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WE'RE RESTORING PUBLIC TAPS ALL OVER IMO – OKORIE, MDG BOSS

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Okorie, MDG boss
Imagine a typical bad road in pre-1980 Imo State. Visualize a 16-year old boy or girl riding a bicycle (more like struggling to ride it on that road) with two 20-litre jerry cans filled with water fetched from a stream about five kilometers from the community.

Now, consider that the teenager had to do this at least three times after school for the family to have just enough for basic domestic needs. In the case of teenagers whose family lacked a bicycle in good working condition to undertake the arduous task, the only option left was to trek to the stream with a jerry can, enduring the suffering which the trip entailed.

Then you begin to get the picture of what life was like some years ago for the people of Eziala Obiangwu, a community in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area (LGA), which is now the landlord of Imo airport.

Until recently when some indigenes began sinking private boreholes in their compounds (and selling water at N10 per 20-litre jerry can to their kinsmen - while making shakara about it too), people in the community had to trek to Mgbahiri, Emii, five kilometers away in Owerri North LGA to fetch water from a stream for their domestic use, reveals Chidi Oparaji, youth leader of the community, who supplies building materials to his kinsmen that are developing their properties.

For decades after Nigeria's Independence and creation of Imo State, Eziala Obiangwu like several other communities was neglected by successive governments. They only heard about government providing social amenities on radio but never saw or experienced these facilities.

Going back further in time to the period immediately after the civil war, when Mrs. Gloria (marital name concealed) was growing up in Owerri,, it used to be good fun fetching water from the public tap that once stood opposite the family house on Tetlow Road before the creation of the old Imo State in 1976.

'I grew up in Owerri when the present Imo State Water Corporation was known as Water Works. Back then water was not a problem, it was very abundant because old Water Works was reliable and made sure that clean sparkling water gushed through the pipes running all over the town. They hardly cut off service except when they wanted to repair major burst pipe,' recalls Gloria.

'These days, my parents have to buy water from people who own boreholes. Occasionally water flows from the tap in our house, but the flow is more like that of a little boy urinating,' she says with a chuckle.

Until the military terminated the Second Republic on December 31, 1983, water supply was regular. More importantly, the erstwhile Mbakwe administration, soon after it took office in 1979, recognised the need for a new water scheme that would adequately serve the growing metropolis.

It designed the Owerri regional water scheme with a capacity to meet the needs of about 300,000 people, a figure that was three higher than the population of the city at the then. As part of the system, the government built a huge concrete reservoir at Egbeda with storage capacity of 4.5 million litres so that the water could be reticulated to all communities within a 10-kilometer radius. In addition, it built gravity-driven distribution funnel tanks at strategic locations on the outskirts of the city centre at Orji, Ubomiri, and close to Egbu road.

Similarly, mini-water schemes were also built in other urban towns of the young state such as Okigwe and Orlu.

A few months after the Owerri regional water scheme was commissioned in 1983, the military sacked the Second Republic. Successive military and civilian administrations thereafter treated the issue of water supply to the metropolis with benign neglect. Many of the water schemes were abandoned completely on account of the government's inability to supply diesel to run the generators installed to power the pumps.

In essence, inadequate funding ensured that many of the water schemes never lived up to the purpose for building them. This situation remained much the same until 2007 when the Ohakim administration took office and began looking at how the growing problem of water scarcity could be adequately addressed.

It was in course of this that it learnt about the special scheme established by the then Obasanjo Administration to support the country's quest to achieve the MDGs.

As Barrister Anselem Okorie, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Ikedi Ohakim on Millennium Development Goals tells it 'the MDG initiative took off in Nigeria in 2005 and various governments were benefiting from it except a few states. In fact in 2007, Imo state was not one of the states benefiting from one of their key programmes of the MDG initiative called the Conditional Grants Scheme (CGS). The governor realized the need to key Imo State in to the special interventionist programmes of the federal government. He was able to establish the MGD Programme in the state.

'It is important to note that the MDG Programme is a scheme where each beneficiary state could get up to N3 billion, gratis, with no need for counterpart funding. It was up to any state to provide additional funds in order to scale up the programnme in the state, assuming they had a programme of more than N3 billion, they would in that case provide it. To a state, N3 billion is a lot of money. Unfortunately Imo State did not benefit from this because there was no MDG office and the state did not even apply for this grant, Okorie says.

He adds: 'Getting the grant is usually a very competitive exercise and the state aaplying for it must show evidence of institutional capability to domesticate, implement and manage the programme in the state. You must be able show proof of the human capacity to scale through in the application process. So because this institutional capacity was non-existent Imo State continued to miss out on federally-funded MDG programmes until Governor Ikedi Ohakim established the MDG office to liaise with the federal government.

'Following the establishment of the structure, Imo State made its first application in 2008 for the conditional grants scheme. It was a very competitive process, and considering that it was our first time, we came second out of the 36 states that applied. We got almost 100 percent of the amount we applied for. We applied for N1 billion, which was the maximum that we could apply for and got N984 million. The state government provided a counterpart funding of N984 million, which came to a total of N1.968 billion (almost N2 billion).

'I must also tell you that we were adjudged the best state in project implementation for the 2008 grant scheme because of the quality of work done by us under the scheme. In 2009, in the same vein we also applied for the CGS. And we also did very well in the application process and got approval for N962 million from the federal government. In summary, we have applied two times. We are currently implementing the 2009 projects.'

The greatest achievement recorded in Imo State under the MDG has been in the area of water schemes.

All together, 21 gigantic diesel-powered water schemes were either rehabilitated or built from ground up under the 2008 CGS programme; seven in each senatorial zone. They include Amaraku water scheme, Achingali, Ogumabiri-Ife, Nempi among others. Osuama, which is one of the oldest water schemes in the state.

