Life is beginning to return to the Lake Nyos area, 29 years after disaster stroke the area. Over 1.700 people died, according to official sources when the Crater Lake erupted in August 1986. Birds in the sky, cattle and animals on the land and fish in the waters were equally killed. The toxic gas spread in the air and killed people down the valley in three large villages at the time namely: Nyos, Cha and Subum, all of Menchum Subdivision of the Northwest region. Subum was later on carved out into Bum Subdivision and placed under Boyo Division when the geo-political map of the country was reorganized.
A fertile land that once flew with ‘milk and honey’ soon became deserted for close to three decades and what is left now in Nyos, Cha and Subum are stumps of houses that stand out as relics covered in thick bushes. The few survivors were resettled in Camps either in Bua-Bua or in Kimbi. Mr. Tufu Elias Bia, a survivor of the Lake Nyos disaster and native of Subum told CBC Health Services Press that the first time that the earliest survivor dared to return to the land was in 2002. Yet, since then, the resettlement has been slow, perhaps because the people had settled in the Camps. Another survivor, Wandia Victor says the return is slow because it is still very painful for some of the villagers to come back and start life all over. Subum that was the economic nerve center of the area with a population of over 500 quickly became a shadow of itself with a current population of slightly over 300 inhabitants and about 200 inhabitants in Cha village.
For over 20 years, the Government of Cameroon has engaged itself in piecemeal efforts in degasing the Lake Nyos and encouraging the inhabitants to return to the land. Although the 3km stretch of road from the Ring Road passing through Nyos (where out of a population of 800 only about 6 people are said to have survived) up to the Lake has been tarred to facilitate movement to experts and tourists, the villagers cannot return to the disaster zone without basic facilities such as education and health.
As a true partner, the European Union (EU) is making in-roots into the resettlement drive of the inhabitants of the Lake Nyos area in a three-prong dimension: agriculture, education and health under the framework of the Cameroon-EU Cooperation. The Civil Society is executing these projects through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
In 2014, the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS) Life Abundant Programme (LAP) won the bid to expand primary healthcare services to the Lake Nyos Zone to improve basic healthcare to the inhabitants. The EU provided 79 million FCFA, the CBCHS provided 6.9 million FCFA and the Lake Nyos community was expected to provide local materials and labour worth 4.8 million FCFA. This gives a total funding of 90.8 million FCFA for the CBCHS-LAP programme to construct and provide primary healthcare structures and services to the beneficiary inhabitants of Nyos, Subum and Cha. So far, this money has been engulfed by intensive renovation works on Subum Primary Health Centre, which went operational on November 11, 2015 and is fast transforming itself into the Subum Baptist Health Centre.
Although land has been allocated for the PHCs in Nyos and Cha, the take-off is delayed by government caution that the two areas are still unsafe to re-settle people in. As the wait continues, the CBCHS-LAP programme is ready and upbeat to further seek funding for the construction of the remaining to PHCs in order to bring life once again to the people of Nyos, Subum and Cha through the provision of compassionate and holistic healthcare both physically and spiritually.
The Trip to Nyos Area
On December 29 and 30, 2015 a team from the CBCHS-LAP visited the Lake Nyos area to appreciate the uptake of services not only in Subum Baptist Health Centre that began on November 11, 2015, but also, in the other LAP PHC facilities along the way. The LAP Administrator, Mr. Kakute Peter led the 5-man delegation compromising Peter, the LAP driver, Nyuyzele Abel, Technical Services Department Supervisor in BBH and Peter Tah and Handerson Bonkung, journalists from the CBCHS Press Division at the Director of Health Services in Bamenda.
The team’s first stop was at Dumbu Primary Health Centre (PHC). This PHC opened its doors to patients on June 7, 2015 and had seen a total of 767 patients with average daily attendance of 7-10 patients by December 29, 2015 when the LAP team visited. Three deliveries have been conducted within the same period under review. The PHC has two staff, a Community Mother and Child Health Aide (COMCHA), Mrs. Maah Comfort Mbe and a Promoter, Mr. Aweh Samuel.
Although Dumbu has a Government Integrated Health Centre, the inhabitants still prefer to access healthcare at the CBCHS-LAP facility. The COMCHA, Mrs. Maah attributes this to the compassionate and holistic approach to care they adopt. She told CBCHS Press that besides offering quality healthcare to the clients, they also preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. The staff carry out compound card visits in the community and educating the villagers on sanitation issues such as digging and covering of latrines, draining of standing water, cutting of tall grass and keeping the environment clean, all in a bid to eliminate malaria that is predominant in the area.
