There is a major flood in Nigeria. It is catastrophic, and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and sources of livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been washed away. Hundreds of people have died. A food crisis looms along with an intensification of poverty especially among the rural farmers. The flood has collapsed buildings, destroyed roads and equipment, stopped children from going to school, heavily diminished people's access to medication and food, disrupted the lives of people, separated families, and killed hundreds of their loved ones. And some who have lost their dead cannot bury them yet. It is a nightmarish time. As a Nigerian, I cannot begin to describe the devastation the victims face now, during the floods, and what might come afterwards. The Nigerian economy is already chaotic and difficult. The flood has therefore caused a doubling of troubles for millions of Nigerians, and many of those affected might have only but little hope for survival now. It is in every sense, bad.
The "hundreds of thousands" are real people, with real losses. My Aunty, Aunty Doris, lost her farm crops for the entire season. She and her husband grow cassava, vegetables, and sugar cane on their farm. When the flood came, it washed away their land, along with the income and fulfilment that would have come from their harvest. "We lost everything, Anwuli nwa m," she told me when we spoke over the phone. "The flood came and it destroyed everything. It removed all our crops, our cassava, even our pepper and our sugar cane. Everything in our farm has gone. It affected our entire village. Next year it will be very hard to eat." Her voice was gentle, but you could tell it held great pain within it. I was not sure of what to say to her. And it is about the same thing for my grandmother. She left her village because of the flood, and has remained away, heartbroken for her inability to rescue some of the belongings she owned with her late husband, Papa Nnuku m.
In 2012 the first major flood in 40 years came, and a decade later, the interplay of similar causes brought a new flood and new losses: heavy rainfall this year; the opening of the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, along with the continued delay by the Nigerian Government in the construction of the long-agreed Dasin Hausa Dam; the failure of the Nigerian Government to assume more proactive and collaborative actions to minimise the flood or alleviate its effects beyond the mere issuance of a flood warning; the full wrath of climate change. The flood is therefore multicausal, and to an extent, the consequence of human agency and inaction. I am afraid, for the difficulties that will come for thousands of those affected in the future. Two things will matter -- the questions we must ask ourselves, and the kind of support we offer to those who have suffered from this disaster -- and these are not mutually exclusive. A decade from now, would things be different? What happens after the flood? What would survival look like for those affected? Could another major flood be avoided, and should another come, would the right structures and preparations be present by then? Have we fully understood that in the face of climate-caused emergencies, the poorer nations and the poor will be the most unfortunate and vulnerable of all? For the victims and survivors of this flood, would the opportunities for survival and starting again be the same and equal between them? For whom might the prospects be the most difficult, how might succour be given to them, and from whom shall this help come?
I work on poverty, and my research examines the experiences and meanings of lack, inequality, and poverty, and how these meanings have evolved over a hundred years within a (predominantly rural) subregion of Southern Nigeria. Hence I look at the ideas of monetary and non-monetary poverty; structures of support for the poor historically; the relationship between the environment, income and survival for the rural farmers; the evolution of structural and generational poverty as well as pathways for escaping it; the relationship between urban and rural poverty historically. It is from here that I have come to appreciate how the slightest of changes can affect the economic stability of different people in different ways. And it is from here that I have learnt that events, even as short-term as a flood, can redefine or vastly influence the trajectory and realities of people and communities in more ways than we could imagine.
About 90 million Nigerians are poor, and many among them have been submerged in the ravaging effects of the flood. Small-scale rural farmers have lost their crops and harvests, and therefore most (if not all) of their income and food in the coming year. Their survival after the flood would be tough, for these are families who have long had to live from hand to mouth even in normal conditions. Some children might remain out of school for an entire academic year and perhaps join the labour force because their families would be beleaguered by the challenges of their basic survival after the flood. In starting again, education would be the least of their worries. Many families will run into debts in the coming year, and greater pressure and dependence will come on the income of kin and friends who were not as affected by the flood. There is a likelihood of outbreaks of water-borne diseases in different communities, and not everyone will be able to afford proper treatment in this event. The water will dry up soon, but its effects will not leave with it, and we should not forget. We must pay attention to the aftermath of the flood, to proper support for the survivors, to preparing for likely food shortages, to easing the burden on farmers who have lost a season of farm work, to efficient administrative collaboration in government, and to preparing against similar crises in the future.
Support could come in different ways. On my end (and maybe because the nature of my research allows me to understand the challenges they face a little closer), I am especially sad for small-scale farmers and am exploring the possibility of giving scholarships to some of their children so that they could remain in school in the challenging year ahead. I would have hoped to also raise small grants for the farmers as capital support for them to explore non-farm income, while they take the next farming season to rebuild their capital and their lives. But my means are limited. I do hope that we each find ways of giving help to those affected, in whatever form we can. I am currently in Nigeria for field work, and the flood is devastating and heart-wrenching. Its effects will outlast the water, and it is this that we must remember.
Ifeosa Anwulika Nkem-Onyekpe