ABUJA, Nigeria — Ocheiga Enoch isn’t expecting much from a north-central Nigerian rice crop after floods submerged his fields and those of so many other farmers this season.
Many in Benue state, known as the country’s “food basket,” are now in the unusual position of searching for seedlings in preparation for next year’s farming season at a time when they should be harvesting the current crop.
“The kind of suffering we are going through right now is terrible,” Enoch said of the flooding, now the worst to hit Nigeria in more than a decade after killing more than 600 people and forcing 1.3 million to flee their homes. homes.
Above-average rainfall and devastating floods have affected 5 million people this year in 19 countries in West and Central Africa, according to a new situation report from the United Nations World Food Programme.
In Chad, the nation’s government this week declared a state of emergency after flooding affected more than 1 million people there.
“This catastrophe resulting from climate change is one of the most serious the region has known in years, and acts as a multiplier of misery for communities already struggling to stay afloat,” said Chad’s interim leader, Mahamat Idriss. Deby Itno.
The disaster has now worsened the fate of this Central African nation already in the grip of a food crisis, said Mbaindangroa Djekornonde Adelph, an analyst in Chad.
Nigeria has recorded at least 600 deaths, while authorities in neighboring Niger say at least 192 people have died there as a result of the storms, either by houses collapsing or drowning in flood waters.
The floods have already caused “a significant increase in cases of cholera and other preventable diseases in Nigeria,” the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned in a statement on Friday, calling for more resources to scale up its response.
Experts point to unusual rainfall and the failure of governments to set up early warning systems to better prepare for weather extremes.
The floods in West Africa are due “mainly to the government’s negligence in environmental issues such as climate change over a period of time,” said Ibrahim Raji, a climate researcher who focuses on the region. The situation “comes down to the government’s reluctance to address environmental issues,” Raji added.
Long before the floods and Russia’s war in Ukraine, West Africa was already facing its worst food crisis in 10 years with more than 27 million people starving, according to a report published by international aid organizations in April.
Chi Lael, a spokesperson for the UN World Food Program in Nigeria, is worried about the “worrying harvest season ahead”.
Some farmers have lost about 75% of everything planted this year, said Kabir Ibrahim, national president of the local farmers’ association.
The damage caused by the floods in Nigeria also extends to livestock in areas such as Bayelsa state, where Innocent Aluu said he lost nearly 10,000 birds on his poultry farm to the floods, most of whom died of disease. waterborne.
“I feel like running away, no one can think straight,” a devastated Aluu said over the phone, estimating his losses at 30 million naira ($68,600).
In neighboring Niger, tens of thousands have also been displaced by flooding in the Maradi and Zinder regions, with many houses and farmland damaged.
It’s a similar story in Cameroon, where flooding has caused significant damage in the northern region, destroying crops and houses.
“This year’s precipitation is exceptional,” said Kousoumna Libaa, a Cameroonian climate specialist. “There have been sustained rains since the beginning of the season, from August, September and even until October, it continues to rain.”
Experts fear the damaged farmland will push food prices even higher at a time when inflation rates are already at record levels: Nigeria and Ghana at 20.7% and 37% respectively.
In Nigeria, WFP said it is providing emergency assistance in Yobe state, one of the hardest-hit places. But the agency urgently needs $129 million to support its operations in Nigeria over the next five months, its spokesman said.
Associated Press writer Joel Kouam in Ngaoundere, Cameroon contributed.
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