Water, Sanitation and Hygiene are areas pregnant with several positives. It stands the chance of boosting the Nigerian economy and liberating individuals from avoidable health challenges. Kuni Tyessi writes
Chundung, a teenager of 13 years is initiated into the world of womanhood by nature. After every 21 days, her monthly visitor is what she has been taught to expect by her aged mother who has instructed that on no account must the opposite sex sit close to her, hold her hands or any part of her body, let alone play with her. The result will be an unwanted pregnancy for which she will be disowned as her body is responding to changes in growth. Maintaining personal hygiene with the use of clean water is not left out of the sermon about the dos and don’ts of puberty.
She is required to cover lengthy kilometres to fetch water, not just for herself and her mother, but for other members of her family who are all males. More so, she is battling with a toilet infection. She contacted it as a result of the use of a public toilet used by over 30 adults and it is rarely properly washed, as the use of excess water is regarded a sign of opulence and luxury, not to talk of being sanitised.
She’s not the only one in this quagmire. Several others have the ailment and as they treat the bacteria and get cured, others contact the disease which results to itching, sores and smelly discharge with the potentials of causing internal damage. The cycle continues.
Chundung’s story is not the same with that of Panmun, her contemporary who resides in a Government Residential Area and has access to clean water which is always available with just a twist on a tap-head. She makes use of water system toilet disinfected twice daily and can take her bath as many times as possible. Her younger siblings often play with water which spoils the tap due to constant manipulation. This leaves water gushing out without control until it has been repaired.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) specialist, Bauchi Field Office, Mr. Drissa Yeo, during a two-day media dialogue on water and sanitation in Jos, Plateau State capital, revealed that enough is not being done by the government especially in terms of counterpart release of funds.
The searchlight was beamed on two local government areas in the state; Riyom and Shendam. It was revealed that the release of N200, 000 monthly which has been estimated to tackle the water and sanitation challenge has always not seen the light of day. The amount which is devoid of staff salaries is expected to deal with only operational expenses.
While explaining the overview of the water supply, sanitation and sector reform project, Phase 3, Yeo lamented that “from 2011-2016, there has been a huge decline in access to sanitation and hand washing.”
He revealed that Plateau State, according to the 2006 national census, has a total population of 3,207,543 and the state’s access to water in a survey carried out between 2013- 2014, is 42.10 per cent in which improved water source accounts for 22.50 per cent. He said access to sanitation in the state, stands at 28 per cent, while the practicing of open defecation, which is alarmingly high, is at 78 per cent.
He narrowed down his analysis to the two aforementioned LGAs and statistics collated, showed that Shendam has a population of about 219, 825 and only 29.5 per cent have access to water and unfortunately, most of the water points are not working due to several factors which include over stretching of limited facilities, poor maintenance culture, inadequate logistics, inadequate support and rural community conflict amongst others.
He further stated that “Access to water has increased from 24.30 per cent to 43 per cent in Shendam and from 22.50 per cent to 54 per cent in Riyom. In terms of sanitation, Shendam has moved from 19.40 per cent to 38 per cent and from 28 per cent to 56 per cent in Riyom.
Yeo in a summary of the statistics said: “More money should be put into recurrent expenditure to ensure that planning is done more properly, and manpower to ensure that the investment made is properly utilised; projects are properly managed and water gets to people. So recurrent expenditure should be higher than capital and the government has not caught up with that.
“Several times, government goes to communities and says it wants to provide water but they don’t talk to the community in order to know what they want. They provide services that nobody wants and are not prepared to use, or that nobody is ready to maintain and sustain. There are proliferations of boreholes all over the country and when a survey is done, it will be discovered that more than half of them are not functional and that’s because the communities were not consulted in decision making concerning the services they need.
“Corruption has a role to play. Where are the opportunities for rent taking, for people taking money from government fund? It is when they deliver big infrastructure projects and where they can award contracts, rather than where people can be empowered to deliver services.”
UNICEF Nigeria Water Sanitation and Hygiene Chief, Zaid Jurji, in his analysis of the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in Nigeria, has stated that the travails of several Nigerians like Chundung has nothing to do with lack of water if only the grants that have been disbursed by the European Union were judiciously used for what they were meant for. He lamented the various situations that several Nigerians have found themselves in as a result of inability to access of good water.
He said: “EU grant is quite disappointed at the inability of the government to pay counterpart funding. All that the system needs is restructuring.
“With this, the water sector in Nigeria is underfunded; hence the numerous potentials it promises to deliver are untapped, thereby making the industry less attractive to Nigeria’s teeming youthful population who are unemployed.”
In an interview with former WaterAid Country Director, Mr. Michael Ojo, on the water situation in Nigeria, it was revealed that what has always been released by the government is grossly inadequate in the face of a growing and teeming population. He said: “The sum of N44 billion was allocated for water resources in the 2016 budget, which is 0.7 per cent of the total budget as against 2.5 per cent which was expected.
”The 2016 allocation to the Ministry of Water Resources was inadequate in solving the water challenge plaguing the country, as the sum of N400-N600 billion is needed annually for the next 15 years in tackling the menace.
“More disturbing is the issue of women and girls who are the most affected as in most cases, the search for water in the family is their responsibility which is not open for a debate. They are robbed of valuable time for productivity due to the saddled responsibility by nature, circumstance or culture,” he added.
In Ganawuri chiefdom, Mr. Chaimang Yakubu Ataatem, a second class chief, leading a population of about 300,000 people whose major occupation if farming and is mostly carried out by women, said the issue of water has been a disturbing re-occurrence until the EU project which brought succour to the community that have existed for over 800 years.
He said: “The quest for water, which is so difficult, and can be equated to the search of diamonds has also exposed rural children to diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery. Unavailability of clean water and limited knowledge for lactating mothers in the constant washing and cleanliness of their breasts is responsible.
“Another disaster in the country is the situation where women and girls capacity and potential for enterprise is under-utilised because of lack of access to water. When you talk about how families can tackle this problem, it is really talking about how girls and women can cope with it because they end up being the ones with the problem because they do the water fetching.
“Many of them spend hours in a day, hours that could be used in a more productive economic activity is not available to them and some studies have shown that in Nigeria, women and girls spend between 2-4 months every year, just looking for water.
“It might sound incredible but this is the reality, particularly in rural communities like ours where people have to go 2-3 hours to fetch water and sometimes up to four hours. So we have an economic potential that we are not utilising which has great potentials to develop our economy and complement workforce,” he said.
Every man-made problem always has a solution. However, the problems must be identified for a lasting solution to hold sway as corruption and its several allies make up the list. Also, so much resources have been spent on infrastructure and not services.
All the experts are optimistic that Nigeria can put the challenge of access to clean water behind her if the government, corporate organisations and individuals can come together and speak with one voice for the common good of all.
They are reiterating that dramatic and sustained increase of funds is expected from the government; development partners should work with the government to ensure that monies provided are used for the purposes for which they were given and everyone carried along. The private sector should be included in a much structured manner for private sector participation.