Safe Water provision excites Nigeria’s rural South-West, North-Central residents

Rasheedat Oladotun-Iliyas.

There was a moment of silence as the people of Gaa Saidu in Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, cast their gaze on the taps. Soon the sound of the generating set pierced the silence deafening the drumming beats which followed inside the overhead tank. And then in a split seconds later, clean, safe water came gushing out of the taps sending the children and women on a wild race towards it with excitement in all careless abandon.

Image of signpost of Gaa Suraju community safe water project during a visit to the community.

As they danced to the rhymeless sounds of their laughter, their clothes drenched, mouth full, hair wet, voices of joy soon drowned the once loud sound from the generating set turning it into a mere whisper.

For a community where residents, for decades, had hitherto relied on water from ponds, streams and rivers for their daily needs, clean safe potable water right in their domain is a dream they never had. The only thing that was close to it was when it rains.

In 2023, this same scenario played out in Gaa Oloni in Oyun Local Government Area of Kwara State, Igbotele community in Ijabe Odo-otin of Osun State and Ogotun-Ekiti in Ekiti South-west of Ekiti State.

Image of children playing as safe water project is launched in their community, courtesy Kehinde Kadiri.

“We Used to Drink From the Same Ponds as Our Cows “

In time past, as early as 4am, women and their children from Gaa Suraju, (one of the beneficiaries of the safe water project), would set out to fetch water from a pond which is several kilometers away from their abode. And, during the dry season when they had to dredge out sands with their hands and wait for water to gather, they set out even much earlier.

Like the typical Hausa-Fulani family, Fatima Abubakar’s family, a member of Gaa Suraju community, owns a herd of cows, goats and other livestock. Before now, Fatima’s younger brothers would lead a herd of cattle to the pond which served as the nearest source of water for the community. The animals would have their fill while Fatima and her sisters wait a while for the water to settle and then fetch water for household use, which include drinking, cooking and bathing.

Then, water was obtained from any lake, river, pond or stream without any regard for its purity or safety.

This, for many years, was how they lived, wine, and dined until, a member of the community, Mallam Ibrahim Muhammed went to town to seek the help of a benefactor for a mobility aid due to his physical challenge.

Mallam Ibrahim Muhammed during an interview at Gaa Suraju community.

When confronted with options, Mallam Muhammed’s decision to choose water against the mobility aids sealed the fate of the community.

“We used to add alum to purify the water we fetched from the ponds before drinking. We used to drink from the same ponds our cows drink from. Now, we have water. Things are easy for us. Within a few seconds, the tank is filled. We now have access to clean and safe water.” Mallam Muhammed narrated with satisfaction.

According to Mallam Muhammed,  the borehole is pumped every night with a petrol powered generating set as there is yet to be public power supply in the area. The choice of time is to enable members to also recharge their mobile phones and illuminate their surroundings.

Mallam Muhammed said that the community had also been able to facilitate safe water projects to two other communities through the assistance of their benefactor.

A woman in the community, Adijat Abdullahi, explained that children no longer miss school because of lack of water, and engaging in household chores has become easier.

“We used to wake up very early and our children too, in search of water but now, it is within our reach. The benefits of water are unexplainable. The men travel to the cities daily and can get safe water to buy and drink. The men don’t know the importance of water as we women do. We are home, we won’t be able to sleep until we get water to cook, drink and clean the house.”

Images of children at the launch of safe water projects in some communities. Courtesy Kehinde Kadiri

Rukayat Abdullahi, a teenager, said having water in her community has solved their problems for personal hygiene and sanitation. “I danced shamelessly. The search for water is over. And I can bathe as many times as I please,” She giggled.

Today Gaa Suraju has become a Mecca of sorts for neighboring communities who also come there for their water needs or to catch a glimpse of how the water project works.

As at February 2024, to dig a borehole water in Kwara State would cost about $11 per meter. This is then calculated by the number of meters that would be dug, depending on the level of water in the area. And then, the pumping machine which is sold for between $60 and $70, a power generator which costs about $100, amongst other expenses. The total cost of these expenses, no doubt, is a lot of money for these rural communities where residents make a living from less capital intensive ventures.

Health Implications of Using Unsafe Water.

A Medical Doctor with the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, UITH, Kwara State, Nigeria, Lanre Olosunde said safe water poverty in the rural areas should be given urgent attention to safeguard their health. Dr Olosunde listed the health consequences of drinking unsafe water to include cholera, typhoid, guineaworm, diarrhea and child mortality.

He emphasized that safe water poverty should be tackled head-on to prevent outbreak of health emergencies.

“Safe and clean water is a fundamental human right. Water is key to life, it is essential to life, so any responsible Government at every level, should make it a priority, to make sure that every community, every settlement atleast have access to clean and potable water. It’s a fundamental human rights and this will go a long way to safe cost. Prevention, they say is safer, better and cheaper than cure.”

“Water is not a glass of water, sometimes water is the blood and sweat of some people.”

