Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has advised residents in low-level areas of Makurdi to seek accommodation in other parts of the Benue State capital which are not vulnerable to the frequent surge of River Benue.
In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES Thursday, the governor said the recent flood that displaced thousands of residents had necessitated enforcement of some environmental policies, no matter how draconian their impact may be.
“Even those who are given certificates of occupancy, we will have to revoke them in the larger interest of the state,” Mr. Ortom said during the interview at his official residence in Makurdi.
An estimated 110,000 people were believed affected after a torrential downpour caused the River Benue to breach its banks across the marshy plains of Makurdi on August 27, washing off a deluge of muddy water into an estimated 46,000 homes and offices overnight.
The aftermath was an instant national emergency, with the state government racing to get support from federal government, state governments, and even private bodies.
“We decided to seek help from all those who could help and we’re very appreciative of them,” Mr. Ortom added.
A camp was opened to provide food and shelter for victims.
The governor said the emergency relief supplies from the federal government arrived early, but more help is still being anticipated, especially in monetary terms.
The funds will be used to help victims of the disaster, as well as improve drainage system and channels to aid free flow of water.
“We need to intensify construction of drainage in Makurdi and other communities,” he said.
The total amount being anticipated is yet unknown, but the governor said a committee, headed by the deputy governor, had already been raised to ensure judicious and equitable disbursement.
“The whole country is passing through some financial challenges right now, so I won’t be mentioning figures,” he said.
”The Minister of Environment has been here and Vice President also made assessment. So I won’t call figure. But we will be transparent and ensure fairness and equity. There’s a committee on this which include the civil society and media to ensure transparency and accountability.”
Benue was not amongst the 16 states that were earlier identified as requiring federal support to mitigate the impact of erosion in July.
But Benue had benefited consistently from annual disaster relief grants by the federal government since the opening of Cameroon’s Lagdo Lake Reservoir devasted the state in 2012.
In the interim, the governor said he’d directed relevant agencies to start laying the groundwork for mass eviction notices to dwellers along the fragile plains.
“The Ministry of Environment and Urban Development Board have been directed to identify the areas where people could be relocated,” Mr. Ortom said.
Relocating people from the flood areas is a key prevention and mitigation factor when devising a long term solution to the disaster, according to experts.
“The government needs to recognise that the time has come for serious actions to be taken about flooding in Makurdi and other communities in Benue State,” said Bernard Tyubee, an associate professor of climatology at Benue State University.
“People living in the areas prone to flooding should be told to evacuate for their own long term security as well as the good of the environment,” he added.
But Mr. Tyubee said the effort will require patience and consistent funding by the state government.
“There may be a need to earmark funds annually from the state’s budget in order to gradually compensate those who would be relocated,” the academic said.