An untimely humanitarian crisis has rocked the once peaceful riverine communities of Delta and Bayelsa and some other states of the nation. The region has been quickly and unduly thrown into chaos within the last few weeks, as floods have ravaged the two states and displaced thousands of residents in the Niger Delta region. A Non-Governmental Organisation, The Dickens Sanomi Foundation gave out a comprehensive funding package worth over N100 million to flood victims in Delta and Bayelsa State, as part of its intervention programme to mitigate the effects of the devastating flood on the people writes LANRE ALFRED.
Gently, she sobbed, clasping her hands. Cecilia Salome had found her hope. After few weeks of heart-rending flood that ravaged her community, help had come her way thanks to Dickens Sanomi Foundation. Until the latter’s intervention, Cecilia and her children had abandoned all hope.
His tired gaze burned into some mythic distance. And his old eyelids blinked as if to shut out the past. But he couldn’t. Vignettes of blood and hastily carved curses stole from his lips into the chilly air. The effect was awesome –spine-chilling to be precise. Bitterness bulged from convulsive theatres of blood that brutally marred his past, into the frosty blue of the night. “I lost all I have laboured for in life in just one day, it’s really sad,” lamented an old man who lost all his properties in the flood. The peasant farmer eventually got to shed tears of joy.
The package from Dickens Sanomi includes the establishment of eight camps, with functional bore-hole and toilets; evacuation of 12,300 trapped victims from nine local government areas of the two states; and provision of relief materials, such as food, bedding, clothing, toiletries and medicals, as well as security. Additionally, the medical aspect is incredibly vital in a situation like this, as it is crucial to curb the possibility of an epidemic as a result of the sick and wounded in the camps, and also, a break down of sewage systems because of the flood.
The profound work that the organisation is doing in the region cannot be overlooked and should be the impetus for other private organisations to assist in relieving the domino effect (i.e. displacement, injury, disease) of this crisis and the strain it places on the agencies like the Delta State Emergency Management Agency. Moreover, Mrs Akangbon Ebiere Tosan who is the Camp Commandant for Ughelli North and Patani Local Government Areas in Delta State described the donation as the single largest intervention by a private organisation.
“The foundation has shown a bona fide commitment to helping people who have been affected by this catastrophe,” she said.
Chinwemma Okeke, a resident of Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa state, gave an eyewitness account of the tumultuous scenes that ensued and indefinitely forced him to flee his home. He watched as the unrelenting flood devastated his only source of income, his farmland. His face appeared despondent. His hands moved back and forth across his head, you could not help but empathise with his calamitous predicament. “I feel hopeless, everything I’ve toiled and laboured for all these years is gone, just like that. As if life wasn’t already tough enough, how am I to begin again?”
Additionally, he gave a very vivid account of life in the makeshift camp, which was set up as a relief for the displaced victims of the flood. Before the arrival of the altruistic Dickens Sanomi Foundation, the situation in the camp was, as he put it, “very bad and added to my worries.” This was mainly due to the fact that he had to sleep on the floor, so that his wife and young child could sleep on the one mattress that was provided for them. Further still, he alluded to the fact that there was a slight rodent problem in the camp and that also the sight and sounds of the wounded made him feel very “sad and lost”. One can only imagine the pain and suffering that had already encapsulated his life as a result of the devastation. Thus, it is understandable that the loss of his livelihood coupled with the conditions in in the camp did not alleviate the anxiety and trauma that he had already suffered as a result of this abysmal disaster.
When asked about what The Dickens Sanomi Foundation had done for him and his family Chinwemma’s face lit up, a glimmer of joy in his eyes that hadn’t been present until then. “I can now sleep at night, which I could not do before” he said. He emphasised the invaluable role that The Dickens Sanomi Foundation played in revamping the camp. “The room we are in did not have a door you know? So rats just used to come in and out. But then they brought us a door and even gave us a bed, so me and my family can now sleep and have some small peace. I am very grateful. God bless them”.
