By David Fogden, IFRC, and Victoria Madamidola, Nigerian Red Cross Society
Salatamba Gimba is a widow who lives with her five children in Ozahi, Kogi State, a community close to the Niger River. In 2012, her village experienced severe flooding following heavy rains across most parts of the country, which led to the Niger and Benue Rivers bursting their banks.
Salatamba and her children escaped the rising flood waters, moving to Oze, a village five kilometres away. That was almost a year ago. The family still lives there today.
“I was left with nothing,” says the 50-year-old mother. “My house was destroyed and my crops were swept away by the floods. I had to rely on the kindness of the people here in Oze to be able to feed my children.”
From the outset, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has been working in the 12 states that were worst affected by the flooding. The floods are the worst the country has experienced for over 40 years. Over the past eight months, staff and volunteers have distributed emergency relief items and shelter materials, disseminated health and hygiene messages, promoted safe drinking water, and constructed latrines.
In Kogi State, 100 families in three communities, including Ozahi, are now being helped to repair or rebuild their homes. The people themselves are involved, selecting households that are most vulnerable and in need of assistance. Each house is constructed based on the local style, following consultation with the communities.
Members of the community have contributed labour and building materials, such as sand, stone and bicycle chains, which act as straps to secure the roof. Local carpenters and masons have been recruited, and villagers have helped in digging the foundations and creating drainage slopes.
The basic structure – the foundation, a concrete wall, wooden frame and zinc roof – is completed by the Red Cross and the community, but it is up to the families themselves to finish building the walls. Each household has the choice, depending on their means, to use mud bricks, concrete blocks or raffia for the walls, as well as position the windows to their liking.
“Community participation has been essential,” says Abdulkadir Bello Ahmed, a disaster management officer and shelter focal point at the Nigerian Red Cross Society. “Without their support, the construction of houses would simply not have been possible.”
Salatamba’s house has now been completed. “I am so very happy. I feel safe in this house,” she beams. “I did not think it would ever be possible for me to have a new home.”
Once she has enough money, Salatamba intends to complete her home and move back to Ozahi with her children. “I am still living in Oze, but return each day to tend to my crops. If the (farming) season is kind, I hope to have enough money so that I can finish the house with concrete blocks, and come back permanently.”
Salatamba is one of more than 45,000 people living in flood-affected communities who have also received health and hygiene lessons from Red Cross volunteers. “I have learned the importance of environmental sanitation,” says Salatamba. “I will do my best to keep my new home clean so that my children don’t fall sick.”