When it rained recently in Port Harcourt, some motorists on Ozuoba-NTA Road struggled to drive through the mass of water that had gathered on the road. Also, some adjoining streets along that road were flooded, while a few buildings used mainly for commercial activities took in some water. Yet, it was not a heavy rain; nor was it a continuation of rain from the previous day or days. It was a normal rainfall that lacked much force, but the mere fact that it slowed down the movement of motorists was a bad sign that when the raining season takes full shape in the coming weeks, then the residents of Port Harcourt should brace up for some tough times.
With a growing population scattered around the new extensions being developed near known towns and communities, and coupled with residents that are yet to fully appreciate the essence of waste handling, Port Harcourt has grown to become the worst nightmare of residents who dream.and hope for a livable city. The issue of soot, another serious environmental challenge confronting the state has made the Garden City an unlikely destination for people who want to enjoy fresh, natural air. Econonically, despite it’s rich cultural heritage, Rivers is yet to harness it’s tourism potentials. Although, soot, which has reduced due towhat the rising awareness and government’s proactive steps to tackle the menace, continues to threaten the health and overall well-being of residents.
The frontal government attack on the perpetrators of soot (mainly local illegal refinery operators who openly burn stolen crude oil until it transforms to kerosene, fuel or diesel the and Federal governments) has put serious pressure on the perpetrators. Unlike the fight against soot, the state government is yet to take action on environmental polluters, who range from traders, especially those selling foodstuffs along the road,. who dump the leftover of the products on the road and along drain channels. The same applies to residents who don’t see the need to bag their refuse and drop them at designated collection points. At the Rumuokoro Market, located along the Ikwerre Road, just before the newly-constructed Rumuokoro flyover, the traders there openly dump refuse on the large drainage that cuts through the side of the market, They also dump their refuse on the roadside.
The same applies to the Sanagana Market in Mile Mile. In these places and several. others where residents, mainly traders openly contribute to the circumstances that lead to the blockage of the drainage by always emptying their waste on the road, especially during rain, there is no step that the state government can take to stop floodings from taking place in the rainy season. That is why some experts want the government to prepare ahead on how to cushion the effect of flood among the victims when it indeed occur.
Last year, after it rained in Port Harcourt for about four consecutive days, some.residents who suffered the.most moved to areas they considered safer to avoid a repeat this year. But in a city considered one of the most expensive to live in the country, it is not everyone affected by last year’s flood that wants to move relocated. Among those that would have loved to move, but unable to do so is Isaiah Nkem, an auto mechanic that lives behind the Sangana Market in the Mile I area of Port Harcourt. He was in his workshop around nearby Mile 3 last year when water from the drain gushed into his room and parlour apartment.
The flood damaged a few things and forced him and his wife and three children to sleep in his brother in-laws house in the Town area of Port Harcourt. ‘I still want to move to a more secured environment, but as things stand now, I cannot afford to move now because I lack the means to do that. Right now, me and my wife only pray that this year’s flood won’t be as bad as last year’s,” he said.
Witnesses open up
An octogenerian landlord in the same area, considered selling his house and had contacted a lawyer to finalize the deal, but was stopped rom selling by his kids when they got wind of his intention. The old man bought the house, a storey building over 40 years ago, at a time flooding was never an issue. One of his sons, who grew up in the house said that flood started rearing it’s ugly head when developers started erecting structures along drainage channels, thereby obstructing the flow of waste water. The son said: “We would have allowed him to sell. But he wanted to sell and moved straight to the village. That was never an option for us the children. It simply means that he will be far from us and his grand children and equally find it difficult to get the needed support to maintain his health.” That flooding in Port Harcourt gets mentioned or reported is because it is the capital. In far-flung towns and communities in the other local government areas making up the state, flooding remains a huge challenge that the authorities shies away from.
In 2019, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA identified higher grounds in 13 local government areas that were predicted to be affected by flood. Then NEMA Zonal Coordinator, South-South Zone, Mr Ibarakumo Walson, at a disaster management meeting with stakeholders, identified Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, Ahoada West and Abua/Odual as high risk areas.. He said NEMA was well prepared for flooding in the areas, adding that this year’s flood could be worse than that of 2012. Walson stated that: “In Rivers State, 13 local government areas are in probable risk.
The three highly probable areas are ONELGA, Ahoada West and Abua/ Odual. There are indications that this year’s flood may be worst compared to that of 2012. This is the reason we want the communities to be involved in the planning. “We are fully prepared for the incident; we have started sensitisation and identification of higher grounds in communities where camps can be built for displaced persons.”
When the rain later decended heavily that year, many residents of the listed areas still suffered. Some were chased out of their homes by floods. Two years after, the state government pledged to tackle the menace after the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA). predicted impending flooding that year. Following NIMET’s warnings on the adverse weather predictions in Rivers, the state government convened a meeting with stakeholders from the communities feared to be experiencing the disaster.
The government advised local government Chairmen and respective Ministries/Departments/ Agencies (MDA) to prepare for emergency situations in flood-prone communities across the state During the peak of last year’s rain in September, the former director-general, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dakuku Peterside, advised Governor Nyesom Wike to urgently reactivate “the drainage master plan” in the state, to check flooding. He claimed in a statement that the masterplan was put in place by Rotimi Amaechi’s administration. He expressed dismay that Rivers residents were suffering as a result of the flooding, which had long ago been predicted by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), with the state featuring prominently. Former Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s administration had put in place a drainage master plan for the city of Port Harcourt. “It was already being executed before he left office in 2015 but was, however, abandoned by Wike for political reasons… “But rather, it chose to put the blame on Rivers people who are already suffering from a lack of jobs and economic empowerment.”
It’s just two months away to September, the expected time that it rains heaviest in the state. According to experts, there is every reason for residents to be prepared for ravaging flood, especially when it rains s for days non stop. For years, the handling of flooding is not planned for by the state government through long term planning. There is no working measures in place to prevent it from happening. Government mainly reacts after flood has caused serious damages theough adhoc committees. The ministry of Special Duties, which sometimes manages disaster is one of the least funded ministries in the state and cannot even fully address the plight or suffering of victims of flood.
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