It is with mixed feelings that I am putting down my thoughts on the recent flood disasters in my country. There is a measure of guilt that I delayed my outlook on this issue; and another of innocence because there were no deliberate attempts to make light of it. Essentially, ecological issues are very close to my heart and I have an inherent interest to discover, share and track facts and figures about related happenings; in particular, those that touch on the lives of women and children. It is very much a sense of responsibility for me.
Currently, there are numerous natural and man-made environmental phenomena and challenges that endanger our ecosystem: ecological diseases, earthquakes, environmental degradation, hurricanes, tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, global warming, population explosion and very importantly and amongst others, floods. These environmental issues are complex, global and interrelated. Of course, there are heightened concerns about how we can reverse, control or stop these trends especially because of their very devastating impacts on human lives.
Flooding is one occurrence that has ravaged different parts of Nigeria in recent months. More than 26 states in Nigeria were affected and life in impacted communities has been one of pain, lament and misery; as many homes, farmlands, roads and such other valuable properties were destroyed, submerged and or affected in other negative ways. While the flood saga allegedly assumed a disastrous dimension because of the release of water from Lagdo dam in neighboring Cameroon, the torrential rainfall recorded in Nigeria this year also propped it up. Unfortunately Nigeria was ill prepared as 25% of Nigerians are reported to have been displaced!
The Niger Delta region appears worst hit because it lies within the coastal zone of Nigeria, where the rainy season is year-round, with more than 4,000 mm (160 in) of rain recorded each year. As the waters advanced and wrecked havoc, people continuously moved towards safer areas, particularly makeshift refugee camps provided on higher grounds, leaving many communities deserted even as I write. Many of the affected communities were completely cut off as the floods destroyed most of the available roads and did not spare the lives and or livelihoods of the inhabitants. The aftermath of the floods still lingers and many affected persons are still counting their distressing losses.
Though the waters have begun receding, and the three levels of Government as well as many public spirited individuals and organizations have been making concerted efforts to alleviate the plights of victims, their situation still leaves much to be desired and calls for more drastic and up-to-the-minute efforts. Most of the victims have lost all they have and are now living out in the cold without food and water; nor a place to lay their heads. They are also faced with the possibility of epidemic outbreak because the camps are congested; with very appalling sanitary conditions. The situation is quite pathetic and sadly, the growing numbers of this group of internally displaced persons are women and children.
It is extremely regrettable that in the midst of the entire crisis, women’s vulnerability still reared its ugly head. Cases of rape and other forms of sexual abuses have been recorded across four designated campsites in Benue State. The act is being perpetrated by young boys and men in the camp, who have become idle and randy, having been sacked from their farmlands and artisanal works. Such incidences have reinforced the already grievous woes of women and young girls; and they need to be saved from any more tragedy: this time around, the misfortune of being subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, assault or oppression.
In addition to the relief responses being offered, it has become a matter of urgency to make provision for the protection of women against molestation and exploitation. Towards addressing scores of problems which the females are contending with, there is a burning need to ensure that their roles are strengthened in the relief and security efforts. They are the ones who are being assaulted and most affected by privacy issues that are lacking in the camps. Answers to women’s problems lies with women! We have answers to problems that affect our lives and what we need is to be given the opportunity and wherewithal.
A viable way of expediting action in that direction for the victims of flood is to draw from women’s untapped potential in dealing with difficulties. Women have an invaluable role to play in disaster management and should be given unrestricted participation in such efforts. As declared by Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), “Women must be at the heart of relief efforts and the re-building of shattered communities….”
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.