Otuocha in Anambra East Local Government is known for the abundance of fresh fish. It is also a riverine area, and the people are very much used to water. It is often said that an Otuocha woman could be preparing food in her kitchen and when it’s time to spice the food with fish, she simply goes to her backyard, casts a fishing net in the water and stays a while before dragging out the net with abundance of fishes.
The claim above is yet to be verified, but surely illustrates how abundant fishes are in the area. Once too, during a visit to the area, this reporter and his colleagues were treated to meals of fresh fish pepper soup. This time around, as we drove close to Otuocha, this reporter salivated, knowing that after monitoring the flood ravaged areas, there will be a meal of fresh fish to savour.
But it was a surprise to drive into a huge body of water that spanned through the entire length of the Otuocha market, showing that the entire market was under water, including the stall in the motor park, where a fair complexioned woman known to everyone as Mama Ada, served a delicious meal spiced with fresh fish to us; hope was dashed.
Mama Ada and her fellow Otuocha market colleagues are not the only ones suffering the flood. No fewer than 20,000 people have been sacked from their homes by flood in three communities of Otuocha, in Anambra East LGA, Umueze Anam and Mmiata Anam of Anambra West Local Government Area. Markets, homes, farmlands and properties have not been spared too.
Mr Chukwuemeka Okoye, a trader in Otuocha market who recounted his luck with the flood said, said, “I am among the lucky people here. I sell phone parts and other accessories, but I am among those whose properties the flood did not destroy. The flood submerged the shop before my own and destroyed my neighbour’s wares. When we came in the morning, water had started seeping into my shop, but I quickly evacuated everything. You can see that even now that the flood has receeded, the entire market and even the motor park is still not visible. That is what we have suffered.”
Mr Anthony Okeke is not so lucky. He is a supplier of bread. He said, “I came very early to the market to find that my shop has been submerged. You know, bread is not something you can retrieve once water touches it. These ones I am selling now are breads supplied to me on credit. We are calling on government to come to our aid, help us with loans, so we can start afresh. You see we now trade on the main road.”
If Otuocha was hit, then it was even worse for Umueze Anam and Mmiata Anam. Both communities, which are neighbours to each other have been divided by water. For Umueze Anam, the entire community is currently under water, with no exception at all. Indigenes now sleep on the rooftop of their highrise buildings, with their canoes handy for emergency movement, while the bulk of the community now sleep on the newly constructed Umueze Anam bridge, which also serves as both residence and markets for the sale of their food crop.
A victim, Mr John Okoye who is a canoe operator said, “I have sent my family away, but for me, I sleep on the bridge here, same for other members of the community. Once it is late, we start making arrangements about the space we will sleep on the bridge.”
Speaking about little children who were seen playing around in the flood water and on canoes, Okoye said people in the area are literarily born inside the water, so they fear nothing about water.
“They have nowhere to go to, so they just stay here and play. We don’t fear water here because we are almost born inside the water. As for those children, what do you want them to do when their school is already under the water. Just look over there (he beckons on this reporter), that is their school. It is under the water, so they can’t go to school. Their parents live here and have nowhere else they call home, so they too have to stay here and play,” he said.
Asked why the indigenes of the community did not move into internally displaced people’s camps created by government, he denied any prior information about the flood, or any knowledge of a centre created for displaced people. “I don’t know of it. We were not told. We are calling on the government to come to our aid and help us with food”.
Attempt to speak with the Chairman of the Anambra East LGA, Barr Obi Nweke, was not possible as he was said not to have arrived his office at the time of the visit. When reached on his mobile phone, he also rejected interview, stating he was busy and could not grant a phone interview immediately.
However, an official of the council area who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was not true that the indigenes were not alerted. “The chairman kept shouting it to them for months now. NIMET (Nigeria Meteorological Agency) had since early this year predicted that there will be flood this year, and that Anambra will be among the states. We have been shouting it and also created IDP camps, so how can they say they did not hear. The truth is that these people are used to water, so even as you are feeling for them, they see it as nothing, except that they have lost their properties.”
Meanwhile, THISDAY gathered that Anambra State government has 17 camps scattered across the state, where people displaced by the flood have taken refuge. Arrangement it was gathered has been put in place to provide learning opportunities for children in ‘Holding Centres’ in communities where flooding has posed a challenge to children expected to be in schools. The commissioner for Basic Education, Prof Kate Omenugha said they will find a way to teach school children in flood-challenged areas of the state.
Also, the state government has commenced distribution of medical items to flood-affected communities in the state. Commissioner for Health, Dr Vincent Okpala who spoke after visiting Mmiata added that the state has 17 IDP camps, and all will receive supplies, but beyond all these, many have asked what the permanent solution to the problem is.
Recall that since 2012 when a major flood hit communities in seven local government in the state, there have been yearly flood, which have always displaced the people.
Providing solution to the problem, Prosper Amah of the Anglican Diocese of Ogbaru, said dredging of the River Niger will save the coastal communities in Anambra from incessant flood. He regretted that most communities in Ogbaru have been submerged by flood, an incident he said is controllable. “If the federal government had heeded calls by different groups and individuals to properly dredge the River Niger, this disaster could have been averted,” he claimed.
The Bishop said that church services in Ogbaru Diocese had been affected due to flood which, he said, also submerged the Bishop’s Court and Saint James the Great Cathedral at Atani, lamenting that, “flood has taken over the headquarters of the diocese and many other churches, disrupting church activities, including soul-winning services and human development in the area. Federal government must dredge the River Niger because it is the only solution to the perennial flooding we are experiencing.”