Bayelsa flood: Matters arising

Amid trauma the people of Bayelsa state faced recently as a result of devastating flood, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, said the state was not among the listed 10 worst-affected states in the country for emergency reliefs which had positioned Jigawa state as the number one. The comment generated uproar with a series of calls, demanding her resignation over believed insensibility.

The call rests on Chapter 2 (Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy) in the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria, which among others, places a burden on the government to salvage, protect citizens in dire needs. Section 14 CFRN provides – “It is hereby, accordingly, declared that: (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Arguably, the minister’s response contradicted the above provision.

Bayelsa is a state in the oil-rich Niger-Delta and dominated by the petroleum industry. From record, the state is the site of Oloibiri Oilfield, where oil was first discovered in Nigeria, and as of 2015 was estimated to produce 30-40% of the country’s oil. The state faces a humanitarian crisis with over one million persons comprising many communities internally displaced including Sagbama, Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Yenagoa, Nembe and Kolokuma Opokuma local government areas that faced the worst hit with businesses shut, properties lost and farmlands destroyed. Critical infrastructure like hospitals, roads, bridges and schools, including the state-owned Niger Delta University in Amassoma, the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, and the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, were also severely affected.

Even without the flood, majority parts of the state are by default cut off by rivers without access to urban areas. Obviously, economic hardship, depression and misery are always the narratives with food, medical provisions and social amenities in short supply. Most of these communities don’t have access to newspapers except online for area network functions. By the devastating floods, the peoples’ woes were multiplied which led to evacuation. Schools were shut down. From bystanders’ account, the flood rose to over 4.5 metres above its normal level and caused unprecedented devastation. In other words, a sensitive government shouldn’t waste a minute to attend to emergency situations in such predicaments irrespective of the purported classifications table. Under normal situations, the government may have a priority list it works with but that should not encumber emergency interventions when necessary.

But essentially, the source of data to the government must necessarily be guaranteed to represent the situations on ground. This is necessary considering that governments always rely on such data for policy directions and plannings. For instance, access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) which is essential to good health, welfare and productivity, and also widely recognized as a human right is debatably poorly captured in the Multiple Instructor Cluster Survey (MICS) 2021 report which was released by the National Bureau of Statistics. The percentage of people in Bayelsa using improved sources of drinking water according to the report stands at 60.2%. In contradiction, the ailments commonly suffered by the residents suggest inadequate WASH (drinking water, sanitation and hygiene) such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.

According to health experts, diarrheal diseases exacerbate malnutrition and remain a leading global cause of child deaths. An interrogation shows that many do not actually have access to good drinking water particularly within the riverine communities that many fetch water from the river despite open defecation and dumping of refuse still going on inside the river. Similarly, Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers are infections caused by a bacteria known as Salmonella Tryphosa. People are infected with typhoid when ingesting food or drink that have been wrought by infected persons or after having consumed drinking water that was contaminated by faeces (excreta) or wastewater containing bacteria. Other most common and dangerous diseases caused by water pollution are; Dysentery, Diarrhea, Amoebiasis, Poliomyelitis shortened as Polio, Hepatitis, and Schistosomiasis. Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) is caused by parasitic worms that develop in water. Whenever the worms are in water, they can penetrate the skin of those washing, swimming or wading in the contaminated water. Once in the body, they can cause infections and damage to the intestines, bladder, and the liver.

The discrepancy calls for a valuation by authorities. Whilst urgent interventions are needed irrespective of categorization of critical areas, however, the state government must also necessarily give account on the resources it receives vis-à-vis the suffering of the helpless people. Recently, governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike presented his achievements with the statutory 13 percent derivation to oil producing states from the Federation Account which President Muhammadu Buhari led-federal government has paid over N9 billion due to the nine oil producing states, which he announced enabled him embark on the capital projects including the nine completed and commissioned bridges remaining the 10th under construction. Wike’s pattern reflects the principle of accountability and good governance, and the masses should necessarily see what the government uses state resources for.

Like Wike in Rivers state, Bayelsa government must galvanise actions particularly invest massively in drainage, clear off all blockages on waterways to allow free flow of water, and also intensify town planning. Furthermore, as reports reveal that flood also overwhelmed cemeteries, this is a signal for looming health disaster that requires critical medical interventions. Similarly, many have sighted snakes and other wild creatures that followed the flood. Sensibly, primary healthcare should be fortified immediately. Of course, open defecation into the waterways which serve the population cannot be overemphasized as it is an open invitation to Cholera – an intestinal tract infection caused by bacteria called vibrio cholera, and leads to acute diarrhea, dehydration, and if not timely treated, may result in death. In fact, all diseases caused by water pollution should be expected by the flood, and therefore, the authorities should proactively get to work, fight with necessary vaccinations at the IDPs camps and state at large. Bayelsa deserves urgent attention.

Umegboro, a public affairs analyst and social advocate, writes via [email protected]; 08023184542