The year 2020 will remain particularly indelible for Usman Isa and this is hardly due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the year he was rendered homeless, losing his home to coastal floods.
“Each time I remember it, I am heartbroken all over again,” he says with a soft sober voice. The pain can be felt in every single word.
The impact of flooding has continued to wreak havoc in Ogbogoro community, Bayelsa State, Southern Nigeria, leaving many residents desolate.
Recounting the devastating experience of the floods in the community, Igodo Sobikeme, said: “Several of our houses, lands, uplands and buildings worth millions of naira have been taken away by this flooding and erosion,” he said.
The 2012 Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Capacity Assessment Report, revealed that an estimated 25 million people or 28 percent of Nigeria’s population live in coastal areas and are at risk of flooding.
Many residents in Ogbogoro have been forced to take temporary shelter at yet-to-be-affected structures, while others have relocated to other communities, in search of a better life.
“The river has swallowed up many houses, which has made many of our people homeless. Some are now squatting with families. Other people have moved to other places,” Sobikeme said.
Internal displacement presents a significant economic burden for individuals, communities and economies. In 2020, the global cost of one year of displacement was nearly nearly $20.5 billion.
Nigeria hosts two of West Africa’s great rivers – Niger and Benue, which flow on into the Atlantic Ocean. Flooding occurs as the banks of these rivers overflow during the rainy season. Communities in the Niger Delta get flooded due to the large discharge of the Niger River during and after the rainy season. As rainfall progresses, the discharge increases and gradually flooding starts in the most southern parts.
Like many other coastal areas in the Niger Delta, Ogbogoro has faced perennial flooding with varying degrees of severity.
In 2020, many buildings in the community were submerged by a landslide caused by the rampaging floods. A lodge for members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the only primary school in the community were affected, leading to the loss of the teachers’ office, classrooms and the football field.
The impact of this has denied children in the community access to education, as they no longer have any school to attend. An alternative, St. Paul’s Primary School in Famgbe, a neighbouring community, had previously been washed away into the river.
This year, the flooding has rendered at least five families in the community homeless after it washed their houses into the Ikoli river.
Unenadu Igwele, one of the community chiefs, revealed that the flooding situation in Ogbogoro was made worse by a gully erosion that has plagued coastal communities in the area for over 20 years.
“The erosion has been our problem for over two decades. It came gradually, starting from the Famgbe community. Now, it has eaten deep and driven that community into the swamps,” he said.
Igwele fears this may become the fate of Ogbogoro if nothing was done to address the flooding and landslide problems in the community.
“Unfortunately, in our own case, we don’t even have where to move to, as everywhere is occupied now.”
Risk Exposure To Climate Change
Most landslides in Nigeria’s south are due to the loose nature of sedimentary rocks and the impact of gully erosion and sustained flooding due to violent coastal storms and intensive rainfall from April through November.
The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology says coastal habitats are exposed to risks of flooding from both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, such as change in temperature and rainfall, coastal erosion and sea-level rise (SLR).
“For example, sea level rise means deeper waters and bigger waves reaching saltmarsh, dunes, shingle and maritime cliffs, eroding the seaward edge. This causes the loss of these coastal habitats and the range of benefits they provide, such as a natural defence against the sea as well as the capture and storage of carbon,” Annette Burden, the centre’s principal investigator said.
The low-lying topography of these coastal areas places them in a precarious state as sea levels rise. The Nigerian Environmental Study (NEST) reports sea-level rise and repeated ocean surges will not only worsen the problems of coastal erosion but will increase the displacement of coastal wetlands and inland intrusion of seawater, with far-reaching consequences on agriculture, ecosystems and general livelihoods.
Dredging activities in communities along the river have also been identified to be a factor aggravating the risk of erosion and flooding in these areas. A report by Nigerian Tribune revealed that four communities are currently suffering from shoreline erosion as a result of dredging activities along the Ikoli River.
Communities receive some form of royalty from companies involved in sand dredging along the river, which grants them access to continue their activities. In one incident, two of those communities, Akaba and Ogu, engaged in a violent clash over the sharing of royalty, which left many persons injured.
Farming and fishing are the primary source of livelihood of the people of Ogbogoro, but the impact of flooding in the community has altered their fortunes. Flash floods, which wash off structure and reduce soil fertility, are common in southern Nigeria particularly during the rainy season.
A report said about 79 percent of Nigerian farmers were estimated to have been affected by the ravaging effects of drought and flooding in 2020.
Pulu Yogoi, a resident, said farming activities in Ogbogoro had taken a downturn as most of their farmlands had been overrun by erosion and floods.
“Our farmlands with crops worth millions of naira have not been spared as the economic livelihood of the people have also been lost to the menace,” he said.
Even when they harvest, transporting farm produce to the markets has become a herculean task owing to the destruction of access roads in the community, Theophilus Igodo, traditional ruler of Ogbogoro reveals. “Our roads are also affected. In time to come, one or two years from now, the roads to Ogbogoro may be no more,” he said.
The flood and erosion situation has also led to the destruction of fishing grounds and enclosures in the community, reducing the output of fishermen in the area.
No Government Intervention
Residents say the government has failed to intervene, leaving the fate of the community in the balance.
Igodo said the community had made several efforts in the past to draw the attention of the government to their plight, but received no tangible response.
“We have written to many people, the state government, even to the Federal Government to come to our aid over this erosion issue but nothing has been done,” he said.
The only response from the government, residents said, came with the visit of the state governor, Douye Diri to the erosion-ravaged primary school, sometime in May 2021. However, nothing had been done to improve the situation.
An environmental rights activist, Alagoa Morris, described the flooding and erosion as “challenges beyond individual and community efforts.”
Alagoa called on the Federal and Bayelsa state government, as well as interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to prioritise the case of Ogbogoro and come to the aid of the community.
As the rainy season approaches each year, the people of Ogbogoro are gripped with fear and are left at the mercy of coastal floods and erosion, while they wait on for an intervention which they do not know when it will come.
This article is the product of the author’s participation in the Young Journalists’ Training, delivered by Pioneers Post, in the context of British Council’s Stronger Together for Climate programme around the Global Youth Letter. Take a look at the letter and participate in the 8,000 Rising Campaign to unite your voice with young people across the world!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the British Council.
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