Delta community which existence is threatened by flooding
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Morgan Agidi, 84, stood at the eroded shore of Abari creek, gesturing as he spoke about the havoc flooding has wreaked on the living and the dead in his community.
“Most of our (late) fathers, their bones are now in the river. When they die, we bury them but erosion carries them away into the river,” the octogenarian said.
Abari is one of the communities on the bank of the River Niger in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State. The town is on the verge of becoming a historical reference with the yearly flood gradually washing it into the river.
According to a research paper by Adaku Echendu, the erosion is caused by the Niger Delta coastal flood, which has left no fewer than three million persons displaced.
It is estimated that the town loses about five to six houses and farmlands to the flood annually.
This leaves many in the town and other coastal areas with only the option of relocation from the area or taking temporary accommodation with the few whose structures are yet to be impacted. A study has shown the havoc that the Niger Delta coastal flood causes annually. Climate change vulnerability is a major issue of urgent policy attention among poor coastal regions.
The Nigerian Environmental Study /Action Team (NEST) reported that sea-level rise and repeated ocean surges will not only worsen the problems of coastal erosion but will increase the problem of floods, the intrusion of seawater into freshwater sources and the ecosystems. These will affect agriculture, fisheries, and general livelihoods.
A prediction in 2007 by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says rising global temperatures will contribute to an upsurge in several floods, drought, glacier melt, and sea-level rise. In developing countries, the pressure is expected to intensify especially on land and water resources, disrupt agricultural production and threaten food security.
The treasurer of Abari town, Peremobowei Dakromoh, said erosion is an age-long problem, which he grew up to understand as a norm. Normally, human beings die before houses. But in this community, houses die before human beings,” Still, in his late twenties, Mr Peremobowei said his family members had been victims of the disaster. Stretching his hands in the direction of the waterside and snapping his fingers, Mr Dakromoh said the house his late father built was swept off by erosion.
He said the government has turned a blind eye to the plight of the residents.
“Abari community is the first ward of Patani local government but ‘we no know if we be part of this Nigeria,” he lamented in pidgin English.
Difficulties with farming, business
Mr Peremobowei said the main occupations of the residents are farming and fishing, but farmers and fishermen have problems taking their products to markets outside the community because there are no motorable roads.
According to him, farmers now take their goods to the nearest market through wooden or engine boats, which he said adds between N7,000 and N10,000 to their transportation cost. “This could be half the value of the whole farm product, resulting in little or no gain,” he added. Izon-Ebi Gobagha is the secretary of the town’s association. He said moving crops from the farm to the nearest village for sale is even harder when the flood comes.
“Sometimes the floods scare many farmers because sometimes our boats sink,” she said.
The community’s youth association chairman, Ogbotobo Godday, said farming activities have drastically reduced in the community.
‘This community used to produce about 3,600 tonnes of yam every year, but there is nothing to write home about the figure anymore. It is frustrating.”
A young farmer, Ogboteh George, said the flood has dealt badly with farmers in Abari.
“It (flood) has affected us so badly; so much that youth outside the community can be seen owning houses, owning okada, owning cars but we in this community have nothing.
“Even at our farms, when we plant our crops, they get flooded within a year, killing our crops. We are so sad about this, to be very honest,” Mr Ogboteh said.
Hospitals, others affected
It is not only the economic endeavours that are suffering, other parts of peoples lives are also affected in the community.
There is no functional health centre or hospiral in the community and ill residents have to seek help from neighbouring communities.
“We are begging the government to come and help us because we are suffering. Imagine people who are sick, before we call a boat from the nearest community, the person would have died. In short, I want to believe we are not part of the local government in Delta State. They forget us in every aspect of development,” Mrs Gobagha said.
Similarly, Mr Peremobowei said, the educational sector in the town has also been affected. He said teachers often reject posting to the community, “because there are no motorable roads and most of them are afraid to travel by water.”
NDDC intervention and failed government efforts
The National President of Abari Union, Peter Pibowei, said the community had made a series of appeals since 2012 to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other government agencies for the construction of shorelines and motorable roads. He said the appeals were all ignored.
Also, a former Chairman of Patani Local Government Area, Perez Omoun, said he had written articles, letters, and recommendations to the state and federal governments on the problems of Abari. NDDC, which was set up to address infrastructure deficit and other developmental challenges of the region, has made little impact in the region.
According to the commission’s website, in 20 years, the NDDC has awarded over 9,445 projects in the Niger Delta region.