As stakeholders continuously seek the best strategies to improve sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria, Paul Obi writes on efforts by UNICEF through the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme to foster sanitation and sustain clean water sources across communities in Cross River State
Ugep community, Africa’s acclaimed largest community, is not new to those who traverse Cross River State. Located in Yakurr Local Government Area in the central senatorial district of the state, Ugep Town as popularly known is the heart of the state culturally.
But like other Nigerian communities, Ugep is not isolated from the basic developmental challenges associated with others. The community, in many fronts, also faces the daunting challenges the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to address.
Particularly, SGDs Goal 6, clean water and sanitation remains critical to achieving sustainable community development in many facets. More so, the attainment of SDGs goal 6, through the provision of clean water and improved sanitation also has a corresponding impact on achieving SDG goal 3 – good health and wellbeing and goal 11 – sustainable cities and communities.
It is in the light of the above – to have multi-sectoral benefits – that the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme was conceptualised.
According to UNICEF, WASH was introduced to ensure the provision of clean safe drinking water across communities in Nigeria, and as well, scale up sanitation. The programme seeks to increase and improve water resources and ensure the availability of modern sanitation facilities.
In the same vein, it is geared towards developing and sustaining water sources around communities in Nigeria. The aim is to reach out to citizens through WASH, thereby, enhancing communities’ water sources, hygiene, sanitation and ensuring that they adapt to the Open Defecation Free (ODF) initiative.
The WASH programme in Ugep Town and other communities in Yakurr has been inaugurated to address such challenges confronting communities.
Speaking to THISDAY during a tour of some of the WASH projects, UNICEF WASH Consultant, Collins Njoku explained that in order to “achieve ODF status in Yakurr, WASH was set up, which comprised members of the community as direct beneficiaries of the project.
“Without casting blames, the community lauded UNICEF for the initiative in sensitising them to the importance of having toilets and discouraging open defecation.” Njoku added that “through our collective effort we achieved the ODF status in Yakurr. Our problem now is to work on how to achieve the sustainability of these current gains.”
Also, the Yakurr WASH Coordinator, Omini Usani, observed that before the setting up of WASH programme, “many people in Yakurr did not have access to running water or toilet. Open defecation was the norm. Our fields, uncompleted buildings and farms were contaminated with faeces.
“But the establishment of Water Sanitation and Hygiene in Yakurr has transformed our people lives. Through this WASH programme, UNICEF has rewarded many communities in Yakurr with a borehole and hand pump.
“The Yakurr WASH members used to share themselves to ensure that no child or adult defecates outside the latrines. As a way of enforcing the law and bringing the initiative to fruition, a fine of N5,000 was imposed on any person they caught practicing open defecation. Our problem now is to sustain the ODF status.”
According to the Paramount Ruler of Yakurr people, the Obol Lopon of Ugep, HRH Obol Ofem Ubana, “sanitation and easy access to water has saved many lives in my communities. Through WASH, UNICEF has provided good water for my people. There is no more open defecation in my communities.”
Another community stakeholder, Mrs. Joe Ekpata further stated that “in the past, we did not bother about sanitation, but now every household uses soap and ash to wash their hands after defecation. Yakurr WASH ensured that the environment is kept clean with good hygiene practice. It would interest you to know that on May 15, 2018 Yakurr attained the ODF status. Now we are working on how to sustain it.”
On how to sustain the WASH programme, the Coordinator of Primary Health Care (PHC) in Yakurr, Mrs. Nkoyo Oka stated that the WASH community stakeholders are really working hard to ensure continuity.
Oka added that, “they are always on the watch. Like in the community I come from, WASH community divided themselves with some people who watch the uncompleted buildings where people used to defecate. They watch the area from morning till night.
“Even the Obol Lopon of Ntamkpo has been very helpful; he enforced the law that any person caught defecating in the open would be taken to the court. As the PHC coordinator, some criteria they asked me to put in place is that I should provide toilet facilities and washing facilities in all the health care centres in Yakurr, which I have made compulsory,” Oka said.
As attested by the WASH community stakeholders above, provision of water, introducing hygienic practices and enforcing sanitation remain the best strategies to tackling many challenges facing communities in respect of healthcare, better life and sustainable living.
The good thing is that the singular act of providing water surely has a ripple effect on other critical areas of communities’ lives – and their sustainability. The Yakurr example of WASH clearly shows the zeal of UNICEF to practically provide solutions and remedies to many of the social and developmental ills communities face. Provision of water is therefore an answer in many ways.
But as it is the case with many such projects like WASH, the reality of a perfectly conceptualised programme goes beyond the initiation. Sustaining and improving the WASH programme is therefore key to the intervention itself.
Instructively, the essence is to reach out to more communities and ensure that the programmes and projects initiated are long lasting and not short-lived.
Beyond Yakurr and Ugep communities, the onus is on the relevant government authorities in the federal Ministries of Water Resources and Health and the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the SDGs to adopt the template used by UNICEF under the WASH programme to ensure adequate water provision and sanitation to many of Nigerians who previously do not have access to such amenities.
That way, the SDG targets and indicators on water and sanitation can be realised and the vital goal achieved before the deadline year.