Salvaging Niger Delta Region from Water, Sanitation Challenges
The Niger Delta region in Nigeria representing about 7.5% of nation's total surface area is the world's third largest wetland and rich in oil and gas reserves. This region with Population of 31,224,577 according to the 2006 census with a growth rate of 3.2% is characterized by significant biological diversity. About 94 percent of settlements in the region are rural communities crisscrossed by a network of rivers and creeks, prone to flooding, pollution and facing several arrays of other challenges.
Some of the major challenges include water supply and sanitation. A 10-year-old boy, Dickson Samuel who lives at Kpokpo community in Opobo/Nkoro Local Government area of Rivers State said dearth of potable water subjected the residents of the community to serious hardship. “We fetch water from well and the well water is not pure. In the dry season, the water in the well usually dry up and we must go to the river to fetch water. The river is very far but we have no option.”
Mr Ngere Bobinton, a community leader at Ottonlama community said the only source of water supply for the people in the community for more than a hundred years was the water well which often exposed the people to disease because the water from the well is not pure. “This water well has been here for more than a hundred years and it is our only source of water supply in the community. We know that the water is not pure. We know it is not safe for drinking but we are drinking it because there is no alternative.”
Ngere said many people in the community have died as a result of waterborne diseases and that majority of the victims are children. “We have experienced epidemic in the community and it was caused by this well water that we were drinking. When we don’t have alternative, we kept drinking it despite that we were aware of the danger to our health Ngere”.
A development expert, Dr. Noel Ihebuzor in a chat with The Nigerian Voice on the sideline of a Media Dialogue on the situation of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Nigeria in Port Harcourt, Rivers State said poor social condition actually sent majority of children to early grave but people blame Abiku and Ogbanje for their deaths. He said poor social condition was responsible for the avoidable deaths of many children which Nigerians attributed to the Ogbanje or Abiku superstition.
The media dialogue was organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF) as part of efforts to give feasibility to issues of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) so as to galvanize necessary actions that would aid the required improvement in the social conditions of the citizens.
Dr Ihebuzor said the number of deaths of infants in Nigeria has dropped significantly but the current status is still disturbing and unwarranted and must be addressed to put a permanent stop to avoidable deaths of children in Nigeria. He explained that poor social condition in the country, particularly lack of access to potable water and sanitation facilities in rural communities remained the real cause of most of the deaths of infants which people erroneously attributed to Abiku, Ogbanje superstition.
At the Media Dialogue, UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, Mr. Zaid Jurji said only 20.4 per cent of the Nigerian population in communities has access to improved basic water and sanitation services. The WASH specialist further explained that 122,000 Nigerians, including 87,000 children under 5 die each year from diarrhoea while nearly 90 per cent is directly attributed to lack of WASH.
Jurji explained that access to safe and improved water supply can save most of the under-five children who die annually from preventable disease caused by poor access to water. He urged the Nigerian government to invest more in water and sanitation if it is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
This problem of lack of potable water is not limited to Ottonlama and Kpokpo communities in Rivers State. The situation is the same in the entire Niger Delta region. This situation warranted the setting up of Niger Delta Support Programme (NDSP) with the assistance of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). Speaking at the Media dialogue, Michael Forson, a Water Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist with UNICEF highlighted some of the efforts to salvage the situation and make life better for the people in the region.
On the efforts to improve water and sanitation situation in the Niger Delta Region, Forson said the target of the NDSP was to ensure that at least additional 600,000 people in the rural communities in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers States have access to safe water with equity and to also ensure that at least additional 1.4 million people in those states have access to basic sanitation facilities and practise proper hygiene.
Also, UNICEF WASH Specialist, Martha Hokonya while speaking on the major achievement of the NDSP was to ensure access to improved sources of safe drinking water and basic sanitation in ten Local Government Areas in the Project states and that the objective was being achieved to a great extent.
At the moment, the stories are changing in the five states and the residents confirmed that their sufferings have been alleviated and that their lives have improved. The 100-year-old well water at Ottonlama community is no more needed while the people of Kpokpo are no more going to the stream to fetch water. They are very lucky to have big boreholes provided for them by the European Union (EU) and UNICEF in collaboration with the Nigerian government at federal, state and local levels.
Ngere said with the borehole in his community, the problem of water scarcity has become history and that his people now enjoy potable water. “We are not using the water well any more since this big borehole was provided for us. We are now enjoying quality water and the problem of sickness due to bad water has also stopped”, Ngere said.
Little Dickson said his education has improved because he has been going to school on time and regularly since he stopped going to the stream to fetch water because of the borehole provided for his community. Dickson said “I go to school early now because I fetch water from the borehole unlike before that going to the stream will take hours and prevent me and other children from getting to school on time. This has also helped our education because we have more time to study now”.
Mrs Joy Friday, a house wife in Kpokpo community said she was happy with the borehole in the community as it has reduced her stress and enable her perform her domestic duties with ease. “I’m very happy with this borehole in our community. Unlike previously that we used to spend hours looking for water, now, we fetch water easily and it makes our work at home very convenient. We are very happy”.
Dr Ihebuzor commended EU/UNICEF and government for providing the modern motorized boreholes for various communities in the Niger Delta region. He charged the residents of the communities to make good use of the boreholes.
Also, the Chairman, Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area, Hon. Eugene Joshua Jaja lauded EU/UNICEF and government for the projects and charged members of the communities to ensure the boreholes are not vandalised.