Floodwaters recede but millions remain displaced

Efforts to repair infrastructure and restore livelihoods destroyed by Nigeria’s recent flooding - the worst in five decades - require urgent funding and will take six months or longer, say aid agencies.

Flooding between July and October affected seven million people, displaced 2.1 million and killed 363, according to the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA).

“Never before has there been a disaster of this scale or magnitude,” said Oxfam’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Dierdre McArdle. “Finding partners who have the capacity to deal with it is challenging.”

President Goodluck Jonathan is channelling US$110 million to the 33 affected states. He also set up a committee on flood relief and rehabilitation and is holding a fundraising event today. But he was late to declare a state of emergency, which many observers and some aid agencies say slowed down the response and hampered coordination.

“Assessments were delayed. The scale of it is enormous… We had a lack of data, so no one has known how many were affected until now… There is a lack of technical knowledge on emergency response here,” said McArdle.

Plan insufficient

Olusoji Adebowale Adeniyi, of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN the scale of the disaster caught everyone off-guard. “It is because it is so vast that it could not be addressed quickly,” he said, adding that the government has a disaster preparedness plan in place, but that it addresses the needs of 500,000 people rather than 2.1 million.

Coordination is now improving. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has sent a small emergency response team to support NEMA’s coordination of information on the flood’s impact, and a humanitarian country team is working with the government’s flood committee.

“We now have a plan to work to,” said Adeniyi. “We know what we need to do.” He welcomed the funding from the government but noted that its disbursal has been delayed by bureaucracy.

Food needs

A joint NEMA, UN and Oxfam emergency conducted across 14 states called for $38 million to address education, health, water, sanitation, food security and protection needs.

Sixty-three percent of those displaced in the 14 states were staying with family and friends; the rest were camping out in temporary sites or public buildings such as schools. Over half the schools in these states are unusable because of damage.

Responding agencies are particularly worried about food insecurity, which is estimated to be “severe or very severe” in 82 percent of the communities visited, said OCHA. People in most camps are receiving food rations, but these are irregular and do not meet international norms.

Food prices in many flood-hit zones have risen by 30 to 70 percent, said survivors in Warri, a town in Delta State. A trader in Warri, Angela Ikede, told IRIN a bag of rice now sells for $70, up from $57, and a bag of ‘gari’, or tapioca flour, now costs $44, up from $25.

In the Delta State community of Iyede Ame, residents of Oleh Camp complained that relief food is being intercepted by staff working in the makeshift kitchen.

Poor shelter conditions

Some 2,000 displaced people in Warri are sheltering in a primary school said, Chaplain Funge Owe. “The sleeping conditions in this camp are pathetic - most people sleep outside, which is infested with mosquitoes,” he told IRIN. Residents share just 20 toilets, he added.

Residents are demanding more police protection, and the assessment team has noted that camp layouts do not account for protection concerns. Thus far, there have been unconfirmed reports of 19 rapes in camps in Benue State, noted Oxfam.

Almost all of the flooded communities in the 14 states lack clean water; residents rely on streams or open wells. With a cholera outbreak still persistent in West Africa, Oxfam’s McArdle says clean water and sanitation is a priority to avoid an outbreak.

Future uncertain

The extent of the damage to this year’s harvest is not yet known, but NGO Friends of the Earth in Bayelsa State called the impact “catastrophic to crops”.

NEMA’s southern coordinator, Emenike Umesi , says a post-disaster assessment on agriculture will be conducted with partners as the floodwaters recede.

President of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, John Onuora, worries the flood may cause a “massive U-turn” in the country’s strategy to boost agricultural production and to lower reliance on imported rice through tariffs.

Several agencies are delivering aid: UNICEF for instance has distributed hygiene kits to 250,000 people; Médecins sans Frontières is operating mobile health clinics; and the Nigerian Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is helping 10,000 households in Adamawa, Taraba, Kogi, Bauchi, Katsina, Cross River, Jigawa, Benue and Edo states, mainly with shelter, hygiene materials and non-food items.