84 year old Morgan Agidi stood at the eroded shore of Abari creek, in Southern Nigeria, gesturing as he spoke about the problems floods have caused in his community.
“Most of our (late) fathers, their bones are now in the river. When they die, we bury them but erosion carries them away into the river,” he said.
Abari is one of the communities located along the Niger River, in southern Delta State. The town is on the verge of becoming a historical reference with yearly floods gradually washing it into the river.
According to a 2020 research paper, the erosion is caused by the Niger Delta coastal flood, which has left at least three million people displaced. The town loses about five to six houses and farmlands to the flood annually, the study estimates.
This leaves many in coastal areas with only the option of relocation or taking temporary accommodation within the few structures yet to be impacted.
Impacts from flooding have been increasingly severe due to government inaction, which has left the communities along the Niger Delta without access to paved roads and hospitals.
Vulnerability to climate change is a major issue of urgent policy attention among poor coastal regions in Nigeria. As sea levels rise and coastal flooding increases, more people will need to be displaced.
Coastal flooding from the Niger Delta is a well known phenomenon. Climate change now threatens to worsen the already difficult conditions.
The Nigerian Environmental Study /Action Team (NEST), reported that sea-level rise and repeated ocean surges will not only worsen the problems of coastal erosion but will increase the intrusion of seawater into freshwater sources. These will affect agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems and general livelihoods.
A 2007 model included in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that rising global temperatures will contribute to an upsurge in several floods, drought, glacier melt, and sea-level rise.
In developing countries, the pressure is expected to intensify especially on land and water resources, disrupt agricultural production and threaten food security.
The treasurer of Abari town, Peremobowei Dakromoh, said erosion is an age-long problem, which he grew up to understand as a norm. “Normally, human beings die before houses. But in this community, houses die before human beings,” he said.
Still, in his late twenties, Dakromoh said his family members had been victims of the disaster. Stretching his hands in the direction of the waterside and snapping his fingers, he said the house his late father built was swept off by erosion.
The town official said higher government officials have turned a blind eye to the plight of the residents. “Abari community is the first ward of Patani local government, but we don’t know if we are part of this Nigeria,” Dakromoh lamented.
Difficulties with farming
Fishing and farming are the main occupations of the residents of Abari, Dakromoh said. However, farmers and fishermen have problems taking their products to markets outside the community because there are no motorable roads. Floods have aggravated this lack of access.
According to him, farmers now take their goods to the nearest market through wooden or engine boats, which he said adds around $20 US dollars to their transportation cost, a significant amount for their earnings.
“This could be half the value of the whole farm product, resulting in little or no gain,” he added.
Izon-Ebi Gobagha is the secretary of the town’s association. She said moving crops from the farm to the nearest village for sale is even harder when the flood comes. “Sometimes the floods scare many farmers because sometimes our boats sink,” she said.
The community’s youth association chairman, Ogbotobo West Godday, said farming activities have drastically reduced in the community. “This community used to produce about 3,600 tonnes of yam every year, but there is nothing to write home about the figure anymore. It is frustrating”, he said.
Failed government efforts
The National President of Abari Union, Peter Pibowei, said the community had made a series of appeals since 2012 to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other government agencies for the construction of shorelines and motorable roads. He said the appeals were all ignored.
On his part, a former Chairman of Patani Local government, Perez Omoun, said he had written articles, letters, and recommendations to the state and federal governments on the problems of Abari.
NDDC, which is saddled with the responsibility of addressing infrastructure deficit and other developmental challenges of the region, has made little impact.
According to the commission’s website, in 20 years, the NDDC has awarded over 9,445 projects in the Niger Delta region. It awarded a few projects to Abari for the construction of hospitals, laboratories and roads. All of them started before 2013 and, as of now, still show little progress.
The community’s chairman, Abraham Zitubboh, said some projects were proposed but not executed, like the project for a shoreline defence infrastructure.
“In 2018, a contractor from the NDDC came, taking feasibility studies, designs or whatever and left. Until today, nothing has been done,” he said.
The feasibility study was assigned to Yemi Fasuyi, a consultant working for the commission. After being consulted, Fasuyi confirmed that in 2018, the NDDC sent him to conduct a feasibility study of the area to include ‘the length, sea depth and pilling of shorelines.’
He revealed that the report of the study with its cost is currently on his desk since 2018 because “we are still debating it.”
Fasuyi said he was not sure if the shoreline contract had been awarded. But he added: “Even if they want to start construction, another feasibility study needs to be taken because every year, the shore keeps collapsing and the sea depth keeps deepening.”
Residents of Abari now have to face the consequences of government inaction. “Since I came to this town 40 years ago, we have been pleading with the government to help the town,” Agidi said.
“They promised us heaven and earth, that they were going to help us and that we should show them where they were going to put their materials. When they came, they arranged all their materials and left. Till today, we have not seen them again,” Mr Agidi said.
Oladapo Soneye, Head Communication of Nigeria Conservation Foundation explained as in this case, there is a need to evacuate the area before any actions are being taken.
“The first thing to even rescue of the situation is evacuation, taking residents to a safer place. There is no way they may get help immediately and even if it is immediately, it will still take a while before any result,” he said.
In addition, Soneye recommended that infrastructures like ‘groynes which interrupt water flow, strong solid shorelines and canals, be built to manage the situation.
“If actions can be taken by the government and corporations on time, we can save the situation but if nothing is done, these communities in coastal areas will disappear into the water with people being displaced. In like 20-30 years from now, you won’t hear anything about these communities,” Soneye said.
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) through funding support from Ford Foundation. A version of the article was published by the Premium Times.