Over 500,000 rendered homeless -Residents appeal for assistance
Samuel Offodile completed his house in Amachalla Village near Awka, the Anambra State capital, early this year. He was excited. So were his wife and children. But, he had cause to cry in July. Reason: his new house sits near a compound being eaten up from two sides by erosion, a situation which compelled him to send his family away to his relations.
In July, the erosion destroyed 13 homes and properties worth millions of naira in the village.
Offodile expressed the fear that the encroachment may soon result in the crumbling of his own house.
The gorge, which swallowed the houses and rendered the occupants homeless, measured about 300 metres deep and 300 metres wide.
The lawmaker representing Awka South 1 Constituency in the State House of Assembly, Hon. Kenechukwu Chukwuemeka, who inspected the area, was speechless. He fought back tears while consoling wailing mothers, toddlers and youths whose homes and belongings were swept away by torrential rains. He called for calm and assured them that â€œsomething urgent is going to be done by the state government.â€
In a chat with Newsextra, Chukwuemeka said: â€œThis is a terrible situation. From what I see, more than 12 more houses, schools, churches, farmlands, and cash crops would be swept away when the next rain comes. I donâ€™t think it is still safe for these families whose houses have not fallen to continue to sleep inside them. We must resettle them as well as those who have lost their homes and belongings already.â€
After the Amachalla incident, 500 people were rendered homeless when about 50 houses caved in at Nanka in Orumba North Local Government Area.
The President-General of the community, Chief Damian Okoye told Newsextra that â€œmore than half a million people who are indigenous to this town have been displaced and it is threatening the entire existence of the town. The people now sleep with one eye open as a result of the ceaseless landslides.
â€œThe available farmlands have either been totally washed away or at the verge of being eaten up by monstrous gullies that have become a regular feature of the Nanka landscape.â€
There are over 1,000 erosion sites discovered in the state. Many lives have been lost and properties worth billions of naira have been destroyed.
Despite the palliative measures being adopted by Governor Peter Obiâ€™s administration and intervention by the Federal Government and the World Bank, ecological problems are yet to abate.
Residents in the state have continued to seek the intervention of donor agencies and non-governmental organisations to lift the state from its state of agony, pains and sufferings.
Chairman, House of Representativesâ€™ Committee on Environment, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife described the state as erosion-prone and vowed to tackle the menace with her members.
She said: â€œWe have a lot of challenges not only in Anambra State but also nation-wide concerning erosion problems and we are going to tackle them head-on.â€
Commissioner for Environment Dr. Mike Egbebike said the worse hit areas are in Nanka, Agulu, Oko, Ekwulobia, Ekwulumili, Nnewi, Ozubulu, Ihiala, Ukpor, Utuh, Azia, Orsumoghu, Uga, Achina, Umuchu and Akpo.
Others include Ihembosi, Uli, Akpu, Ajali, Ezinifite, Mkpologwu, Ufuma, Umunze, Umuomaku, Aguluezechukwu, Igboukwu, Ichi, Osumenyi, Okija, Ideani, Obosi, Onitsha, Awka, Ogboji, Onee and Amesi.
In 2009, the former Senator representing Anambra Central, Annie Okonkwo, played a key role in taking the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology on a one-day oversight visit to the state.
During the visit, the committee, headed by Senator Grace Bent, saw the grave danger communities in the state are exposed to. They called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on Anambra erosion sites.
Okonkwo founded the Ecological Disaster Foundation (EDF). The foundation, according to him, was aimed at tackling erosion and erosion-related problems; including providing relief materials for victims of erosion and other ecological disasters. But nothing tangible has so far been done about the problem.
Egbebike disclosed to Newsextra that: â€œWe have started documenting them. Moreover, we have received information on about 400 sites from the traditional rulers and we have started their valuations. We have equally set up a policy that will guide us. We are documenting these sites using what we call Geographic Information System (GIS).
â€œFurthermore, we have formed erosion vanguards in communities. These vanguards are being trained to educate the people on how to recognise and avoid erosion. We are designing the erosion sites and carrying out non-structural measures.â€
Egbebike further said that the state has also reached out to the Federal Government, World Bank and non-governmental organisations for assistance.
He said the Federal Government has spent about N3.7b out of the N11b earmarked for the Southeast region in Anambra State.
The sites so far contracted by the Federal Government, according to him, are: Nanka, Sakamori/ Nwangene in Onitsha, Alor erosion site in Idemili South and Nkisi in Onitsha.
The commissioner listed those already tackled by the Peter Obi administration as Umuchiana, Ebenebe, New Tarzan, Nnewi Ichi and Omagba.
He said each year, the state government allocates about N1.5b for ecological problems, even as he added that of about N7.5b already provided for in the budgets, more than 50 per cent had been released.
â€œWe have equally carried out palliative measures on other sites, of which Nkpor-Nnobi-Ideani Road erosion is currently undertaken by the Obi administration. The problems are huge in this state, but we have brought a lot of science into erosion problems in Anambra State by conducting social and environmental impact assessment which is a deviation from the old order,â€ he said.
The World Bank is handling about six erosion sites in the state. These sites are Amachara in Awka, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Uruokpala in Abagana, Omagba in Onitsha, Madonna in Agulu and Igboukwu/Umuona/Aguluzigbo Road.
This ecological problem is not peculiar to Anambra State alone. Other states in the Southeast geo-political zone have their fair share.
For instance, records show that Abia State has over 1,000 erosion sites, with a considerable number having matured into actual gullies, while 200 are still at their various stages of development.
Ijeoma Ukpabi, a student of the Abia State University, Uturu, told Newsextra that: â€œIt is really a problem in this state. Just between Isiukwuato and Abia State University here in Uturu, there are over seven erosion sites. The road is disjointed at some points and the dare- devils are cashing in on the problem created by the several gullies on this road to waylay other road users almost on daily basis.â€
As at the time of this report, the university was on the verge of losing the block housing the school library, the schools of humanities and social sciences to gully erosion.
â€œIt is very sad that this is happening. It does not mean that the university authorities are not doing anything. They have tried so hard to check the spread of the gully but to no avail. They have spent so much money but look at where we are today,â€ Ukpabi lamented.
Recently, the rail line between Umuahia and Aba was destroyed when gully erosion started eating up the land between Omoba and Aba main station. This has temporarily affected rail transportation in the eastern part of the country.
A source in the Ministry of Environment and Solid Minerals in Umuahia said the Federal Government is yet to release funds from the Ecological Funds Office to curtail the menace.
The source told Newsextra in confidence that: â€œAbia is in real trouble and if nothing is done urgently, it would be disastrous.
An erosion control expert, Chukwu Onyekwe, said poor road design by contractors in the area causes roads to collapse in the Southeast geo-political zone.
Speaking with Newsextra at the site of erosion control project in Amaokwe Amiyi in Isiukwuato Local Government Area, Onyekwe said many designs do not take into consideration the drainage pattern necessary for the topography and durability of the roads.