JP Clark’s “Night Rain” is a lyrical mirror reflecting the profound interplay between the Arts and the Environment. African ancestors and intellectuals, for generations, have sounded the alarm about the ravages inflicted on Mother Earth. Their prophetic voices echo louder today as the environmental devastation they forewarned manifests. The burning question remains: how can we restore the harmony between humanity and our environment?
“What time of night it is I do not know Except that as some fish Doped out of the deep, I have bobbed up belly wise From the stream of sleep And no cock crow.”
Recently, media platforms have been awash with reports of devastating floods in various coastal regions of Africa. This flooding, brought on by seasonal rainfall and heightened water levels, is not new. However, these events escalating frequency and severity present an increasingly grim picture. The current predicament parallels JP Clark’s “Night Rain,” a vivid description of how nature’s wrath tests the resilience of communities and shapes their survival stories.
“It is drumming hard here, And I suppose everywhere Droning with insistent ardour upon Our roof thatch and shed And through sheaves slit open To lightning and rafters I cannot quite make out overhead Great water drops are dribbling.”
The poem’s imagery suggests the relentless onslaught of torrential rains, stripping homes of protective coverings and casting a foreboding pall over the coastal communities. Just as in the poem, the real-life victims of these flood incidents awake to find their homes immersed in water, their worldly possessions at the mercy of nature’s fickle moods.
From Fiction to Reality: Coastal Communities Under Siege
The following are a few examples of African countries currently grappling with the havoc wreaked by floods:
Nigeria: A Nation Submerged
In Nigeria, The Red Cross reported that since June 2019, torrential rainfalls and flash floods have struck 124 Local Government Areas within 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory – Abuja. An estimated 210,117 people have been affected, with 171 casualties recorded in hospitals and 130,610 people reportedly displaced.
Niger: An Exodus Triggered by Rising Waters
In Niger, officials from the Diffa Region reported in October 2019 that the Komadougou River broke its banks, displacing around 23,000 people. Many villages on the outskirts of Diffa are now completely submerged, with vast damage to homes and farmland.
Cameroon: Border Crisis
In Cameroon, flooding along the Logone River has reportedly affected 70,000 people and approximately 30,000 across the border in Chad. Voice of America (VoA) reports that this is one of the worst floods since 2012 when 60 people died in north Cameroon.
DR Congo: A Capital in Crisis
In the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, heavy rains have resulted in flash floods, leaving at least six people dead and around 30 houses destroyed.
Sudan: A Tragedy in North Darfur
In North Darfur, Sudan, heavy rains and flash floods have led to the collapse of about 367 homes in October 2019, leaving many people homeless and many livestock dead.
Kenya: The Unexpected Deluge
In Kenya, the seasonal Lagwarera river burst its banks in October 2019, flooding areas of Takaba in Mandera County and displacing local communities.
Clark offers a beacon of hope in the face of this adversity:
“Do no tremble then But, turn brothers, turn upon your side Of your loosening mats To where the others lie.”
He suggests this is not a time for fear but a call to action to rise against the challenge. Climate change is a consistent theme in Africa’s narrative. A 2006 UN report from a climate change conference in Nairobi stated, “Africa is the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change…Africa is facing a wide range of impacts, including increased drought and floods… climate change will contribute to decreases in food production… spread of waterborne diseases and risk of malaria, and changes in natural ecosystems and biodiversity loss.”
The current state of our environment compels us to act. While long-term measures to curb recurrent flooding in all the coastal areas of Africa are paramount, immediate action is also crucial. Governments, stakeholders, and relief organisations must provide direct aid and relief materials to those displaced and impacted by the floods. Let us listen to the wisdom of our ancestors, the poetry of our artists, and the voices of those affected. Our harmonious coexistence with our environment depends on it.
Uganda: A Country Awash
In Uganda, flash floods caused by torrential rain have caused widespread destruction and displacement. In the capital city of Kampala alone, numerous roads and houses have been submerged, and the city’s drainage system has been overwhelmed. The Office of the Prime Minister has reported that the flooding has affected over 30,000 people across the country, causing deaths and displacements and devastating farmlands.
Malawi: Battling The Deluge
In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, the impacts of flooding have been catastrophic. Over a million people were affected by floods that swept through southern Malawi in early 2019 caused by the annual cyclone season. The immediate needs for clean water, sanitation, and hygiene remain high as communities grapple with the aftermath.
Mozambique: From Cyclones to Floods
Mozambique is another African nation struck by severe weather events. The country is still recovering from the devastating impacts of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which hit in 2019, causing massive flooding, leading to hundreds of deaths, and displacing thousands of people.
A Call to Action
Against this backdrop of escalating environmental crises, Clark’s poem resonates powerfully, echoing the cry of the African continent. He urges:
“Fish, crab, toad, and such brothers Of gill and fen and marshes, Leave us a while in our hush to listen, Then, with one flounder for an excuse, plunge me back into darkness.”
Clark suggests that our relationship with our environment should be mutual respect and understanding. We must pause and listen to the environment’s wisdom, to understand the language of the fish, the crab, the toad, and the marsh. We must recognise the early warning signs that our planet is in distress and act to prevent further damage.
Environmental issues are multifaceted and complex, involving socio-economic, political, cultural, and technological aspects. Addressing them requires a coordinated and concerted effort at national and international levels. It consists in taking concrete steps to mitigate climate change, adapting to changes already underway, and creating resilient societies that can withstand future shocks.
Immediate response measures are crucial, such as providing relief materials and resettling displaced people. But long-term strategies are equally important: Enhancing climate prediction models, improving land use planning and urban design, investing in durable, resilient infrastructure, and implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Above all, there is an urgent need to foster a new environmental consciousness among the populace – a consciousness that respects the sanctity of nature, values biodiversity, cherishes the ecological balance, and is committed to preserving the earth for future generations. This requires environmental education and public awareness campaigns, and promoting sustainable lifestyles and consumption patterns.
In the end, the melody of “Night Rain” is a lament for the present and a hymn of hope for the future. It is a call to action – to rise from our mats, listen to the wisdom of nature, and work together to restore harmony with our environment. As Clark would have it, we must ‘turn upon our side’ and face these challenges together. This is the greatest lesson we can glean from the ‘night rain’ rhythm.