The LAP Field Supervisor for the area pays monthly visits to the PHC to carry out consultation, treatment and referral of difficult cases to the hospital. During such visits, the community is sensitized to take advantage of this opportunity. The PHC is operating on a temporary building pending developments on the permanent site donated by the community. The PHC Community Secretary, Mr. Yamba Jonas said developing the Dumbu PHC is a priority project for the community only seconded by the Government Technical College project.
Dumbu is a busy border town to Nigeria after Misaje. Besides the Government Health Centre, the small town has a functional Police Station and the famous Dumbu Cattle Range. With the teaming population, Dumbu PHC has potentials to grow rapidly as time goes on.
Njinijou PHC is situated in Bum Subdivision. The stop here was brief but remarkable. The LAP team met a male child of about 14 years suffering from bowel obstruction, perhaps as a hangover from random eating during the Christmas feast. The LAP Administrator, Mr. Kakute Peter assisted the COMCHA and Promoter to consult and refer the child immediately to the hospital (BBH) for possible operation. He felt disappointed that it was already late (beyond 6pm) to call the Helicopter Pilot to come and evacuate the child to BBH. Mr. Kakute, however, assisted the care giver of the child who is an orphan of both parents, to hire a bike to carry the child even up to Nkambe where they could easily get a vehicle to Banso.
Subum Baptist Health Centre
As stated earlier on, the PHC in Subum located in Bum Subdivision is fast growing and taking the status of a full health centre. The centre went operational on November 11, 2015 in the structures that hosted the Government Health Centre during the Lake Nyos disaster in August 1986. Like other buildings in the area, the structures were abandoned to rust and ruin. Thanks to the EU funding, the main structure has been highly renovated by the CBCHS-LAP programme to host the Subum Baptist Health Centre (SBHC) that has a total of 8 staff headed by a nurse/screener, Tamanjong Abel Nsom as chief of centre (COC). Other staff members include: pharmacy aide, laboratory aide, COMCHA, Promoter, house keeper and a yard man among others.
Quizzed how he received his appointment to serve in Subum, Mr. Tamanjong said he was encouraged by the courage of the founder of the nursing profession, Florence Nightingale who risked her life in serving war victims in the heart of the Crimean War in 1854. He said SBHC is situated in the bushes of the area but the COC sees a future for the growth of the health centre with patients coming from Subum and the surrounding villages of Kimbi, Bua-bua, Kochi, Nyos and Fang. The COC noted that although there are Government Health Centres in Kimbi and Bua-bua, SBHC still receives patients from these places owing to the provision of quality, compassionate and holistic healthcare.
Addressing the staff during morning devotions on December 30, 2015, the LAP Administrator admonished the staff of SBHC to uphold the vision and the mission of the CBCHS by providing quality healthcare to all who need it. He said the call is even greater for them working in a setting that needs holistic healing. Mr. Kakute used the occasion to once more thank the EU and the CBCHS for providing funds, staffing and other logistics in rebuilding hope in the shattered lives of the inhabitants of the Lake Nyos area. He revealed that remodelling the abandoned Government Health Centre has more than doubled the cost estimates but rejoiced that the CBCHS was committed to fund the balance, because as he put it, “The heart of Prof. Tih, Director of Health Services is in this project”.
Two survivors of the Lake Nyos disaster who shared their experiences are today staff of SBHC. Mr. Tufu Elias Bia is the headman getting close to 60 years old and a father of 7 children. He was about 28 years old and a father of three children in 1986 when Lake Nyos erupted and killed thousands of people, animals and birds including several of his close family relations. A few of them who survived for reasons they could not comprehend were evacuated to Camps in either Bua-bua that was a farmland or to Kimbi.
Mr. Tufu sought refuge in Kimbi Camp. He is among the few inhabitants that have returned to the village in Subum. He narrated that the clouds were calm that fateful day until at about 7pm when they heard a bomb blast kind of sound from the direction of Lake Nyos. They did not understand what was happening until about 10pm when they got the effect in Subum as they witnessed people, animals and birds falling and dying. The water also became poisonous and those who drank it also died instantly. By chance, he drank palm oil before moving out to check on his neighbours and relatives. Curiously, many of them were found dead in their homes and on the way. Until this day, he does not know where his father died and whether or not he was buried.
Another survivor is Wandia Victor, LAP Promoter at SBHC. He is aged 30 and father of three children. He survived the disaster when he was just a baby of about one year old. He sees the beginning of a Baptist health centre in Subum and the resettlement plan as revival of broken bones for his village. He pledges commitment to serve his community whole-heartedly so as to attract those still dragging their feet to return and settle in their God-given land.
It should be noted that Subum is part of the Kimbi National Park Reserve that has recently been upgraded to an International status. With these prospects, it is hoped that the Cameroon-EU Cooperation can surely bring a fresh impetus in the Lake Nyos area through the reputation of the CBCHS-LAP programme.
Story by Bonkung Handerson
Photos by Tah Peter Fomonyuy