After 100 years of dependence on a well for water, three Rivers communities are in jubilant mood after their agony of accessing clean potable water ended with the intervention of donor agencies and the state government. PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA (Abuja) reports the new development in the affected communities
In Kpokpo, Aya-Ama and Ottonlama communities in Opobo/Nkoro local government area of Rivers State, access to clean drinking water was a major challenge.
Even though the communities are surrounded by water, clean drinking water was as scares as gold to them since they could neither drink, bath nor cook with the ocean water around them giving its salty nature.
Before the recent intervention, the communities, for over 100 years, depended on a well in Nkoro-Ottalama for their source of drinking water.
However, after several years of hoping for intervention from both government and other organisations, the communities with a population of about 15,000, found reason to smile as the EU/UNICEF in partnership with the state government brought water project to the local government in which Kpokpo, Aya-Ama and Ottonlama communities and some others were selected.
During a visit to the local government as part of the recent Niger Delta Support Projects (NDSP) Media Dialogue, organised by the EU/UNICEF in the state, the secretary, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM), Mr Ngerebo Dickson, said that the well has been there for over 100 years adding that it is the only source of water in Nkoro-Ottalama community.
“There was a time this community had cholera outbreak due to unclean water,” said Dickson, while thanking God for the intervention of the EU/UNICEF.
The local government chairman, Hon. Eugene Joshua Jaja, said at last, the era of waterborne diseases is over in the local government. “At least, the people have good drinking water now, so the era of cholera and diarrhea is gone,” he said, adding, “We are grateful to UNICEF for this gesture and we also encourage them to replicate this in other communities.”
The vice chairman, Aya-Ama community, Rev. Dr. Luke Berekura, said, “The situation of this place has been very bad, as you can see over there that is the kind of water we used to drink. But God being God of Africa who never kills, we would have all died by now. So we are very happy.”
One of the women in Aya-ama community who identified herself as Monica Monday, said the intervention has also helped reduce open defecation practice in the area, saying people are now building toilets in their houses against the practice of going to the water front to defecate.
WASH coordinator, Rivers State, Ezekiel Jaja, said, “At Nkoro, before this time, Okpkpo community have been using well and have been defecating in the open, but through this project, we have been able to enlighten the people on the effect of open defecation, now the communities are building houses with toilets, and the project has helped us to have a community free from communicable diseases like diarrhea and cholera. Before this project came, we had an epidemic in the local government leading to the death of about five children.
“The water is solar powered and that means we don’t need electricity. The WASHCOM people ensure that the project is sustained, so the water runs 24 hours, it is a good one for the community. In this community we have about 5,000 persons that are depending on this water.”
Also, the general manager, River State Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, Napoleon Aja, said: “First of all, I want to thank the governor for making it possible for this project to be sited here because without his counterpart funds, this project would not have been sited here. Before now, we have always had the issue of water borne diseases, but with this project, I think they will not experience such occurrence again.
The rural component of NDSP, UNICEF was initiated in 2012 with the overall objective of mitigating the conflict in the Niger Delta by addressing the main causes of the unrest and violence; youth unemployment, and poor delivery of basic services using WASH intervention programmes as an entry point.
WASH specialist, UNICEF, Martha Hokonya, said the specific objective of the programme is to contribute to strengthening of social bonding and peace building among communities in the project states through local capacity building and provision of access to improved sources of safe drinking water and basic sanitation in 10 self-selected local government areas in the Project states, namely Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers, costing the EU 20,000,000 Euros, UNICEF 600,000 Euros with a timeframe of seven years (December 2012 – October 2019).
The programme is also expected to upgrade LGA WASH Units to WASH Departments and strengthen the capacity of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Institutions in the five states to drive and implement sustainable WASH projects, increase access to safe and sustainable water supply services in the rural communities in the self-selected LGAs in the project states as well as increase access to improved sanitation and proper hygiene practice in rural communities and schools amongst others.
According to UNICEF, “At least 600,000 additional inhabitants in the rural communities in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers States have access to safe water with equity.
“At least 1.4 million additional inhabitants of the project states have access to basic sanitation facilities and practice proper hygiene.”
Highlighting the milestones of the programme, the organisation explained that WASH policy is finalised and approved in Rivers and Delta States alone while others like Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa , Edo States, policy are still under processing adding that 258 water facilities constructed or rehabilitated reaching 369,851 people with access to safe water in the states.
It however identified delays in release of counterpart funding by state governments and communities as significantly delaying implementation and poor operational support to RUWASSA’s and LGAs making it difficult for them to support project implementation and compromising sustainability of WASH projects.
Meanwhile, chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, (WASH), UNICEF, Zaid Jurji, said Nigeria needs N959 billion to eradicate open defecation by 2025.
He also said that the country loses N455 billon each year due to lack of sanitation whereas it needs only N95.9 billion per year to eliminate open defecation.
Jurji worried that Nigeria has been one of the top five countries with open defection in the world for the past 15 years, moving from 5th place in 2013 to 2nd place in 2015.
According to him, one in every four Nigerians lack access to a basic toilet, adding that these huge number of Nigerians defecate in the open, with 32 per cent in rural areas and 39 per cent from the poorest households.
The WASH specialist also informed that only 39 per cent of Nigerians use an improved toilet that is not shared by more than one household. He noted that sanitation is only 19 per cent WASH budget.
He said that whereas 140 million people have phones, only 97 million have access to improved sanitation. According to him, “Only 49 per cent of schools have usable latrines available for children. And only 37 per cent health facilities have at least one usable toilet available for patients.”
He therefore stressed the need for the federal and state governments to prioritise sanitation and declare a state of emergency, pointing out that the economic gains for investing in sanitation could be about N359.1 billion or $1.026 billion each year.
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