From Yenagoa , the capital, to virtually all towns and creeks of sleepy Bayelsa State, when rain gathers, the residents shiver, no thanks to years of poor environment panning and management, AKAM ANIEFOK reports.
Tears flowed freely in 2012 when flood ravaged most parts of Bayelsa State.
The flood was said to have originated from neighboring Cameroun and coursed through River Benue. It took a lap around River Niger, onto the delta creeks before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.
It was an experience that residents of Bayelsa State will not forget in a hurry.
Five years after, residents of the capital city and other communities in the other seven Local Government Areas of the state are still counting their losses following the tear-inducing experience.
To date, the mere mention of flood sends shivers down the spines of the residents.
Today, with the consistent downpour across the state, the residents are apprehensive.
The consistency of the rains, and the accompanying thunderstorms over the weeks, have left many parts of the city flooded, made much worse by poor drainage systems and weak urban planning.
Most residents sleep and wake up to see their homes flooded and property submerged in an angry all-consuming deluge.
Environmental safety agencies issued warnings before the raining season but governments, at all quarters, did not seem to respond.
The result: Many residents have been rendered homeless while business owners count their losses every day.
Bayelsa is arguably the most deltaic area of the Niger Delta states in terms of geology or geography.
There are no high grounds, which makes the state most vulnerable to climate change. It has a topography that is low-lying in all ramifications, with several natural water channels, swamps, creeks and rivers which eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
Experts in the field of Survey have observed that the gradient of the environment remains the same even for distances running into kilometres.
It is an unarguable fact that several communities in state are below the sea level and, all communities in the fresh water environment of the state experience flooding and swamps annually, especially during the rainy season.
Field investigation and report from Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria [ERA/FoEN] by Akpotu Monday Ziworitin and Alagoa Morris, observed some natural water channels within the environment of interest and got the views of some residents and locals.
Chief Ishie Wilcox, the immediate past paramount ruler of Opolo-Epie community said: “If you are heading towards Isaac Boro Road from Opolo junction, before you get to the former JTF Headquarters, there used to be a natural water channel there. That water channel used to take water away from this Opolo environment to Isidigita creek at Biogbolo and finally emptied into the Epie creek. But today if you go through that environment and try to trace the original water course, you will see that everywhere is blocked. There are buildings all around, so the water does not flow again.”
Today, when rain falls, heavy water gathers behind the former quarters of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and spreads to surrounding buildings, flooding the whole of Opolo 2 environment.
Chief Wilcox said: “That is the main area in Opolo affected by the flood. And that is because the Isidigita which used to take water away from the environment has been blocked. If you try to trace it you will see that water does not flow in it anymore; because of blockages’’.
When asked what actually led to the first blockade of the Isidigita creek, he said:
‘’The Opolo-Elebele Road caused the first blockade when the government constructed it. The water channel came from the other side of Opolo, from Senator Emmanuel Paulker’s environment.
“But, when they constructed this road across here, they failed to consider the fact that a culvert ought to be provided to take care of the natural water course which led to the separation of the water channel, leading to flooding on both ways.”
Drainages provided in the streets within the environment also flow toward the natural water channel. “Because the natural water path could no longer carry water away to the bigger channel at Biogbolo and empty into the Epie Creek,” according to Wilcox, “water remains stagnant here. Hence, any additional volume from rain leads to flooding of the environment. “
Before the construction of Isaac Boro Road, there used to be another creek that connected Opolo and Abeneghe creek at Okutukutu which also emptied into the Epie creek.
At Azikoro community, Blessing Francis stated that the type of flooding that now ravages the state was unknown few years ago.
He said: “Before the state was created, our houses were never flooded. Due to the increase in population and demand for land, even certain areas that people ought not to acquire and build houses on, they began to sell/ buy and build, even on natural water channels.”
The major canal in the community is called Obene. It links Azikoro with Okutukutu, Elebele and Agbura River. Today, it is covered with grass now.
Francis said: “This canal used to be free in those days and it was a communication route by canoe. Related to that is the unprecedented production of household waste; with no place to properly dispose of them. “
Dumping of refuse in the natural water paths has also contributed greatly to the problem, Morning Mail observed.
Francis said: “I am a fisherman and farmer. There are times when rowing on this canal, I come across heavy heaps of dead grasses that prevent thoroughfare. One has to battle the obstacle until one is able to get a narrow way to pass with canoe.”
