Southeastern Nigeria is littered with gullies caused by extreme and swift ground erosion. Activists say millions of lives are affected as some villages are cut off from the rest of the country while in other areas, local economies are collapsing along with a building every month.
In the village of Ideani in Anambra state, the community town hall and the only school have collapsed as gullies are rapidly expanding. It’s now the rainy season and tropical rains will continue to dump on the region until September, digging ditches more than 30 feet wide and 10 feet deep.
Resident Ifeanyi Okeke lives about 100 meters from the nearest gully. In his village, Abatete, he said a building falls every month and there has been no response from authorities.
“There are a number of buildings that are now threatened by gullies," said Okeke. "Some very near the schools. Particularly the one near the girls' secondary school.”
Anthony Chigbo, the head Nigerian research company Gallop Polls Nigeria Ltd., said 1,000 additional buildings in the Nigerian southeast are at “immediate risk” if nothing is done.
“It’s a physical threat. A lot of studies have been done, but it appears the government does not have the type of funding required to challenge the menace of erosion," he said.
Gullies entirely cut some villages off from towns and cities, slowing commerce and deepening poverty in the region where most people live on less than $1 a day. To work outside other villages, people have to park cars or motorcycles far from home and navigate the gullies by foot.
Two years ago, a couple was killed when their car fell into a gully. But Chigbo says its not just lives and livelihoods threatened by the erosion.
“Children are no longer allowed to play like they used to play," he said. "Playing football or tales by moonlight for fear that they might fall into the gully and then lose their lives. During rainy season parents are always apprehensive when their wards are going to the school because they don’t know, if it rains. The rain might carry someone into the gully.”
Erosion is also tearing down highways and washing away farmland and other infrastructure in the already underdeveloped region. Poor development planning is also a contributing factor to erosion, as gullies form in areas that have been stripped of forestland or where buildings were put up near what would be natural waterways.
For the most part, locals say the only way to prevent buildings from falling is to brace the gullies with sandbags or dig shallow holes to slow the flow of water through the gully. But it doesn’t always work.
The government is aware of the problem, said Anambra State Commissioner for Information Joe Martins. But he declined to give specifics about what it is doing to help.
“The ministry is concerned and trying to checkmate it as much as possible," he said. "The environment ministry and the ministry of technology, they are on top of it.”
The power of the rains in Nigeria, however, have long overwhelmed government efforts to prevent destruction. Last summer, hundreds of people were killed and millions more were displaced because of flooding.
And as the rains get heavier with each passing week, authorities say this summer may be no better.
Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from Anambra State.