Flooding worsens

13 September 2010

After a very busy week responding to the Kagara flood on September 1st, my heart sank at news of more flooding on the 9th of September. A doctor and I went to investigate.

Last week Kagara was chest deep in water, with all the surrounding crops and food storage destroyed. This time, we saw village after village facing the same catastrophe. Time and time again we saw people desperately trying to hold back the water with sandbags. When I climbed on top of the MSF vehicle for a better view, I saw water stretching to the horizon.

Flooding in Sokoto state

Local people speculated that the gates on the Goronyo dam were open to release pressure on the dam. As we drove there to investigate, our driver said the water was higher than he had ever seen.

We drove along the 6 km main dam that held back a massive lake stretching as far as the eye could see. At the end of the dam, water crashed through the open gates, creating a spray that rose above the road.

Our driver started getting upset with the dam workers for having the gates open, until I explained that they had to release the pressure or the dam would fail.

We drove on to the secondary part of the dam – the spillway – where we realized something was horribly wrong.

A huge section of the spillway was missing, and a river flowed through the 150 m gap. Local men, who had been praying on top of the dam, explained that water had flowed over the top until the dam gave way the night before. The lake had dropped 7 m in an instant, and an unimaginable amount of water had flooded through. It was no wonder that the villages were drowning.

Flooding in Sokoto state

We headed back to base to brief the top management. We didn’t really know how many people had been affected – definitely more then 50,000, but maybe double or triple that number. The needs were massive – in the immediate term, shelter and water. With the crops and food storage destroyed, more problems were likely in the future.

The team agreed that shelter and distribution of clean water were short term problems that we would help solve. Within 24 hours we had plans for extra staff, a budget approved, and a plan to set up water distribution points, blanket and tarpaulin distribution and health education.

On Saturday as I write this, we are deciding where to store the good as they flow in, and going to the factory where the water tanks will be made to check that they meet our specification.

It’s hard to take in what we see. I’ve been too busy to hear anyone’s personal stories.

Fortunately we don’t need to submit proposals and wait for approval. We planned for nine scenarios, and this is one of them. We have a plan, and many of the supplies we need are in place already. But it’s going to be a big challenge to get supplies to the right places.

Above all,  the people affected by the floods have a long struggle ahead, especially in meeting their long-term medical and food needs.