After water nearly overtook his village in northern Nigeria, Ali Gudinchin jumped into the rushing flood with a knife, cutting away ears of corn from stalks barely rising above the muddy surface.
He ended up with only three sacks worth of food, compared to the 50-odd bags of grains and vegetables he typically grows during the arid region's brief fertile season.
"The insects were biting me as I cut," said Gudinchin, a 50-year-old man who uses his village's name as his surname, which is customary. "It was pain in addition to the pain of losing the crop."
|A man uses a calabash fruit as a flotation device as he swims across flooded farmland in Gudinchin village, near Dutse in northern Nigeria, Monday, Sept. 27, 2010.|
Flood waters that rushed through his home in rural Jigawa state now cover about 34 square miles (55 square kilometers) of farmland there. As the bright sun begins to slowly dry the fields, all the farmers have are ruined stalks and dying plants — the latest strain on food in a region where other nearby countries face serious shortages.
The floods have come at the worst possible time — just before harvest — when it is too late for farmers to replant their fields of millet, sorghum and cowpea, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
In northern Nigeria, unusually heavy seasonal rains sent water surging through overflowing rivers. A dam failed in the northern state of Sokoto, flooding out rural pasturelands there and killing about 40 people, according to local media reports.
In Jigawa, local officials blame the inundation on officials opening two dams at reservoirs in neighboring Kano state. Typically, the water released yearly from the dams flows into farm fields across the region known as the Sahel, a band of semi-arid land stretching across Africa south of the Sahara. The waters irrigated the crops of Jigawa, a state home to more than 4 million people.
This time, a huge wave of water from the reservoirs raced through already saturated stream and creek beds, quickly topping over Jigawa state's simple earthen levees, said Umar Kyari, a spokesman for Gov. Sule Lamido.
About 2 million people — about half of the state's population — have been displaced or affected by the flooding that began two weeks ago, he said.
The village of Gudinchin — home to a few hundred people once surrounded by fields of tomatoes, corn, rice and millet — is now cut off from the rest of Jigawa, an island in the midst of murky, fast-moving water ripe with unprocessed sewage. Besides swimming, the only way across comes from two, low-riding wooden canoes donated by the government.
There, the dirt-walled granary quickly became a pile of muddy debris when the waters rushed in one night. Villagers used its walls to build an earthen levee against the rushing water. The millet able to be eaten can now be lifted up in only two handfuls.
Garba Gudinchin, 55, said he and others live in fear that their dam won't hold long enough to allow the sun to burn away the remaining water. But beyond that, nearly all the village's crops now sit in ruin.
"I cannot tell you the figure because it is big," he said in the local Hausa language.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, relies on the crop from its northern states to feed the mouths of those in its oil-rich and commerce-driven south.
Kyari, the governor's spokesman, warned the loss of crops would drive up food prices in the country, where most earn less than $1 a day. Kyari also estimates state ranchers lost millions of dollars worth of cattle in the flooding.
The nation's farmers also supply other West African nations with their crops, countries already facing droughts and food shortages.
In neighboring Niger, international aid experts warn the country faces 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.
Gautam Chatterjee, head of mission in Nigeria for Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors without Borders, said the flooding could affect the region for the next two to three months.
"In the longer term, this means an increase in food insecurity and an increase in malnutrition, especially for children under 5," Chatterjee said.
For now, villagers in Gudinchin who lost their homes, like Mohammed Auwal, live with their neighbors. Flood waters washed away his home and those of his immediate family. His crops, which once stood out against the gray dirt of the farm fields nearby, can no longer be seen.
"It's all destroyed," Auwal said.