by Abubakar Kende, Secretary General, Nigerian Red Cross Society

Recent deadly floods in Nigeria left death, destruction and displacement in their wake. Today, flood waters have receded, but another crisis looms large. Many of the 200,000 people who fled flood waters are now leaving displacement camps, but some of them are finding nothing but destroyed homes and farmlands. It is a heart-breaking journey back home.

In Delta state, for example, 40 percent of returnees’ homes have been partially or totally destroyed. Many (35 percent) have been forced to stay in makeshift shelters. Others (60 percent) are living with host families.

The worst-affected communities rely solely on agriculture as a source of food and income. With no crops expected from the flooded lands for months, thousands are facing the threat of hunger which is one of the causes of vulnerability to diseases. Many are starting over with no shelter and no means of securing the basic necessities of life.

With no home to go to for many, without enough food—and with drinking-water sources having been compromised by flooding—we have a perfect storm for risks of crisis levels of hunger and disease.

Already, thousands are facing the threat of disease. Cases of yellow fever, cholera, diarrhoea, malaria have already spiked in recent weeks due to stagnant water and inadequate sanitary practices and conditions.

Schools and health centres are among the facilities that have housed families displaced by flooding. This situation disrupted services in affected areas. With a critical need to have health and education services start up again, displacement camps are beginning to close.

These families are moving from one type of crisis to another. From displaced people surviving death and destruction, to returnees facing a life of destitution.

We are hearing the heart-breaking stories of many families who were forced to leave everything when flood waters came. Now with nowhere else to go, they are opening up the wounds of what has been lost, back to what is left amongst the devastation.

We met with people like Blessing Yussef, who has been living in a displacement camp in a small, overcrowded room with 15 other family members. “This was my first-time seeing water like this. Some of us, if we go back now, we are afraid as we don’t know how strong the buildings are,” He told us. “We just lost everything we have. We are starting our life from square one.”

The world is ignoring a major humanitarian crisis. Nearly two million people have been affected by this flooding disaster and tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. This is a major emergency. But it has received very little international attention.

If the world continues to ignore the humanitarian needs created by this flood disaster, the consequences are likely to be far-reaching.

Unless concerted action is taken today – the story of loss and death will repeat itself year to year. Research[1] shows that the impacts of climate change combined with rapid population growth in Nigeria’s fast-growing cities will increase the risk of disasters. We know that Nigeria will continue to face devastating floods like this at an ever-increasing rate.

Evidence has shown that adequate investment in disaster risk reduction is not only significantly more cost-effective but also has a profound impact in saving lives and livelihoods when disaster strikes. This includes investing in flood-resistant housing and infrastructure; improving early warning systems and how we communicate them through trusted sources; as well as scaling up interventions that tackle vulnerability and its underlying causes.

We have seen in our own experience that when we invest, we see massive returns long term. In our response to devastating floods in 2012, part of our efforts included training communities how to build flood-resistant homes in high-risk areas. After this latest flood disaster, we have seen that these homes are not only still standing but are inspiring others to build similar structures.

As a collective – donors, government, partners and humanitarian actors – we cannot forget about the early and long-term recovery needs of communities. Investments in anticipating and reducing risks of future floods are crucial in seeing communities truly prosper.


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[1] 2018, Verisk Maplecroft