By Owei Lakemfa
The Confluence Hotel in Ganaja, Lokoja, used to be my favourite spot whenever I visited Kogi State. Its main attraction to me was sitting down to watch the Rivers Niger and Benue warmly embrace in an eternal wedlock as their waters flow down South to the Niger Delta before emptying themselves into the Atlantic Ocean.
Sitting there, I never forget that one of the tributaries of these great rivers, with their confluence in Ganaja, is the Forcados River on whose banks I was born.
I used to dash from Ganaja to eateries in the city centre; it took only a few minutes by taxi. Then some days ago, the usually friendly skies opened up, drowning several parts of the city. The Ganaja-Lokoja Road became a place only amphibious vehicles dare ply. The roads I used to go through had become extensions of the River Niger. Now, to move on the road required a boat. On Tuesday, October 4, 2022, a boat ferrying people along the road, capsized and two people drowned. Four others drowned in the adjoining area.
All these sounded incredible until more videos emerged showing that in the Korton Karfe area leading to Lokoja, the flood that had submerged the town was so much that it was difficult for motorists to differentiate the road from the River Niger.
But Kogi State was in a better state than Yobe State. There, as at October 2, seventy-five fatalities had been recorded and over 31,000 households affected across 255 communities.
Although the floods have swept through 27 of the country’s 36 states, affecting half a million people with over 300 killed, including 20 last week alone, it does not appear government has woken up to the disaster. Rather than a sense of national disaster which requires emergency steps, including mass evacuation of affected or endangered communities, normal activities are going on, with the political rally industry booming.
However, Nigeria is in a far better shape than Pakistan where 75,000 kilometres or about a tenth of the country has been under water. As at September 30, some 767,488 houses had been destroyed and over 1,277,000 damaged, especially in the Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KP, provinces. Tragically, over 1,700 persons have been killed, and at least 12,800 injured. Over 4,000 children are on the casualty list.
In a vastly agricultural state, over 3.5 million acres of croplands were destroyed and at least 1,162,000 livestock perished. This means that the livelihood of many households have been wiped out, with food insecurity staring many in the face. This is in a country that is politically unstable and already under severe strains of hyper-inflation which had seen food prices in unprecedented rise. In the last fortnight, the number of Pakistanis directly affected by the floods was 33 million, including some 800,000 Afghan refugees. As the flood waters recede, they leave behind millions of hungry and destitute people at the mercy of water- borne diseases, and a world diverted by unnecessary wars, especially that in Ukraine which is claiming huge amounts of humanitarian aid. Response to the appeal funds by international agencies may also be affected by the aid to war- torn areas.
However, beyond nature, the greatest challenge to humanity is the politics of floods. Hurricane Ian tore through Western Cuba on September 25, destroying electricity facilities, flattening homes, devastating farms and making the economic situation accentuated by six decades of economic blockade and COVID-19 worse. Michael Doering, the Latin America Liaison at World Help who visited Cuba, said entire villages along with crops had been wiped out. In many cases, the Cubans have to start from ground zero.
Just as is the case with the US which is also partly devastated by Hurricane Ian, people across the world want to come to the aid of the Cuban citizenry, but the US would not, even for a second, waive the punishing sanctions which make it difficult to send aid, including food, medicines and financial contributions, to the Cuban people.
Also, some donors are afraid that the US would sanction them if they send aid. This dilemma is put in better perspective by Manolo De Los Santos, the Co-Executive Director of the New York City-based People’s Forum: “The centre is definitely taking donations, but they have a major challenge, which is, the bank they use, for example, in Cuba, is sanctioned by the U.S. government. We’re scratching our heads trying to figure out how to get resources directly to them.”
Although the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says it could allow disaster relief materials to be sent to Cuba, such donors would require licenses. In the face of this, it is unlikely that charity organisations and aid agencies would want to be seen assisting a country the US regards as an enemy and a danger to its security. When the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world, sending many to early graves, Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, decided in March, 2020, to send massive aid to virtually all countries, including the US. In the Latin American and Caribbean Region, 24 countries, including Cuba, were picked to receive the aid. Specifically, the Jack Ma Foundation decided to send to Cuba 100,000 facemasks, 10 COVID-19 diagnostic kits, ventilators and gloves. But Cuba never got the aid as the Avianca Airlines, the cargo company distributing the aid, declined to deliver to Cuba because it is owned by a US-based company subject to the American trade embargo on Cuba.
Since refusing aid to a people in need is morally indefensible, the Trump administration had claimed that the Cuban government will benefit from such sanction relief. About two months after this, Venezuela which was also in dire need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, dispersed a Special Envoy, Alex Saab, to buy food and medicines from Iran. On June 13, 2020, he made a stopover in the West African country of Cape Verde to refuel. There, the US coerced the government to seize the ambassador for allegedly violating American sanctions against trade with Iran.
When the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Court ruled that Ambassador Saab’s detention is illegal, the extradition process requested by the American government be terminated immediately and that Cape Verde should pay him $200,000 compensation, America pressured poor Cape Verde to disobey the court. It rather, extradited Ambassador Saab to the US where he still sits in jail.
Floods anywhere is a challenge to humanity everywhere; therefore, the US should without any exception, allow humanitarian assistance to be given to all humans who need them irrespective of ideology, religion, creed or race. Basically, all human beings are the same with equal rights, and should be treated as such.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.