…WASH project to the rescue
By Chioma Obinna
For communities that have lived without safe water for over 100 years, how would one expect the inhabitants to react when a modern borehole that produces more than enough quantity of water than they can use is now established in their midst? It is not therefore surprising that jubilation, expressions of joy and a generally positive atmosphere would greet such development. This was exactly what happened in Nkoro, Ottoniama, and Aya-ama communities all in Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area of Rivers State. They practically rolled out the drums and it was clear that they could not contain the joy in their hearts as they danced and sang. It is understandable why they reacted the way they did because they have been deprived of this basic essential of life for so many generations. Some members of the community who are predominantly farmers and fishermen, voiced out their joy even as they narrated their nightmarish tales of life without water. It was a day the people finally heaved a sigh of relief after decades of trekking for one hour, 30 minutes daily in search of safe drinking water. The day also showcased how these organisations were able to reduce the burden of water-borne diseases that were commonplace in the communities. Some members of the community that narrated their frustrations and what it used to be living without access to potable water betrayed emotions. There were narrations of how their marriages suffered, how they were inflicted with all kinds of water-borne diseases and some even lost their sight in the process. Adeline, a mother of five, whose marriage almost crashed as a result of the trauma, stated that it was an experience she would never want to remember or experience ever again. “On a daily basis, I trekked from here to another village (Okorotu) for just a keg of drinking water that may not last for another day. Sometimes, when there is a crowd, we spent extra hours waiting for our turn. “At a point, my husband became suspicious of the hours we were spending at the borehole. Several times, I was beaten because he thought I was having extramarital affairs,” she recalled, heaving a sigh of relief. “In all, I thank God for this water project here. At least, I am alive to share this testimony. It has solved some of our problems,” she said smiling. Adeline’s story was not different from the stories of others in the communities. Mr. Macdonald Charles’ narration of how the communities were once ravaged by water-borne diseases such as cholera. He specifically narrated how the communities in 2010 lost some of the residents to cholera outbreak. “We have been drinking water from the well for over 100 years these communities have been in existence. The taste of the water alone can kill you. We are happy with the newly commissioned borehole.” Also, 50-year-old Maltilda John, narrated the level of suffering during dry season especially in December when the well water would have gone down. “We drank well water and we suffered a lot in December because the water level goes down during the dry season and the colour changes due to too much pressure. But we have no choice than to allow the water to settle before we drink it.” Vice-Chairman of Aya-Ama Community, Rev. Luke Berekura said: “We have been praying and asking God to do something and because God loves us, the project came. “The situation of this place has been very bad in terms of water and sanitation. It has never been good but for God being God of Africans who never kills, we would have all been dead.” It is no longer news that many communities across the country lack access to potable water. According to the United Nations, the world is not on track to reach Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 6: to ensure availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030. Today, 4.5 billion people live without safely managed sanitation and 2.1 billion people lack access to safe, readily available water at home. Experts say this is a crisis that is devastating public health, living conditions, nutrition, education and economic productivity across the developing world and particularly, Nigeria. According to the Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, UNICEF, Mr. ZaidJurji, no fewer than 70.7 per cent of the population use improved drinking water source. Presenting a Sample Survey entitled: National Outcome Routine Mapping, NORM, 2018, he disclosed that 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. The Chairman, Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area, Hon. Eugene Joshua Jaja charged members of the communities to ensure the projects are not vandalised. Jaja who expressed gratitude for the gesture said: “Don’t allow these projects to be destroyed. Talk to your children, everybody should guard these projects. If they are destroyed, you will be the ones that will suffer.