Judex Okoro, Calabar
Residents of Nyakashang community in Calabar Cross River State have sent a passionate plea to the Cross River State government as well as the Nigeria Environment and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to come to their aid, as the menace of erosion has taken a toll on the community.
The community, which is recovering from the electrocution incident that claimed lives some years ago, has a bigger problem to deal with this time as a result of the massive gullies that surround the community.
Nyakashang, with population of about 10,000 people, was one of the settlements that sprang up with the massive influx of people into Calabar over the years, made up largely of low income earners, farmers and petty traders.
A visit to the community presents a picture of despair and hopelessness, as residents recount challenges over the years, as well as the imminent disaster that awaits the community, if measures are not put in place to forestall it.
Early this month, no fewer than six houses were destroyed in a downpour at Nyagasang community in the Atimbo area of Calabar Municipality. Besides, a visit to the community showed that over 20 buildings in the area were under threat of destruction.
One of the victims, Mr. Sunday Akpan, stated that the unfortunate downpour caused havoc in the area, pulling down houses and forcing occupants to flee for safety.
According to Akpan, more than 100 residents in the area have been displaced from their homes following incident: “As you can see, all these building were standing here. This gully site has eaten deep into this area and is beginning to pull down houses.”
Another victim, Mr. Etim Umoh, who clamed he had lived in the area for over 30 years, said there was no ravine in the area in the early stage of building. According to him, when the ravine started building up, the community had to plant bamboo trees to curb the widening of the ravine.
He lamented that properties worth millions of naira have been lost due to the destruction, and appealed for help from government and relevant agencies.
Anietie Uwana James, a resident in the community, said: “I have lived in this community since 1985 and we have not experienced this kind of problem. This menace started around 2013 and officials from the state government have been here and keep promising us that they are going to address this problem but the promises have not come to fruition.
“We have written countless letters to them as well as the Niger Delta Development Commission, NEWMAP and they keep assuring us that they will come and work on it, but we are yet to see them and this problem has been deteriorating over the years.
“The menace has affected us severely and whenever it rains, we live in fear and cannot stay in our houses because we are afraid of being washed off into the ravine. The major community road, Edim Itu and Edem Okon Road, which is used to evacuate farm produce, has been swallowed up by the ravine and we are appealing for government’s urgent intervention,” Anietie said.
On his part, Etim Okon, who has lived in the community in the past 17 years and said, “The situation in our community is getting worst,” adding that they were unhappy about it and have not seen any government effort in addressing this menace.
“You can see some houses have been washed off and we are pleading with the government to come and look at this and see how they can control this erosion. There are thousands of people who are affected by this and they don’t have anywhere to go, so let government try and look at this situation and see how they can address it.
“This problem, if it is not addressed, will affect both the federal and state government as the garment factory, Ayade Industrial Park, Calapharm, rice factory as well as the Federal Government Girl’s College, Calabar, are also at risk, if nothing is done to address this problem, because this ravine is increasing by the day,” he said.
Aniefiok Akpan Etim disclosed that the community spring, Idim Ula, which served as a source of drinking water by the community, has been washed off by the ravine and the borehole that we constructed for the purpose of making water available for members of the community has been destroyed by the ravine.
“The situation in the community has been worsened over the past three years and if not for the local construction carried out by the commutnity to try and channel the water, a substantial part of the community would have been washed away.
“We stay here with our families and whenever it rains, we are afraid of our lives and that of our little ones and so we are in dire need of intervention by government and its relevant agencies.”
Lamenting the plight of the community, Maria James Essien said: “The shops and house I built here have been swallowed up by the ravine. I owned three shops in this location but they are all gone and so we are appealing to government to come and help us.
“If not for the help of God, my children would have been gone with the floods even those who lived here and even the people who rented houses have since absconded from the community as a result of this menace; so we need the intervention of government.
“We have written several letters to government, NEWMAP and we have not heard anything concrete from them. I am a widow and have nowhere else to go.”
Bemoaning their fate, Grace Archibong said: “We have not had peace for quite some time now and whenever it rains; our hearts are not at peace because we do not know if someone has gone with the floods or another house has been washed up by the floods.
“We are pleading for government’s intervention because we have also tried in our own little efforts in mitigating the effects of the floods and also trying to ensure that the impact of the flood is a little less devastating. The menace has gotten very bad particularly in the past two months.
Etim Sunday Umoh, chairman of the community explained that he has lived there since 1993 and there was nothing like this, “but when people came and built plenty houses then the waste, which was not properly channelled, chopped off the land and it came to this state. It has taken many lives, particularly children.”
“There was even a time a python came from the ravine and pursued a child here but the child was fortunate because we were able to interrupt the snake on time and chased it back into the ravine.
“The former government of Liyel Imoke tried for the community because he brought engineers to come and ameliorate the plight of the community. They constructed a big gutter but they came and stopped at a particular spot and another gully developed at the spot where they stopped work.
“Secondly, all the water from the Margaret Ekpo Airport, Atimbo, Ekpenyong Abasi ends here and whenever there is a downpour the floods end here and this is one of the reasons why the ravine has been expanding daily in the community. We are still begging government to come and help us and God will bless them as they do,” he said.
Acting director-general of Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Princewill Ayim, who assessed the extent of destruction, said no life was lost during the incident.
Ayim, said that the assessment would be sent to the zonal office of NEMA for transmission to the agency’s headquarters in Abuja for prompt response. He noted that the agency had held several advocacy and sensitisation programmes and enlightening the public not to build along water channels.
Ayim advised those living along the water Channels to move to higher ground for their safety.
“From what we have seen, the buildings were standing on the ravine. Its unfortunate that this has happened; I will inform NEMA for necessary action,” he said.