Misanet.com / IPS, 11 January - Environmental degradation in Nigeria's southeast have led to floods devastating several villages. In Amaiyi, a village some 635 kilometres southeast of the commercial city of Lagos, graveyards and ancestral shrines have been washed off.
Bones of the dead, long laid to rest, are no longer resting in peace at graveyards as they lay exhumed, swept to the surface of the earth by devastating perennial erosion which ravaged parts of the region.
Amaiyi, with a population of less than 10,000, has been cut off from the other villages. The narrow unpaved roads, linking most communities in the hinterland to the cities, have been swept off in several locations making it impossible for villagers to transport farm produce to the cities.
Palm oil and rice are the major cash crops in Amaiyi. Yams and cassava (manioc) are also grown in the village, which is located in Abia State.
- We can't take our goods to the city because no vehicles can come to Amaiyi as there is no road, says Okechukwu Egwu, a community leader in Amaiyi. "The roads have been destroyed by erosion. And we cannot carry the farm produce on our heads to the town, located some 20 kilometres."
- Bicycles and motorbikes have to be pushed across areas that have been cut off by erosion, he says.
In all, about 500 erosion sites have been identified in Abia State. Communities affected by flood, landslide and gully erosion include Ozoabam, Ikwuano and Osuagon.
Abia State, with a population of 2.3 million, is one of the smallest in Nigeria. Nigeria has 36 states. In Abia State, more than 10 villages - with a combined population of more than 20,000 - have been cut off from the rest of the state by gully erosion since 1998.
The floods also destroyed the house of Emma Nwaka, a Senator from 1979 to 1983. The landslide, which caused a deep gully, severed the only major road in the area.
Neighbouring Imo State also is prone to erosion. "There was serious flooding and a lot of newly created gullies emerged especially during the peak period of rains between July and September (2001)," says Tony Obi, chair of the Egwusigo local government in Imo State.
A study commissioned by the local government on the impact of the ecological disaster and how to control it, showed that about 1.030 billion Naira (about 10 million US dollars) was needed to control the disaster, says Obi.
Imo State has more than 34 gully-erosion sites, a menace, which the authorities say was too much for the local government to handle alone.
Fighting environmental degradation in Anambra State, also in eastern Nigeria, alone will cost 200 billion Naira (about two billion dollars), according to a study by Michak Umenweke, a Geologist at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University.
Stanley Ojigbo, who is in-charge of Environment and Solid Minerals Development in Abia, says the state government has embarked on tree planting exercise.
- We have been educating the people, says Ojigbo. "At times, when the roads are cut off, the state releases some funds to see that something is done. Erosion control is capital intensive. Considering the lean financial resources at its disposal, the state government cannot carry it alone. Erosion problem in our state needs special attention. The federal government should declare the state an erosion disaster zone."
During a state visit to Abia, President Olusegun Obasanjo expressed worries at the level of ecological disaster in the region.
Since the visit about two years ago, more serious efforts have been put in place by the local and state governments in the affected eastern states to control the ecological degradation there. At least 91.7 million Naira (about 836,364 US dollars) has been earmarked by the Imo state to tackle the menace of erosion in parts of the state this year.
In December, the Nigerian government signed a 3.3-billion-Naira (30 million US dollars) contract for 16 projects in 13 states affected by ecological disaster.
Although small, environmentalists have welcomed the donation. "I commend the government for releasing the money. We know the enormity of the problem and we hope that the affected states will look for alternative funding from international agencies that deal with environmental issues," says Buki Ponle, an environmentalist in Lagos.
By Toye Olori, IPS