Photo: Nwakpa O. Nwakpa/Nigerian Red Cross

Chidera looks down at her newborn baby, delievered in a displacement camp in Delta, Nigeria. With more than 176,000 people displaced by the recent floods in Nigeria, at least 10,500 are pregnant and lactating mothers and require much-needed support.

Story by Nwakpa O. Nwakpa and Mofe Amoma Terah

Childbirth should be a beautiful moment of celebration – bringing joy to parents, family and friends who finally get to meet the newest addition to the world for the first time. But giving birth during a disaster presents a different picture.

With more than 1.9 million people affected by the recent floods in Nigeria, there are at least 114,000 pregnant and lactating mothers that require much-needed support. These pregnant women are at a much higher risk of adverse birth outcomes, including low birthweight and preterm births after the floods. A woman from Anambra State was one of the hundreds of casualties during the flood. After delivering twins, she died shortly after due to complications.

The Ministry of Health has been providing health care in many of the displacement camps with particular support to pregnant and lactating mothers where they can, but the health needs remain immense. After Nigeria’s two major rivers – Niger River and Benue River – overflowed, it not only devastated communities near its banks, but also health centres that are now submerged in water. This has disrupted many health services in the affected communities.

For Chidera Matthew, delivering her baby came with mixed emotions. After fleeing her home after floods devastated her community in Delta State, she found safety and shelter in a local school, now transformed into a displacement camp. Without adequate access to health care, she had no other choice when she went into labor – she had to deliver in the camp. Nigerian Red Cross volunteers provided basic first aid and assisted as much as they could with their limited training to help Chidera deliver a healthy baby boy.

Photo: Nwakpa O. Nwakpa/Nigerian Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer, Ifediora Egeonu, welcomed his first baby in a displacement camp. The new father has been assisting fellow internally displaced people in the camp, despite his own loss.

After giving birth, Chidera remained quiet and in shock, caught between emotions of joy and sadness.

“The living condition in this camp is not conducive for an adult let alone my baby whom I am scared might catch an infection,” Chidera explained. “We have lost everything to the flood. Things are going to be more difficult now because I have to fend for my two children as well as my newborn baby.”

Also caught in this web of mixed emotions is Red Cross volunteer, Ifediora Egeonu, who welcomed his first baby in a displacement camp. The new father has been assisting fellow internally displaced people in the camp, despite his own loss.

‘’We lost everything – our farm, business and our house is flooded and partly collapsed, I have nowhere to go to, even when the flood recedes,” Ifediora says.

‘’We could not afford the hospital now so chose to give birth in the camp. I guess God helped me for helping others as a volunteer.”

Photo: Corrie Butler/IFRC

“We called her Light because of how she has made us feel,” says Joy with a smile. John adds: “We have gone through a lot of challenges – she is what gives us light.”

Mother Joy and her husband, John, look down at their newborn baby girl, delivered only three short days ago. They sit in a dark, humid and cramped building, set up as a displacement camp in Anambra State, sharing this space with up to 20 other people. The eroded and broken walls allow a stream of light onto the thin mattress they have on the cement floor.

“I could not bring anything,” remembers Joy of fleeing her home, pregnant with her four children. “I was worried – I did not know what would happen when I delivered my baby. There were no complications”

“I want her to become a nurse,” Joy explains. John jumps with surprise – “We’ll see when she begins to grow but I want her to become a lawyer!”

Photo: Nwakpa O. Nwakpa/Nigerian Red Cross

Adaugo Monye, is a Nigerian Red Cross volunteer in one of the camps in Delta and a teacher by profession. First aid training, by no means prepares volunteers to assist in delivering a baby, but due to the lack of available health care professionals who could help, she had no other choice but to step in to assist with the basic skills she had.

“The condition of the camp is not very conducive for the babies and their mothers,” Adaugo says. “They lack basic mother and child care such as diapers and dignity kits to mention a few.”

Pregnant women, lactating mothers and children are among the most vulnerable people in the worst flood-affected states. In Delta and Anambra states alone, there has been more than 15 baby deliveries from women coming from displacement camps.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Nigerian Red Cross have launched an appeal, seeking 5,425,000 Swiss francs to support 300,000 of the most vulnerable people affected by flooding. The response will support some of the immediate health care needs of mothers, including dignity kits to ensure safer deliveries.