'We sank new boreholes, installed brand new generators. Osuama water scheme has a capacity of 250,000 litres of potable water that is well reticulated and serves Anara, Osuama and the adjoining communities.

Originally, both the borehole and the generator were located at about 2.5 kilometers from the reservoir, built at the highest point in the community, to enable the water flow downwards by gravity. But with new drilling technology, we were able to bring both the borehole and the generator to where the reservoir is sited. Two new boreholes were sunk close to the tank.

At the original location of the borehole and generator, it would have required more than two drums of diesel everyday to pump water and lift it to the height of the reservoir 2.5 km away. But with the new arrangement, which uses a 50 KVA generator, one drum of diesel can last for 10 days. In addition to the 21 gigantic water projects, we built 33 new solar-powered water schemes. All of them are functional and supplying potable water daily to the communities and villages where they are located, Okorie reels out with obvious pride.

He continues: 'Before we came on board there was a baseline survey and found out that there were over 500 water schemes across the state.

We also found out that 80-90 per cent of them were either abandoned or not functioning properly. So what we decided to do was to embark on massive rehabilitation of the water schemes, and where none was in existence we also decided to construct new ones. Secondly, we discovered that power supply was the principal reason these schemes were not functioning. The generators were either stolen, vandalized or there was no money to provide diesel because the community could not afford the cost. Given this challenge, we decided that anywhere we needed to construct a new one it would be a solar-powered scheme.

'Take the case of Ubachima, a community in Awonmama local government area which got a brand new generator with a gatehouse. A new borehole was sunk because the old one had collapsed. We reticulated the water throughout the whole village. We built fetching bays at strategic places in the whole village. The scheme was completed in 2008 under the CGS programme and it is functioning till date.'

Okorie assures that all together 107 solar-powered water schemes would have been built across the state by the time the 2009 programme is fully implemented in places like Umuonyeali-Mbieri, Umukabia, Umuezeala-Egbuoma in Oguta, Odozi-Umunohu, Ihitte-Uboma, Umugiri Ehime-Mbano, Amaimo-Akuma in Oru East, Ndi-Owere-Ekwerazu Ogwa in Mbaitoli LGA, Umudim-Umuezeala, among many other communities.

Young people like Ogechi Nnadi, a primary school girl preparing to write Common Entrance examination and Salome Samuel, an SS2, 16-year old Benue State indigene, both of who live in Owaelu-Uratta, a community in Owerri-North LGA, are enjoying the beauty of having a ready source of good water right at their doorstep.

In 2008, a solar-powered water scheme was built for the community, thereby easing nthe sufferings of the two girls who like other young people were responsible for fetching water for the their family's domestic needs.

Salome who had lived with her aunt, Appolonia for two years disclosed to Sunday Sun that previously when public power supply failed, people who had boreholes would raise the price of one jerry can from N5 to N10. Now, she fetches water from the solar-powered scheme free of charge.

'We are happy that the project is functioning very well; you can see the advantage of solar energy. Since completion it has not cost the government even one kobo; no maintenance cost, no running cost. It is functioning well. Providing water to the local community and people are enjoying the service. You can see the number of people trooping out her to fetch water,' an obviously happy Engineer Okoroanyanwu, General Manager of the Imo State Water Development Agency, which is working with the MDG office. Beyond water projects, the other key aspects of the MDGs have also received attention Okorie informs.

His words: 'In the area of healthcare, we identified 45 primary healthcare centres spread all over the state, which lacked basic medical equipment fore maternal care. What we realized was that for over 10 to 25 years, these PHC had been neglected and abandoned by previous governments. There was no upgrade of their facilities. They were in terrible shape. So we procured and delivered basic medical equipment for these primary healthcare centres. We made sure that at least one PHC in each local government benefited from the provision of the new medical equipment.

Also in line with the goal of improving healthcare delivery in the state, we recognized that the PHC could not only handle minor cases and if they had a serious or complicated case they should be able refer such cases to a higher centre. So in this regard, we identified four general hospitals in each of the three senatorial zones of the state, and added one more to another senatorial zone. So we procured emergency obstetric care equipment for these general hospitals (GH). Each of them also got an ambulance. We procured a lot of surgical materials, operating tables, X-ray machines and incubators.

The general hospitals are Mbieri GH (for Owerri zone), Arondizuogu GH (for Orlu zone) and Okigwe GH (Okigwe zone). We also identified a PHC in Okohia in Isiala Mbano local government area where plans are under way to upgrade it to a general hospital under the World Bank health systems improvement scheme. In respect of these hospitals, our consultants worked with the state Ministry of Health to define the items needed by the various hospitals. We then proceeded to procure what they specified.

'We procured 140,000 long-lasting insecticide treated nets which were distributed free of charge to the local government areas. Some were given to the wife of the governor who went round the state during the August Meeting of the women. We also sent our staff and civil society organizations, who randomly visited local government headquarters and markets to distribute the nets. On our part, direct from the office we can certain other target groups such as the NYSC orientation camps, orphanages, etc and we go to distribute to them. So we had different means of distribution.

We also procured 237, 700 doses of ACTs (artesunate/amodiaquine) - antimalarial drug for children under fives of age - the vulnerable group. We branded them MDG- Not to be sold. Because they are drugs, we had to use the Ministry of Health in distributing these drugs through all the supervisors in-charge of primary health care in their various local areas. And they distributed this further down the line. In addition, we procured 100,000 does of sulfadozine-pyrimethamine for pregnant women. We procured fumigation equipment and other chemicals for the larviciding of mosquitoes. Of course we recognize that prevention is better than cure.'