims.

“The last time they were here, they only gave us two bags of rice, one and a half bags of garri [cassava flour]half a gallon of oil and half a gallon of palm oil for all the families,” Geku told Al Jazeera in a classroom filled with families, the sound of pots and pans, and chatter.

“We have only seen relief documents from the government once,” she said. “… Mostly we have [received aid] from individuals. “

‘Clap with one hand’

Since late September, the worst flooding to hit Nigeria since 2012 has devastated hundreds of communities in Africa’s largest economy. They have attacked 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states. More than 600 people have was killed and 1.3 million people displaced. Thousands of houses and farmland were swept away.

Many survivors are living in squalid conditions in camps with little or no government help, according to victims and experts interviewed by Al Jazeera.

“Disaster management in Nigeria is synonymous with clapping with one hand; Can’t clap with one hand, but that’s the state of things in Nigeria,” Olasunkanmi Okunola, disaster risk expert and visiting scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a situation where we’ve always focused on a reactive approach, and this approach is limited to the distribution of so-called relief materials,” he said.

Okunola said the government needs to start thinking more about structural problem for flood mitigation.

“The government must invest heavily in critical infrastructure – roads, drainage, dikes and flood barriers,” he said.

According to Manzo Ezekiel, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, several weeks after the floods, some communities are still not receiving relief because they are still inaccessible.

“Baylesa is largely inaccessible because of floodwaters,” he said. “Actually, this is the situation in Bayelsa [bad] that I don’t think the state has seen that level of devastation in the past. “

‘People are just dying’.

When Akpos Best, a 26-year-old software tester, returned home from a trip to Lagos in the town of Agudama, southern Nigeria, she discovered that all her tenants had left their homes because flood. Everything in her room was drenched, but she managed to move some furniture across the floodwaters and left for her mother’s house in another town.

But the flood also got there and destroyed their property and the grocery store she managed.

Best told Al Jazeera: “In the blink of an eye, the whole house was flooded. “I don’t even know where the water comes from. We haven’t been able to save much of our wealth.”

The next day, they moved to an unfinished building on dry land, where they used tarpaulin to ward off mosquitoes and the cold, but discomfort forced them to move into a hotel, where they were staying. For many weeks.

She said that despite the adversity she faced, she has been giving money to other flood victims.

“Some people only get two cups of rice, two cups of beans, and two packets of noodles from [government],” she said. “…It was just individuals of good will who assisted the victims.

“The flood isn’t even really a problem; The problem is with the leaders. It’s not that they didn’t know the flood was coming, but they didn’t do anything.”

Ezekiel said the government had issued flood warnings before the disaster and advised people to move to safer ground.

“We want them to move out of these places before the rainy season peaks,” he said. “We didn’t expect the devastation to be this big, but we knew there would be problems if a lot of people refused to move.”

Ezekiel said the government bases its disaster planning on forecasts, but experts say the government has emphasized individual responsibility and displacement. They said warnings were not reaching many people in hard-hit communities and few shelters to move to.

“There are always early warnings, but the question is how many people have access to that information and whether those people have the capacity to actually leave the place?” Okunola told Al Jazeera.

The floods are expected to recede only by the end of November. Meanwhile, the Nigerian economy is struggling. Inflation hit a 17-year high of 20.5 percent in August. This further strains people’s ability to spend and relocate.

Ministry of Water Resources told local media that the government will not declare a state of emergency, saying the country is “not overcrowded yet”.

However, displaced people like Best and Geku disagree.

“The situation is very dire,” Best said. “We have lost many people. The body of a young man was found early this morning, floating on the water. He must have died overnight. People are dying slowly.”

Geku said life in the camp was like hell, but returning home won’t happen anytime soon with more rain than expected at the end of the year-end rainy season.

“My mental health has been hit hard,” Geku said.

Extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common in Nigeria with severe droughts, more desertification and catastrophic flooding already recorded over the past year. Attention is increasingly turning to the government’s ability to respond to climate change.

“After this flood, what will happen?” Okunola asked. “We will return to the status quo. No one remembers the flood until [it happens again]and we’ll remember that there’s a problem we need to solve.

“We don’t learn from the past. It seems we don’t even understand what disaster management is.”

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