As at December 2023, 23 communities in Seven States – Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo,- have benefitted from the free safe water project for rural communities facilitated by The Grassroots Aid Initiative, TGAi.

The community members (in Gaa Owun local government in Ago Oja, Kwara state) have stories of how their exhausting search for water for daily needs had ended with the free safe water projects sited within their domain and how the river/lake or ponds which was once their hope had been abandoned to nature.

Daodu Olagunju in Ede, Osun State, Southwest Nigeria is also a beneficiary of the safe water project. The women who process palm kernels there said that their job has become much easier, and productivity has improved.

Image of a palm kernel processing area in Daodu Olagunju. Courtesy Kehinde Kadiri

In Ogun State, Ogboja Community is one of the beneficiaries of the free water project and four years on after the project’s execution, the tap never runs dry. According to the Baale of Ogboja, Olusegun Olonade, the women in the community have a special savings for the maintenance of the pumping machine, generator and taps.

“The water (borehole) is still working. It is not in a state of comatose. The generator is in perfect condition too, we service it regularly. The women contribute money for the maintenance and we men also give them money. Even when the taps get bad, we replace them. It is working well.”

“We pump water thrice daily. We are not connected to the power grid. We rely on the generator. We are very happy with the borehole and someone else gave us four solar panels which has been helping as well.”

According to the founder of the NGO, The Grassroots Aid Initiative, TGAi, Dr Kehinde Kadiri, her love for rural photography exposed her to potable water poverty in rural communities.

Image of Dr Kehinde Kadiri, founder The Grassroots Aid Initiative, TGAi during the interview.

Dr Kadiri who heads the Mass Communication Department at the University of Ilorin, in Kwara State, North Central, Nigeria said that the plights of rural women entrepreneurs sourcing for water for their businesses were too agonizing to forget.

“I started telling stories about rural communities. I got to a community where they were having water challenge. I was documenting their challenges. Interviewing individuals. Taking pictures, writing their stories, suddenly someone sent me a message, how much does a borehole cost? I had to make enquiries about water project and that was how we started.

She explained that the projects done so far were carried out through crowdfunding, individual donations and contributions from family and friends.

“Majority of the rural communities do not have access to safe water. I realized that water is at the center of everybody’s life and activity. Water affects the economic sustainability of communities. Majority of the people in the rural communities, they are into farming and food processing, like locust beans, production of Garri, lafun (cassava flour), elubo (yam flour), and other foods that we take. And if these rural communities don’t have access to safe water, definitely they will use the water that they can have access to, which is all these bad water. And when they produce our foods , it’s going to compromise our health.

“Water affects our health, economic sustainability, education because this little kids in the rural areas, they need to fetch water for domestic use and by the time they get back, they are tired and will not go to school.

“I met some kids with swollen faces because they were stung by bees when they went in the bush to answer the call of nature and some got bitten by snakes.

Water can affect the security and political stability of communities. I witnessed that first hand. It has caused medical challenges to some people.

Water is not a glass of water, sometimes water is the blood and sweat of some people.”

Dr Kadiri said the communities also need to own the project for sustainability. According to her, while some of the benefiting communities have kept the water projects working, a particular community, Mosan in Ogun State, has abandoned the project, a situation Dr Kadiri attributed to lack of maintenance culture.

“When I saw the project, I almost wept. The water project is in a state of abysmal. All the taps were completely broken .This is one of the reasons why we started making beneficiary community to part with counterpart funds for every project that we execute. When communities part with some funds in community project , they show more responsibility in maintaining it.” Dr Kadiri explained.

According to her, at completion, the water project and a power generating set is handed over to contact persons in the community for proper maintenance. The power generator is necessary as most of the rural communities the projects were sited are not on the national power grid.

Since it commenced the free safe water project in 2017, each year, the Grassroots Development AIDs Initiative reaches out yearly to underserved communities to solve safe water poverty. However, in 2024, Dr Kadiri said the NGO is rethinking its approach because of security challenges in Nigeria.

Presently, the Nigeria Government hopes to tackle insecurity with the creation of State Police. Observers have said that the establishment of State Police would improve security across the rural communities.

The SDGs and Road to Vision 2030

Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF, Kelly Ann Naylor, once insisted that “Mere access is not enough. If the water isn’t clean, isn’t safe to drink or is far away, and if toilet access is unsafe or limited, then we’re not delivering for the world’s children.”

According to available data, about 70% of Nigeria rural communities lack access to clean and safe water. This is because these communities still rely on water from streams, lakes and ponds. This is backed by the United Nations World Water Development Report, 2023 which states that 26% of the world’s population still do not have access to safe drinking water and to ensure all people have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030, there is a huge gap to be filled.

Nevertheless, there are ongoing efforts by the Federal and State Government to tackle the water challenge affecting communities through programmes such as P-WASH, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

More communities are set to benefit from safe water projects when the Kwara State begins execution of the programme.

The Sustainable Development Goals Six  on clean water and sanitation targets availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The importance of this Goal to the attainment of some other SDGs cannot be overlooked.

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