Aid is slowly reaching the Nigerian flood victims

Aid is slowly reaching the Nigerian flood victims


Along a dark-water-tangled highway, Nigerians load dozens of boats with food to bring aid to victims of the country’s worst floods in a decade.

Bolaji Phillips waits by the water, past the many half-submerged trucks, and watches beside his vehicle, which is filled with cassava flour, rice and noodles.

“My wife and I consulted and decided to use our savings, what little we have, to do something for the people,” said the 40-year-old.

Aid is slowly coming to southern Nigeria after the worst floods since 2012 killed more than 600 people and affected nearly three million others, officials said.

Many have fled their homes, including to overcrowded refugee camps. The others, totally cut off from the world, remain in communities swallowed by the waters.

Efforts are now focused on crossing the damaged and partially impassable highway connecting Rivers and Bayelsa states — one of the two most devastated regions.

Near the town of Ahoada, volunteers and NGOs are doing vital work until official aid slowly reaches those most in need.

“The damage is enormous. The government has not done much so far. We’re all alone,” said Winner Written, a 32-year-old entrepreneur among the volunteers.

“We’re just individuals trying to help each other.”

– “Suffer” –

Over the weekend, volunteers loaded precious fuel in yellow canisters onto boats heading to the flooded villages.

Rivers state authorities have allocated 1 billion naira (US$2.3 million) to help victims, particularly around Ahouda, one of the worst-hit.

The United States said it had donated $1 million in humanitarian aid.

Rescue officials said they began delivering 12,000 tons of food across the country after aid was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

But few have seen the results of these efforts on the ground.

Food delivery is nearly impossible, hampered by strong currents or water bodies strewn with obstacles or clogged with vegetation, and aid coordination is hampered by a lack of cell phone coverage in remote areas.

In a black tank top, Jeremy Ogboka, 35, lends a hand on a section of the half-flooded highway.

“Right here one of the speedboats capsized. Luckily we saved them all,” he said.

“We help where we can, but nobody pays us. So many people are suffering. The road has been closed for two weeks.”

With two speedboats, the Nigerian Navy has provided security and transportation in the region to facilitate humanitarian aid.

A rescue mission drove to the remote areas this weekend, ferrying members of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and sailors to bring aid and evacuate those who could.

– “Humanitarian Crisis” –

Guided by young people who know the way to the devastated communities, the motor boats sink into the dense vegetation and fight against the currents.

After half an hour of arduous progress, the remains of a village appeared. No sign of life.

The lieutenant in charge, seated at the front of the ship, kept his assault rifle in hand.

“This is a volatile region. Two months ago we arrested many kidnappers and criminals and acquired many guns,” he said.

Almost everything around is underwater. The roofs and blackboard of a school jut out, the only signs of a semblance of life now submerged.

Boat engines are bogged down in foliage while current tugs pull the ship, making it impossible to get into a flooded village where some victims who needed medical attention were able to call NEMA.

Finally, the rescue mission is aborted.

In addition to worsening food insecurity – farmlands and crops have been devastated – the deadly floods have caused a cholera outbreak, according to the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC).

In 2012, particularly deadly floods devastated Nigeria, but residents said this year’s disaster got much worse.

“After that, nothing was done to minimize the impact of the floods,” said Opuwill Ayitu, a 40-year-old volunteer. “A humanitarian crisis is looming.”

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