Nigerians load dozens of boats full of food along a highway engulfed by dark waters to bring aid to victims of the country’s worst floods in a decade.
Bolaji Phillips stands by the water’s edge, past the many half-submerged trucks, next to his vehicle, which is loaded with cassava flour, rice, and noodles.
“My wife and I talked about it and decided to take our savings, the little we have, and do something for the people,” the 40-year-old explained.
According to official figures, the worst floods since 2012 killed over 600 people and affected nearly three million others in southern Nigeria.
Many people have fled their homes, some to overcrowded displacement camps. Others, cut off from the outside world, remain in communities swallowed by the waters.
Efforts are now focusing on completing the damaged and partially impassable highway that connects Rivers and Bayelsa states, two of the most devastated areas.
Volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are doing critical work near Ahoada until official aid reaches the most vulnerable.
“The devastation is massive. So far, the government has done little. We are completely alone, “Winner Written, a 32-year-old entrepreneur among those assisting, said
“We’re just people trying to help each other.”
- “Trouble” –
Over the weekend, volunteers loaded valuable fuel into yellow jerrycans and loaded them onto boats bound for flooded villages.
Rivers State authorities have set aside one billion naira ($2.3 million) to assist victims, particularly those in and around Ahouda, which has been particularly hard hit.
The United States announced a $1 million humanitarian aid donation.
After President Muhammadu Buhari approved the aid, rescue officials said they had begun delivering 12,000 tonnes of food across the country.
On the ground, however, few have seen the fruits of these efforts thus far.
Food supply is nearly impossible due to strong currents or waters strewn with obstacles or choked with vegetation, and aid coordination is hampered by a lack of mobile coverage in remote areas.
Jeremy Ogboka, 35, in a black tank top, lends a hand on a section of the half-flooded highway.
“One of the speedboats capsized right here. Fortunately, we were able to save all of them “He stated.
“We assist as much as we can, but we are not compensated. So many people are in pain. The road has been closed for two weeks.”
The Nigerian navy in the area has provided security and transportation for humanitarian aid using two speedboats.
This weekend, a rescue mission headed to remote areas, ferrying members of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and sailors to bring aid and evacuate those who could.
- “Humanitarian disaster” –
The motorboats sink into the dense vegetation, struggling against the currents, and are guided by young people who know the way to the devastated communities.
The ruins of a village appeared after a half-hour of laborious progress. There is no sign of life.
The second lieutenant in command, seated at the bow of the ship, kept his hand on his assault rifle.
“This is a dangerous area. We arrested many kidnappers and criminals two months ago and obtained many rifles “He stated.
Almost everything is submerged all around. The only signs of life now submerged are the roofs and a school panel protruding from the water.
Boat engines bog in the leaves as the current pulls at the vessel, making it impossible to advance to a flooded village where some victims in need of medical attention managed to contact NEMA.
The rescue mission is eventually called off.
In addition to exacerbating food insecurity (farmland and crops were destroyed), the deadly floods have resulted in a cholera outbreak, according to the NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Nigeria was ravaged by particularly deadly floods in 2012, but residents said this year’s disaster was becoming much worse.
“Nothing was done after the floods to mitigate the impact,” said Opuwill Ayitu, a 40-year-old volunteer. “A humanitarian crisis is on the horizon.”