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Flood victims sleep by roadsides in northern Nigeria

by Staff Writers
Hadejia, Nigeria (AFP) Sept 28, 2010
They sleep where they can, the men seeking dry spots on roadsides, women and children piling into houses still standing as huge numbers of displaced return to flood-hit villages in Nigeria's north.

In the daytime, they dig through mud that used to be their homes to find anything salvageable. Fishermen work the floodwaters surrounding marooned villages while children swim nearby.

"It has been hard," said Musa Ibrahim, who has two wives, nine children and three grandchildren.

"I'm begging my brother not only for food, but for shelter. He has given me one room and I am sleeping there with my whole family."

Officials in Jigawa state say two dams opened last month caused flooding that displaced scores of people and destroyed huge swathes of farmland, and they have heavily criticised the agency in charge of the barriers.

The local government initially put the number of displaced at two million. Governor Sule Lamido now says they have a better handle on the situation and estimate two million people were affected, with 50,000 families homeless.

The dam agency denies its flood gates in Kano state, which neighbours Jigawa, caused the disaster, saying heavy rains were to blame.

Whatever the cause, the disaster has added to flood misery that had already hit large areas of the north of Africa's most populous nation. Entire villages have been swept away in some parts of the region.

Many of the displaced had been sleeping in a school in a dry area, but they have returned to their villages to salvage what they can. A Red Cross official said there were sometimes up to 40 people sleeping in two rooms.

Thousands of mud-and-pole houses caved in when the waters hit. In Jigawa state alone, officials say the waters destroyed villages over an area 120 kilometres (75 miles) long and 15 kilometres wide.

In one village, Mohammed Auwal said he and his family were struggling for food and shelter. He and his four brothers have 44 children, and all their homes collapsed. Neighbours have offered temporary shelter.

At another, at least 25 mothers and scores of children were squeezed into nine rooms. Their husbands were sleeping along the fringes of a highway outside since there was not enough space for them.

Binta Ousman, 60, threw her hands into the air as she described how the floods hit her village one August night.

"It started around 5:00 pm and we put up sandbags thinking it's the usual build-up of water we are used to in the rain season, but around 11:00 pm it came as a sudden gush and flooded all this place," said Ousman.

Drinking water wells have also been been contaminated and aid agency officials fear disease outbreaks in the northern region already ravaged by a cholera epidemic last month.

Flood misery has also hit Nigeria's northwestern corner, where a dam burst earlier this month.

Local chiefs told aid workers in Sokoto state that 40 people were killed in the rush of water, but the number has not been confirmed.

Sokoto state authorities say more than 30 villages were inundated and more than 130,000 residents displaced.

The flooding from the dam also hit an estimated 150 villages in neighbouring Kebbi state, killing seven people and displacing over 200,000 others, an official of the state's environment ministry said.

On Monday in Kararar Rima village, white turbaned Muhammad Fodio gathered his flowing robe to his knees and inspected his demolished home for the first time in three weeks.

"We have lost over 300 homes and over 2,000 people have been displaced," the village chief told AFP.

"But nothing is more painful than the loss of five members of my community, although I lost all that I owned, including my home."

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