As Nigeria floods rise, canoes and cholera return

October 26, 2011 - 12:15 PM
APTOPIX Nigeria Floods

A woman walk along a network of makeshift ramps raised above floodwater that surrounds houses after a heavy downpour in Ikorodu, Nigeria. Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Seasonal rains have sent water flowing over riverbanks again in Nigeria, raising the risk of cholera and disease as government appears unable to cope with the flooding. Canoes are being used where cars used to drive in communities just outside of Ikorodu, a city itself just outside of Nigeria's megacity of Lagos. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

IKORODU, Nigeria (AP) — Residents cook in knee-deep flood water and children wade past carrying roosters above their shoulders in this city on the outskirts of Lagos, where the rising tide poses a health risk by overwhelming sewage-filled outdoor toilets.

In Ikorodu in southwestern Nigeria, wooden canoes sail in creeks newly formed over roads, forcing people to use gangplanks of scrap wood to stay out of the muddy current. And government assistance, despite Nigeria's billions in oil money, is nowhere to be found.

"The government just eats the money, keeps it to themselves," said Joy Jolly, 36, balanced atop one gangplank walkway Wednesday in Ikorodu. "The people dey suffer."

Seasonal rains cause massive damage and disease throughout Nigeria each year, and this year's onslaught comes as international experts warn West Africa is suffering from its worst cholera outbreaks in years.

The fast-developing, highly contagious infection that causes diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The disease is easily preventable with clean water and sanitation, but floods make that impossible in many areas.

Nigeria's rainy season normally begins in June and last for months. This year, however, the country has seen increased rain fall, particularly in the southwestern city of Ibadan. There, more than 100 people died in late August after a dam flush with rainwater overflowed, sending a rushing flood that destroyed bridges and neighborhoods.

In Ikorodu, the Ogun River overflowed its banks several days ago, nearly cutting off the city's highway to Lagos. Even Wednesday, sandal-wearing traffic wardens still directed cars from in the flood water.

Hakeem Bello, a spokesman for Lagos state government, referred calls about the flooding to the state's environmental commissioner, Tunji Bello. Bello could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

In West Africa this year, about 2,500 people have died in a cholera epidemic spread from Congo to Mali, according to UNICEF. In Nigeria alone, the country had recorded more than 21,000 cholera cases this year by the end of September, the U.N. agency said. At least 694 people have died from the disease, the agency said.

The disease has been reported across 25 of Nigeria's 36 states, most cases coinciding with local flooding. Despite the country earning billions in oil exports, almost half of Nigeria's 150 million people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation, according to the World Health Organization.

Some living around Ikorodu acknowledge they live in a flood-prone region. However, they blame broken promises by government officials — including President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the area last year — for stalling people from moving away or improving the area.

Bola Lawal, 65, who sat outside his flooded concrete home Wednesday on plastic chair, said foreign intervention remained the only way to stop the flooding. Government officials repeatedly promise to fix the flooding, yet refuse to provide drainage ditches or improve the riverbank, he said.

"It's an adaptation," Lawal said, his feet dry from resting them on a plastic stand. "We have to adapt ourselves."

Meanwhile, storm clouds dark with rain continue to circle Ikorodu, threatening more rain. Life, however, goes on as a butcher cleaned an antelope in the flood water, as others sold the cooked meat of wild animals alongside the highway.

No one expects the government to return to help, said Timi Jolly, 40, the brother of Joy.

"When the sweat is cleaned up and they are back inside (air conditioning), they forget you," Jolly said.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.