By Titilope Fadare
The importation of COVID-19 reiterated the need for nations to focus and invest more in the health sector. The use of soap and clean water was introduced as part of the preventive measures to stem the spread of the virus but it obviously alienates those who still struggle to access clean water for their daily needs.
About 60 million Nigerians are unable to get clean water supply services and 150 million people do not have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water, according to WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH-NORM) in a 2018 survey.
Eziama community situated in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu state is at the other end of the divide because clean water for them was a luxury before the global pandemic and it still is, making them joggle between water related diseases and the virus.
The community was brought to limelight following tweets from Daniel Ugwu, an Environment expert in February 2020 when a female colleague informed him that the residents have never had access to clean water since the existence of Enugu state in 1991.
Stupefied, Ugwu decided to embark on a journey to get firsthand information with the aim of finding either a temporal or long-lasting solution.
“It (Eziama) has existed for as long as Enugu state has been existing. I got to know about them through a colleague. She is married to a community that is close to Eziama Community. She has had some projects she did with the young people there. That was the way she was able to identify the challenges they face with respect to water. When she told me about the community, she wanted us to take up a campaign so the government’s attention can be brought to the plight of the community.
“Initially, I didn’t believe such a community actually existed. I asked her to get me some pictures. She sent it to me. I tweeted about it. Some people who I believe may be close to the government started attacking that the picture is fake and people should disregard it. I challenged them to also produce another picture to counter the narrative. So I felt I should go to the community myself and not rely on third-party information”, Ugwu told MFCC.
Idodo River serves as the only source of water for bathing, washing, cooking and drinking for Eziama, six other communities, 12 surrounding villages and cattle brought by herdsmen.
Uwgu said: “In that river, they bathe, wash and process their fufu (a local food made from cassava). When we interviewed the traditional leader, he said even some herdsmen bring their cattle to the river. The cattle will drink and urinate there too. Some people flush their toilet and it moves to the river”.
Eziama women, children worst hit by water crisis
Culturally mandated to carry out domestic duties, women, and children are mostly affected as they walk miles to get water asides being vulnerable to diseases from dirty water.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 6,000 children die daily from water related diseases while women and girls across the world collectively spend 200 million hours everyday collecting water.
Similarly, women and children residing in Eziama Community are not exempted.
“The issues the women face is that the river serves 12 villages and some of those villages are very far from the river so these women have to travel a very long distance to access the water. That is a whole lot of difficulty.
“We also noticed that the elderly women in the community, those of them who walk that long-distance, will now have to resort to young men using bikes to fetch the water. A gallon of water- 25 liters goes between N50 to N100 depending on where they live.
“When you go to the primary healthcare center, you see the women and the children who are the most impacted by this because the women are the ones who culturally go to fetch water to carry out domestic duties”, Ugwu said.
Typhoid, Diarrhea rampant
Out of 10 health cases in the community, six to seven of them are related to typhoid. During the dry season, diarrhea is more rampant.
These were some of the findings from Temple Oraeki, Hope Spring Water’s Country Representative in Nigeria, when he visited the community with his team after Ugwu’s tweet.
“After we got the information, we went on a preliminary visit, my team members and I. On the first visit, I interviewed their nurse. There is only one community health centre which they just opened last year. Prior to that, they never had one. She pointed out that cases of water-related diseases are very common with the community members.
“She said out of 10 cases she gets every day, six to seven of them are typhoid cases. She also pointed out that cases of diarrhea exist within the community. She was quite specific that during December and January, that is when the children have cases of diarrhea. What I found out was that from December- January, it is usually not the rainy season. The volume of the river goes down that period. This is what I figured out.
“She said she tells them that their disease is caused by unclean water but she cannot do anything apart from telling them. Some of them that have money get ‘pure water’ (water packed in sachet) but there are not a lot in the community that is financially buoyant to get it. I knew that was not a sustainable means to get access to clean water.”
Eziama residents resort to herbal concoction and mixture to treat and manage their health issues.
10-year federal water project lying in waste
Although the community is about 40 minutes away from the city centre, it appears to have been neglected by the government. This is besides the poor road network that connects to Eziama.
A federal water project has been lying in waste since 2010 after Contractors abandoned the project due to unreleased funds.
“The King also pointed out an abandoned federal government water project in 2010 that was meant to be cited in the community. They just did about 60% of the project and it was abandoned. They said the contractors said the government was not releasing funds for the remaining aspect of the project to be complete. It was a project running into millions of naira”, Oraeki said.
In August, the community, especially women were overjoyed after the handover of their first ever water pumped borehole following an intervention by Hope Spring Water.
While it seems like respite has come for this community, a plethora of issues was raised by the interventionists.
Oraeki said: “Our major challenge executing a borehole was access to the community. The access was muddy and swampy. The location where the borehole was cited is quite strategic- at the centre of the hospital, primary and secondary school. Although that would not be enough to serve them because there are about 2500 people and that is the first-ever borehole.
“You can imagine the kind of pressure that will be on that borehole. It doesn’t solve the entire water problem. It is still very key that more interventions are done to the community to get access to clean water. They have just one health centre and it is not enough to handle the many cases that you see. There are so many people coming in and going out.”
Urging the government to look into the abandoned federal water project, he expressed belief that it has the potential to alleviate water poverty for not only Eziama but surrounding communities.
Ugwu on his part raised a campaign for the community through the MTN Foundation to cite more boreholes.
“I led the campaign on twitter and a lot of people nominated them again. I just hope the community will be considered by MTN Foundation. The campaign is not to shame anyone but to showcase to charitable organisations who could be of help. At least let people have access to clean water for a daily decent life”, he added.