NEW AFRICAN MARKET
The dam which brought disaster
When engineers opened the floodgates of Nigeria's Kainji dam without thinking of the consequences, they sent a torrent of water downstream which swept away 60 villages and the homes of hundreds of families. Surprisingly no one had thought of the consequences of letting a torrent of water gush downstream in an area already prone to floods. Abiodun Raufu reports.
Living close to a dam can be a double-edged sword, as the farming communities clustered around Kainji Dam on the Niger river, near Lokoja have found out to their chagrin.
Since the 1970s, when Kainji Dam, Nigeria's oldest hydro-electric plant was constructed, it has generally been a blessing to nearby villages, providing them water for irrigation and other purposes as well as electricity and generally serving as the hub of commercial activities in the area.
Last month, however, Kainji Dam bared its fangs. The warning had been there since July when the villagers began to experience occasional flooding. But no one attached much significance to it, because the floods were mild and relatively harmless. The villagers did not know that worse days were ahead. None of them could have imagined the scale of the calamity that was to come.
On 7 October, following heavy rainfall, there was a build-up of excessive upstream water from the neighbouring Niger Republic that was threatening to overwhelm the dam. The dam authorities decided the only way of reducing the pressure on the dam was to open its gates to shed the excess water. A torrent of water gushed forth bursting the river banks. The ensuing deluge swamped virtually all nearby villages.
The flood tore down everything in its path and submerged about 60 villages, washing away scores of age-old mud houses .
In the ensuing melee, many local residents were injured as they fled for their lives. Although no casualty was recorded, many domestic animals were lost in the deluge, while several farms were washed away. Villages affected included Patigi, Tada, Bacita, Shonga, Gbaragodi, Belle, Yelwa, Kusegi. Fanagu and several others, many of which are now under water.
In Tada village, a 3,200-hectare rice plantation belonging to the Lower Niger River Basin and Rural Development Authority (NRBRDA) was destroyed as a dyke recently erected to protect the farm from flood was washed away.
Property and machinery belonging to the organisation were also damaged and washed away. The 12 square km sugar plantation owned by the Nigeria Sugar Company was badly damaged, while a primary school in Gbaragodi was swallowed by the flood. The only road linking Gbaragodi to Patigi was also submerged, leaving canoes as the only practical means of transport in the area.
According to the managing director of NRBRDA, Alhaji A.A. Lawal, the decision to save the dam meant that the local population was effectively reduced to refugee status, and forced to stay as refugees with friends and kin in faraway villages.
The chairman of the Patigi local government caretaker committee, Alhaji Yahaya Yussuf, blamed the disaster on the Kwara State government - the state in which the flood happened - for not averting the disaster.
"We told the Kwara State government that the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) had warned us about an imminent flood," Yussuf said. But nothing was done. "We requested that our farmers be compensated because by that time there was nothing anybody could do."
"They [the farmers] had already planted their crops. We also told the bank manager that lent them money. So far, the local government has spent over N500,000 and the Emir of Patigi [the local tribal leader] has requested that all 60 villages affected in the flooding be permanently relocated."
Resolving the perennial flooding of neighbouring communities by the Kainji Dam, according to the NRBRDA's Lawal, requires a long term solution. "The ecological solution to the problem cannot be found in the short term," he said. "There is a need for an effective dyke to prevent a recurrence and the establishment of a regulatory body for the end-users of the water from River Niger."
Among the end-users are the Kainji Dam, Jebba Dam, Nigeria Sugar Company, the Niger River Basin and Rural Development Authority, and the surrounding villages and towns.
Lawal also advised the Kainji Dam authorities to prevent future flood crises by releasing water gradually rather than abruptly, as had been the case last October.
Meanwhile, the state government has promised to assist the stranded villagers. But beyond lip service, no action has so far been taken.
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