Water is indispensable to human life and a priority for survival. Following disasters and during humanitarian relief activities, providing safe supplies of water to the affected people is a major challenge. VICTOR OKEKE in this report examines the efforts of stakeholders, partners and UNICEF in addressing the WASH crisis in the North East.
Jiddumri, Maidugiri Borno State, was, until recently, a small and quiet place for its few residents. But this all changed when an influx of internally displaced people (IDP) arrived, seeking refuge from insurgents who had destroyed their homes and livelihoods. Although they arrived in large numbers, the local traditional ruler welcomed them and provided land and temporary housing.
The local traditional ruler of Jiddumri, Abubakar Abdulrahman narrated, “When the IDPs arrived in Juddumri we all began to suffer, we did not have enough water and it was expensive to buy. The increase in population meant we could not help everyone, one household had almost 100 people. There was no electricity or fuel to dig boreholes, even providing enough toilets became a problem. But UNICEF and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) arrived. We told them about our problems and they provided us with toilets and hand pumps to draw water, we are truly thankful.”
Also, women in Fufore town, Adamawa State have imbibed good menstrual hygiene practices due to efforts made by trained community members. These practices, which include personal hygiene and proper use of menstrual pads, have fostered intimacy between couples especially in Sabongari ward of Fufore town.
Before menstrual hygiene was demystified in Sabongari, men stayed away from their wives during their menstrual periods. The offensive odour that emanated from their homes due to poor hygiene practices often kept the men away.
Thirty-five-year-old Maimuna Sulaiman, who lives in Sabongari, explained why women in her community were alienated during menstruation. “Some women simply removed the rags used for menstruation and tucked them under their beds,” said Maimuna. ‘’Other women who managed to wash their menstrual pads didn’t dry them out in the sun but inside their houses to avoid shame in a community where menstruation was considered a taboo.’’
The efforts of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)-trained female members of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM), have helped improve menstrual hygiene among women in Sabongari.
The WASHCOM members have passed on the training they received from UNICEF on good menstrual hygiene to the women in the community. WASHCOM was established as part of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project funded by the European Union (EU) in collaboration with the Adamawa State government.
The right to water and sanitation is an inextricable human right. Water and sanitation are critical determinants for survival in the initial stages of a disaster. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and to provide for consumption, cooking and personal and domestic hygienic requirements.
Beginning in 2011, the population of the North East of Nigeria states has been affected by the insurgency between Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, commonly known as ‘Boko Haram’ and governmental forces.
People affected by disasters are generally more susceptible to illness and death from disease, which to a large extent, are related to inadequate sanitation, inadequate water supplies and inability to maintain adequate hygiene.
Simply providing sufficient water and sanitation facilities will not alone, ensure optimal use and achieve the desired impact on public health. In order to reach the maximum benefit from a response, it is imperative that disaster-affected people have the necessary information, knowledge and understanding to prevent water and sanitation-related diseases and to include them in the design and maintenance of facilities.
WASH is the collective term for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Due to their interdependent nature, these three core issues are grouped together to represent a growing sector. While each a separate field of work, each is dependent on the presence of the other. For example, without toilets, water sources become contaminated; without clean water, basic hygiene practices are not possible.
UNICEF’s work in water focuses on the ability for children to access safe water, the quality of the water they can access and the journey they must take to collect it.
For sanitation, it works to ensure access and use of basic toilets and ways to separate human waste from contact with people. One important area of work for sanitation is to end the practice of “open defecation,” and facilitate community-led initiatives to build, maintain and use basic toilets.
UNICEF’s work in hygiene is aimed at nurturing good hygiene practices, especially hand washing with soap. Although it sounds simple, this act is essential to prevent disease and the health of children.
All three areas in WASH support and strengthen one another. If one is missing, the others cannot progress.
Provision of sufficient clean water, adequate sanitation for excreta disposal, and management of medical and other solid waste can reduce diarrhoea disease, typhoid fever, vector-borne disease, and scabies. Despite efforts for maintaining water and sanitation standards, failures occur due to cultural habits or toilet behaviours (not using soap after latrine use).
Therefore, in order to achieve the goal of sufficient water and sanitation standards, organisations like the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and partners are working in the North East of Nigeria to monitor sanitation and water use activities of the population and focus on bridging the gap between what people know about water, sanitation and hygiene and their actual practices.
Since this period, UNICEF has continued to provide co-leadership for WASH sector coordination at the national and sub-national levels.
UNICEF co-chairs the WASH Sector Emergency Working Group with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) at the national level. At the sub-national level, UNICEF co-chairs the WASH Sector Emergency Working Groups with the State Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR). The sub-national working groups –established and operational in Adamawa and Borno states –meet bi-weekly with sector partners, including national water and authorities, SEMA and international and national NGOs.
In Bauchi State, there is this particular borehole constructed by UNICEF in 2012 with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), as part of the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria project (SHAWN). Before then, the people of Tsohongarin Lukshi in Bauchi State, North-East Nigeria, had no borehole, and their nearest source of water was a stream three hours from the community.
“The stream is very far away from our village. By the time we find water and return home, we are too tired to do anything for the rest of the day,” says Ms. Nuhu. “And it wasn’t exactly clean water we got, coming from the stream.”
Along with bringing water to Tsohongarin Lukshi, the SHAWN project also helped change behaviour among the 807 residents of this farming community.
In 2012, there was no latrine here, and open defecation was a common practice. Today, there are 72 household latrines, and the community has been declared open-defecation free.
According to Mr Zaid Jurji, the UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Nigeria, the WASH programme in the north east is yielding positive results.
“The situation has improved so far since last year. Water situation has improved and sanitation. For hygiene, there is definitely need for lots of effort because hygiene means changing the behaviour of the people,” he said.
However, even in water and sanitation, there is still need for improvement because there is still a huge gap existing. For example, water facilities are concentrated in the north east but if you go to the taps, the long queue of the people there which keep them for hours.
Jurji said “we are trying to reduce that by extending the number of taps and increasing the number of storage containers to reduce to the queuing time of the people.”
“In terms of sanitation, it has also improved but there are still challenges because there is the standard of one latrine for 50 people but even in some places there is more and we are trying to cover those gaps.”
Prior to this time, the situation was not good in terms of water and sanitation in the northeast especially. In a six-month study conducted in 2016 by the World Bank, United Nations along with the European Union, 75 percent of WASH facilities damaged during the insurgency. Prior to the conflict, the situation was not good either.
According to Jurji, open defecation is really a big issue not only in the northeast (when compared with other parts of the country, it is worse in the northeast) but all over the country. Nigeria is the largest country engaged in open defecation and it really a challenge for Nigeria.
“Recently, I was in Damasa and I visited a house which we recently provided with a latrine and I was asking what they were doing before without latrine. They said they were defecating within the boundary in the open. Here it was all men, women and children. And they were 45 family members doing open defecation. Open defecation is very dangerous. It is from children excreta that this wild polio virus spring from. Polio, diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis E and so many other diseases are linked to poor water and sanitation hygiene.
However, looking forward into 2018, UNICEF says the target is to achieve 2.1 million people with water, sanitation and hygiene.
“In 2017, we faced cholera, hepatitis E and within that 61 people lost their lives due to cholera and some people died due to hepatitis E. Since we have had these experiences, we are trying to be very well prepared in terms of stockpiling before and we are trying to be prepared in covering the gap in sanitation. We plan to do further hygiene campaign to try and change the behaviour of the people more and more,” Jurji assured.