Salem Radio Network News Wednesday, February 1, 2023

World

Families flees amid catastrophic Nigeria floods

TABAWA, Nigeria (AP) — When the floodwaters reached Aisha Ali’s hut made of woven straw mats and raffia palms, she packed up what belongings she could and set off on foot with her eight youngest children.

Ali, 40, knew she and her family might never see their home again. In this remote village —in the Gashua part of Yobe state, a largely agricultural area in northeast Nigeria — poor infrastructure means annual flooding of excess water from the local river. Most villagers pay little attention to warning signs as the water rises. Dealing with floods is a way of life.

But this year, heavy rains inundated Nigeria and neighboring countries in flooding the region hadn’t seen in at least a decade. Ali and her husband knew this time was different. The water reached their home and started rising in the hut.

Ali and the children walked down a narrow, water-logged road. Her brother’s cart, pulled by cows, came up behind them. He agreed to take some of the children. Not all would fit.

Ali made a quick calculation. She figured the cart could get some of them to safety faster. She told five of her kids to get onboard. She and the others would follow by foot.

Nine-year-old twins Hassana and Husseina climbed in, with their headscarf and traditional green dresses flowing to their toes. Younger sisters Hauwa, 8, and Amina, 5, followed. So did 7-year-old brother Gambo.

They chattered with excitement — a cart ride was a rare outing, and they were too young to understand the dangers of the water around them. Hassana smiled, glad Husseina was beside her. The twins were inseparable, even sharing a sleeping mat each night. Hassana was more reserved, and Husseina always stuck up for her.

Ali assured her family they’d all be reunited soon. They said their farewells, and Ali continued down the road with three of her kids, ages 15, 6 and 3. The cart passed them and eventually disappeared from sight.

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The flooding that began in June has become the deadliest in more than a decade, according to authorities of this West African nation. More than 600 have been killed. Thousands of homes are destroyed, along with farmland. More than 1.3 million people have been displaced. Lives and livelihoods are upended.

The environmental crisis has unfolded alongside a humanitarian one: a decade-long conflict with roots in an extremist-pushed insurgency against the government. Violent attacks are common, especially in the north where the Islamic State-backed extremists now collaborate with armed groups of former herdsmen fighting communities over access to water and land. Flooding has made delivery of aid and supplies increasingly difficult.

Officials blame the floods on the release of excess water from Lagdo dam in Cameroon and higher-than-normal rainfall. No matter the cause, the effect in villages such as Tabawa has been widespread.

Families here already struggled. Ali, her husband and children received scant food aid from the local government. Power, potable water and passable roads were luxuries.

Authorities report that they’ve distributed relief items to affected families and have tried to evacuate some to displacement camps. But no such camps or efforts exist in Tabawa, population 1,000, or its surrounding towns. Those who flee must do so on their own, to displacement camps tens of miles away.

For Ali, it meant taking her family from the only home they’ve ever known.

“While the flood was trying to destroy things, we were trying to save ourselves,” she said.

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