The foundation’s Bayelsa Team, led by Mr Micheal Onyenadjo commented on the details of the evacuation measures carried out. “In our operations, we provided four 500-seater engine boat and five 18-seater speed boats at the Arhavwrien waterside. For the first four days; these boats were used to evacuate Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from all the riverine communities. We also engaged the services of Rukevwe Transport Company in Ughelli, which conveyed people from the waterside to Ewhu, Okwagbe, Ughelli and Warri; all at no cost to the people.”
The boats have been crucial in terms of getting to areas that may not have been easily accessible to emergency services. This is because a lot of Bayelsa’s communities are almost completely surrounded by water, hence making these communities inaccessible by road. This signifies the imperative nature and instrumental role the foundation has played in saving lives.
Achukwu Okafor, a fisherman from Ughelli North, Delta State explained his moving account of how he was rescued from the roof of his mud house. The house had almost been swept away. The saving grace came in the form of one of the many speedboats provided by the foundation. “I had given up, I was on that roof for a whole day, I had said my prayers and I was waiting to die. When I saw the boat I did not even believe it was real. They saved my life”.
Ene Ilonzeh, a housewife from Ughelli South, also in Delta State, told us of how she searched tirelessly for her 4-year-old son until she found him outside their compound crying and shaking in the dirty water. The ferocity of the flood had overwhelmed the young child. When she found him, they forged through the watery mess to try and get to safety. “I carried him on my back and I had to move through the water to get to somewhere, anywhere that the water was not too high. The water was up to my waste at this point and it was getting higher”. When asked what was going through her mind at that point, she replied, “I only wanted my son to be safe, which is all I wanted.” Eventually they made it to a nearby tree till a passing engine boat that was provided by The Dickens Sanomi Foundation, spotted them and brought them to safety. “I don’t know what would have happened to us, so many of my neighbours have died, people I know, I just thank God that they were there in our time of need,” she said.
Ene also sustained a severe gash across her leg when she was wading through the water. “The water was filled with all sorts of things, sharp things from peoples houses. One of the things cut my leg, I didn’t even see what it was, but I just had to keep going. Once we were taken to the camp they treated my leg. The doctor told me that it was infected because it had been exposed for hours and that if they had not come when they did I could have easily died.” The life saving medical treatment was also provided by the foundation.
At Ewhu, the camp commandant and camping official in Ughelli South, Bishop Jonathan Arhewwrien, commended The Dickens Sanomi foundation, saying that the foundation has assisted the Ewhu camp with relief materials much more than the local, state and federal governments.
The foundation also provided relief materials such as mosquito nets, 5,000 blankets, 500 bags of beans, 50 cows, 20 generator sets, 1,000 bags of garri, 100 bags of onions as well other necessities. Ejem Nworie, a teacher from the Ovom area of Bayelsa state, told us how crucial it was to have mosquito nets at the camp as they breed in stagnant water. Therefore, flooding and heavy rains can lead to an increase in mosquitoes. “It was really bad, they were everywhere, I was being bitten left right and centre. They were having a field day with me,” he said jokingly. “But on a serious note, my major concern was that I’d get malaria and I wouldn’t be able to treat it. But once the foundation provided the nets it really reduced that chance drastically. It’s a really good thing that they’re doing for us. They’ve put the government to shame if you ask me.”
The Bayelsa team leader Mr Michael Onyeadjo said, “After five days of intensive rescue operations, the foundations is pleased to inform you that it has successfully evacuated a total of 12,300 displaced children and adults, as recorded by our team, from eight kingdoms and 42 communities, while five camps have been set up.”
Accordingly, a broken community has been given the faith and comfort they so desperately need during this difficult time. Through all the pain and suffering, the Christian maxim “Love thy Neighbour” is evidently not lost on their fellow countrymen. Their cries and anguish were heard and met with hope and security. Better still, a chance to rebuild their lives once the devastation subsides.
All in all this has been a story of hope; hope that was handed to the people of Bayelsa by The Dickens Sanomi Foundation and hope that the example shown by the foundation will inspire more privileged Nigerians to follow suit and push the government into being more hands on in the event that a disaster of this scale ever occurred again.