A refugee woman tells how an extreme storm knocked down a heavy tree, devastating her shelter and economy.
It must have been around 4 o’ clock in the afternoon, when a tree crashed their house and fell on Doris’ head. One loud bang, a lot of dust and screams, and in fractions of a second, their bedroom, their kitchen, their entire home lay in rubble.
Nobody else in the Adagom Refugee Settlement in Cross River State, Nigeria, heard their cries, nobody noticed anything. “All the neighbours had locked their homes because of the storm,” remembers Doris who fled the armed conflict between secessionist forces and the Army in South-western Cameroon in October 2017.
Doris’ shelter is one of eleven in the settlement outside the town of Ogoja that got damaged or destroyed by this extreme weather event. In recent years, around the globe, extreme weather events have become more often and more extreme which are signs of climate change. And many refugees are more vulnerable to climate change than others because they often live in more exposed conditions such as Doris’ shelter.
“They were crying on my behalf.”
The refugee lady in her thirties does not remember a lot of details, possibly because of the blow the collapsing building has given to her head while the wind continued to blow. She remembers shouts of “God, help us!” and a loud crack. “Seeing the deep wound on my head, people thought I would not survive”, she says, “they were crying on my behalf.”
Luckily, Doris’ wound was stitched well in the hospital, and the other two injured got treatment – her daughter whose eye was wounded and a relative whose back had also received a serious blow when the shelter collapsed.
“This window”, remembers Doris’ husband Felix Abe, 45 years, and points at the rebuilt wall, “had left a small hole through which we managed to get out”. 16 people in total had been trapped in the ruin. The trunk of the tree later would be cut and some of the pieces now ironically serve as seats in Doris’ house.
All the rest has been destroyed. “Pots, a big water bucket for 400 liters, a cooking stove”, Doris says. But one thing converted the event into an economic hit – the destruction of the fridge. The refugee lady used to sell fresh fish for some 45.000 to 50.000 Naira (some 120 US $) every two weeks at the time. Most of the fish was lost, and she had to sell fried fish which does not sell for the same amounts – 25,000 to 30,000 Naira (some 70 US $).
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, did not leave the family alone in this stressful phase. The organization provided shelter kits which they used to rebuild their bedroom and roof. In addition, the organization covered the labour costs of the works through partner Rhemacare. Simon Etor, who used to roof houses in his native Cameroon, got hired to put a new roof to Doris’ and the other damaged houses.
“We are glad we could mitigate this serious blow, that the extreme storm did to Doris’ family”, says Nguma Aluka, Shelter Associate in Ogoja. “Shortly after the fateful day, I was called to assess the damage, and it became clear immediately that this family fulfilled the vulnerability criteria for UNHCR support.”
The family’s kitchen reminds them of the traumatic event every day. It became an open-air kitchen in a roofless annex to the otherwise rebuilt house. While for Doris the material damage and the stress of not being able to live in their shelter for months has finally come to an end in January, her headaches continue. Not every day, but regularly. She has accepted it as a reality just like climate change.