He continued: “While fresh grasses are growing on the surface, the dead ones are under. Under such conditions; how can water flow freely? Even when the government awards contract to clear the water courses; the contractors won’t do a thorough job. Some abandon the jobs half way.”
Today, many residents are not sure whether the creation of Yenagoa as Bayelsa State is a blessing or a curse.
He said: “Before the creation of the state, we only had big trees on both sides of the canal as we made use of it and it was far deeper than now. In those days, we used more of the creeks than roads; we were paddling from Azikoro to Swali and Ovom for market purposes. That was how we were accessing parts of Ekeki and Okaka communities [using bicycle to get to areas where the canoe could not take us to]; before the state was created. “
He pleads with the government and the entire people of Epie/Atissa for a joint action to check the fearsome flow.
Francis pleads: “Let us put heads together and find a solution to this issue of perennial flooding. Identification of the natural water channels and freeing them of things causing blockage will help us a lot in this quest’’.
Comparing the past with the present, another resident of Yenagoa, Godson Jim-Dorgu told Morning Mail: ‘’I did an internship in Yenagoa in 1993. I stayed with a friend then, teaching in a secondary school where the Law school is located now.
“There was only one road, almost like a track, into Yenagoa then. About 75% of the buildings were mud houses with thatched roofs. The block houses were as low as the mud houses. No elevation, no high foundations.
“Incidentally, it was during the rainy season that I got into the town. Ironically, there was no flooding then. I observed that there were natural canals and water channels criss-crossing the entire town. All of these canals connected to bigger rivers and creeks. As soon as the rain was over, you would not find water except in lakes, ponds and hollows excavated by men. That was how nature controlled flooding in Yenagoa before it became the capital of Bayelsa State.”
He queried: “What went wrong?” and answered: “No urban and town planning. All the canals and channels have been blocked either by Government or individuals. No drainage system. The existing canals are blocked with waste deposits due to the poor environmental management.
“People now live with reptiles in their houses due to flooding. The constructed roads are often poorly done. They wear away due to flood, septic tanks overflow into creeks and people who swim through such floods risk water borne diseases, mosquito breeding/malaria infestation and deaths all around, coupled with the abject poverty people face.”
He spoke further: “Most farms are flooded before harvest time and farmers had to harvest premature crops, etc. The flood is connected to the environment and the environment is our life. We will continue to suffer from it if immediate action is not taken to address it now.”
In her contribution, Blessing Patrick said: “There is need for Town Planners to prioritise the need for an effective drainage system in Yenagoa and environs. If bigger and well-maintained drainages are provided, we won’t experience anything like flood. I want to commend the government for what it has done, but a lot more still needs to be done. If we have an effective drainage system in place, water channels would take water away from the city to nearby bigger creeks and river.
“More channels need to be opened up. Due to the fact that Yenagoa was not properly planned, a lot of people have built on natural water channels. Some of the streets and roads in Yenagoa do not have gutter. Gutters need to be provided for every street and such should be linked to bigger drainages for better and effective flow of water in the environment. Again, the gutters and drainages need to be cleared weekly.
“Unfortunately, due to inadequate refuse receptacles in the city, some residents are forced to dump household refuse into the drainages close to them. This should be discouraged. The Government should consult widely in an inclusive way with a view to getting this flooding issue solved holistically’’.
Emma Eze, an indigene of Okaka community in the state capital, said: “There is no doubt that the perennial flooding in Yenagoa is posing real problem to residents. That is one of the reasons we have several monkey bridges [improvised wooden walkways] within Yenagoa, even within the premises of the Nigerian Union of Journalists [NUJ] at Ekeki. Many residents of Yenagoa can only access their homes through these monkey bridges, owing to the flood or waterlogged environment. The reason is because we do not have a well-planned, effective, drainage system where water from any part would flow freely; from smaller drains to big and bigger ones, which eventually send water far away into the river or creeks.
“I am aware of several natural water channels around the state capital and environs that have been blocked owing to developmental activities of government, companies and individuals.
In a brief letter to the governor, project Officer/Head, ERA Niger Delta Resource Centre, Yenagoa, Alagoa Morris, noted that there was need to ensure effective drainage system through proper identification of all major and minor natural water channels and environmental surgery.
While commending the state government for swinging into action, Morris said: “The clearing of some natural water channels has eased the situation temporarily in some areas. As we are just going into the main rainy season, there are still fears in some quarters”.