IDPs and Sanitation: UNICEF’s Rescue Mission

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Since the increase in the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as a result of the insurgency in the North East part of Nigeria, UNICEF has devoted most of its interventions to address critical issues of water and sanitation for better healthcare of IDPs. Paul Obi writes

Growing cases of malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and poor sanitation have remained the greatest challenges facing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), particularly, in the North Eastern part of Nigeria where Boko Haram insurgency held sway.

Over time, it has been proven that government intervention is not enough to address most of the plights and inadequacies in such IDPs camps. United Nations (UN) agencies have rather tried to fill the void, providing succour and ensuring that minimum level of healthcare and hygiene are maintained within the camps.

UNICEF Intervention
At the forefront of the drive to ensure proper sanitation and scale up access to clean water is UNICEF; an organisation that has remained steadfast amid the enormous challenges, including the recent attack on its officials. According to UNICEF officials, sanitation and clean water are very crucial in ensuring that IDPs’ healthcare is assured. To put teeth to action, UNICEF through some of its interventions, has also extended the provision of water and toilet facilities to some of the IDPs camps in Borno State.

Lucky Communities
In Galtimari ward, located in Jere LGA (which forms part of Maiduguri) of Borno State, sub-divided into four main areas namely Galtimari, Fori, Abbari and Molei each overseen by a Lawan, UNICEF footprints in provision of clean water and sanitation are obvious. The four areas are further sub-divided into 25 units under the traditional guidance of the Bulamas. These units can generally be referred to as communities.

Galtimari has an estimated population of 75,420 with 27,856 IDPs living in 3,502 households. From records, services required by the IDPs include availability of adequate potable water within reasonable distances; availability of latrines and awareness on proper sanitation and hygiene practices. The needs also include IDPs to maintain personal hygiene and water handling /storage. To give hope to IDPs in view of the need for clean water and sanitation, UNICEF initiated the ECHO project as a vehicle that will tackle some of the challenges in the camps.

ECHO Project
The ECHO Project is aimed at ameliorating poor access to water, and level up hygiene among displaced population in Borno state. In addition, ensuring access to safe water to IDPs living in informal camps and with host communities; access to adequate latrines in informal camps; and sanitation and hygiene promotion. It also includes strengthening WASH in emergency sector co-ordination at the state level.

In line with the above mentioned objectives therefore, UNICEF in collaboration with the state RUWASSA under ECHO WASH in emergency programme provided access to safe drinking water to 29,024 people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency through the provision of 42 hand pump boreholes in Galtimari, Fori, Wudiya, Jiddari, Juddumri, Mammanti Umrari, Alakaramti, Mammanti Molai, Shuwari, Molai, Ka’a; mari, Molai and Kura communities.
Rehabilitation of a motorised borehole in Galtimari Primary School Informal IDPs camp benefiting 468 people affected by conflict was also initiated. At the moment, construction of two motorised boreholes one each in Galtimari and Fori is also on-going, and when completed to benefit over 10,000 IDPs and host over 2,800 IDPs reached with access to safe sanitation facilities through the construction of 140 household latrines.

Consequently, more than 4,460 households hosting 26,669 individuals reached with key hygiene messages including dangers of cholera and benefitted from the distribution of 4,460 sets of NFI’s labelled with European Commission/UNICEF stickers for visibility.

In an effort to promote sustainability of WASH programmes UNICEF, in collaboration with State RUWASSA, built the capacities of 60 artisans/mechanics drawn from 3 clusters (Galtimari cluster 20: Juddumri: 20 & Molei: 20) in Galtimari communities hosting IDPs, built on VLOM Concept leading to the rehabilitation of six hand pumps (Galtimari: 2, Mammanti: 2, and Jiddari: 2) boreholes.

Promoting Safety
Prior to ECHO/UNICEF intervention, IDPs were living in host communities and households without access to safe sanitation facilities leading to open defecation practiced in communities. In the area of water supply they depend mainly on vendors and sometimes women and children spend much time and energy walking long distances to the river to fetch water. This situation put the community under risk of being infected with cholera and diarrhoea.

But now with the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities through the construction of hand pump boreholes, household latrines, distribution of non-food items with proper hygiene education has helped, leading to reduction of diarrhoea and rapid sanitation uptake. With this development, children are now seen washing their hands before and after using the toilets.

Strong Feedback
Speaking to journalists on the importance of the projects initiated by UNICEF, Community leader of Galtimari, Bulama Bamai said: “We thank God for ECHO, no doubt, before now we used to have difficulty getting water for our domestic use. Initially we used to have problem of water here and with the coming of the IDPs, the system was further over stretched. We used to buy a truck of water (14 Jerry-cans of water) N300. But now ECHO came and assisted us and all day round we have water and even neighbours around us come to get water from us here.

“We also thank ECHO for the toilet facility provided to us here. There were cases of open defecation because the IDPs lack latrines considering also that the ones owned by host communities were over stretched and faeces could be seen littered all around. But now with the intervention of ECHO through the construction of 226 household latrines, we don’t see cases of open defecation and we don’t see case of diarrhea any longer with the awareness and sensitisation campaign embarked upon by ECHO. All these had resulted in the drastic decrease of diarrhea cases in the community,” Bamai stated.

The community leader also informed journalists that “ECHO has provided us with rubbish bins. Before now, you will see beggars stepping on food all around, but now, we have safe areas of disposing our waste. This has also reduced the incidences of cholera in this community. ECHO used to visit us at intervals to give us some drugs and also check our wellbeing and even our neighbours used to come here and get drugs and for their own treatment. I used to take my family to the hospital frequently, but now due to this intervention, all this has reduced drastically,” Bamai stressed.

Beyond Insecurity
Notwithstanding the security challenges that IDPs faced in Nigeria’s conflict zones, provision of adequate health services and improving on water accessibility and sanitation should be the duty of all stakeholders involved in the business of governance and humanitarian service. Provision of water and clean environment may not be too far to attained, and in turn improve the lives of IDPs.

According to UNICEF Head of Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Programmes, Sanjay Wajeserkera, “now that we can test water more cheaply and efficiently than we were able to do when the MDGs were set, we are coming to terms with the magnitude of the challenge facing the world when it comes to clean water. With the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling for ‘safe’ water for everyone, we’re not starting from where the MDGs left off; it is a whole new ball game,” Wajeserkera said.

Thus, as government and UN agencies battle malnutrition ravaging the North East, ensuring that water and sanitation are also keyed in as major component of the rehabilitation package is very important to saving IDPs beyond good nutrition. The spiral effect of water-borne diseases will be so enormous, if not unstoppable. The best approach is to first, provide water and sanitation services and programmes that will keep epidemics afar.

As UNICEF has proven, the task to keep IDPs safe should also be in line with keeping them healthy. The key to ensuring that IDPs are safe ought to be balanced with improved healthcare services and hygiene programmes across the camps in the country. The mechanism to achieving that lies in the provision of clean water and better sanitation.