Friday, September 24, 2010

Opened damgates in Nigeria displace 2 million

Opened flood gates in Nigeria displace 2 million
By JON GAMBRELL (AP) � 48 minutes ago

LAGOS, Nigeria � Nigerian authorities opened the gates at two swollen
dams in the country's rain-soaked north, sending a flood into a
neighboring state that has displaced 2 million people, officials said

Water from the Challawa and Tiga dams has swept through rural Jigawa
state, bordering the nation of Niger, said Umar Kyari, a spokesman for
the state governor. Kyari said the rising waters have affected about
5,000 villages in the typically arid region approaching the Sahara

"They released water indiscriminately," Kyari said. "That's what why
the water flows."

It wasn't immediately clear whether residents received a warning or if
anyone was injured or went missing in the flooding. Officials
typically open dams seasonally in the region, but it appears far more
water flowed out than residents expected.

Nigeria, an oil-rich nation of 150 million in West Africa, typically
has strong seasonal rains that wash through the country. However, this
year has seen particularly strong rains in the north that already
broke a dam and flowed over levees in another northern state.

State information commissioner Aminu Mohammed said local officials had
begun putting displaced families in rural schoolhouses and other
government buildings out of the reach of the floodwaters. However,
Mohammed said the water had coursed across to the border with
neighboring Yobe state.

"The flood has washed away all the farms and houses," Mohammed said.

Officials with the agency in charge of the dam in neighboring Kano
state could not be immediately reached for comment Friday night.

Jigawa sits more than 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) from Lagos in
Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north.

Mohammed said the flooding has grown progressively worse since August,
reaching its height Friday. He said more than 222,000 acres (nearly
90,000 hectares) of farmland have been washed away by the flooding, as
well as millions of dollars worth of cattle.

The commissioner said the state has yet to receive significant aid
from the federal government

Typically, the water released yearly from the dams flows into farm
fields across the region known as the Sahel, a band of semiarid land
stretching across Africa south of the Sahara. There, farmers used the
water in the region's brief fertile season to grow corn, rice and a
variety of vegetables. However, rains this year have been unseasonably
strong, putting pressure on the reservoirs and dams in the area.

In Nigeria's northwest state of Sokoto, a dam failed during recent
flooding, spilling into surrounding villages. Local newspapers
reported as many as 40 people died.

The rains come as neighboring Niger faces what international aid
experts warn is the worst hunger crisis in its history following a
prolonged drought and poor growing season last year. One of the
poorest countries in Africa, Niger now has more than 7 million people
� almost 50 percent of the population � suffering from a lack of food,
officials say.

Associated Press Writer Salisu Rabiu in Kano, Nigeria, contributed to
this report.

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