100 Years After, Riverine Communities Get Potable Water

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By Chika Onyesi

Age long well in Kpokpo community

 

Water Water Everywhere, None to Drink
Many communities in the Niger Delta are located by the ocean or creeks but inspite of being surrounded by water bodies, safe drinking water and sanitation remains a luxury
Kpokpo Community in Opobo Nkoro Local Government Area of Rivers State is a typical case of water everywhere but non to drink.
Of course the community could neither drink nor cook with the sea water closest to them because of its salty nature.
Kpokpo and its sister communities, Aya-Ama and Ottalanma with a population of about 15,000, depended on wells in Nkoro – Ottalanma for their domestic use.
Like most coastal villages, sanitation activities around kpokpo community was low key and open defecation was a normal traditional practice.
They contributed majorly to the global 2.4 billion persons without access to improved sanitation and portable water across the world.
This fact reinforced the result of a National Outcome Routine Mapping of 2018, where only about 20.4 per cent of Nigerians were found to have access to basic water and sanitation services.
While explaining the water and sanitation situation in Nigeria at a media dialogue in Port Harcourt, UNICEF’S Chief of Communication, Zaid Jurji said ‘‘Nigeria has remained one of the top five open defection nations for the past 15 years and has moved from a 5th place in 2013 to a 2nd place in 2015 globally.’’
Jurji is worried that one in every four Nigerians still lacks access to basic toilet facilities, with 32 per cent in rural communities and about 39 per cent from poor homes.
He said ‘‘while 140 million Nigerians have cell phones, only 97 million have access to improved sanitation.’’
Jurji explained that ‘‘only 49 per cent of Nigerian schools have usable latrines while only 37 per cent health facilities have at least one usable toilet available for patients.”
As scary as these figures sound, kpokpo community lived this reality for over a decade of its existence.
Kpokpo Community and the Wash Reality
Women and children were mostly affected by the poor access to water and sanitation situation in kpokpo community.
60 years Katherine Otonye who has lived all her life in the village said the community has had several wells before the current one. 
According to her ‘‘women trekked up to 45 minutes to one hour every day to get water for domestic use’’
 ‘‘Younger women go to the well around 8pm and 9pm so they can get clean water and we have to let the water settle before we can cook with it’’
She said incidents of sexual abuse while on water fetching errands was common while children who go to fetch in morning either went late to school or fell ill because of the contaminated well water.
Mother of five, 32 years old Monema Peters, said they had to go to the well in groups to keep safe.
‘‘We are exposed to sand flies and reptiles while going to the well through the bush path, our children have malaria and diarrhoea often because of the bad water she says’’
The Secretary, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee in the State, Mr. Ngerebo Dickson, also confirmed that the community had witnessed an outbreak of cholera in the past as a result of unsafe drinking water.
According to UNICEF’S WASH specialist, Zaid Jurji, nearly 90 per cent of under five deaths from diarrhoea is attributed to poor Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
‘‘122,000 Nigerians, including 87,000 children under 5 die each year from preventable diseases caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene’’
EU/ UNICEF to the Rescue

To bring succour to the people, the European Union and the UNICEF in partnership with the Rivers state government commenced a water project in Opobo Nkoro local government, three communities; Kpokpo, Aya-Ama and Ottalanma were beneficiaries.

The solar powered water project is expected to reduce the incidence of communicable diseases like diarrhea and cholera and eliminate childhood mortality in the region.
According to a WASH specialist, Martha Hokonya ‘‘the project is expected to strengthen the capacity of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Institutions and provide access to improved sources of safe drinking water and basic sanitation.’’
Meanwhile the Chief of WASH, UNICEF, Zaid Jurji says the gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene services in Nigeria are far more expensive than imagined.
‘‘Nigeria is severely under-resourced, sanitation is only 19% of the total WASH budget, state funding is limited and there is low budget expenditure, Nigeria loses N455 billon each year due to lack of sanitation but needs only about N95.9 billion to eradicate open defecation by 2025 he says’’ 
The Chairman, Opobo/Nkoro Local Government Area of Rivers State, Eugene Joshua Jaja who lauded the project said with sensitisation, communities are now building houses with toilets in them and will soon become open defecation free.
He explained that plans have been put in place to ensure the projects are protected.
‘‘We have arranged internal and formal security to ensure that nobody tampers with the project he says.’’
According to kpokpo community members, especially women, life has become way easier with water at their doorsteps. 
‘’This water has solved many of our problems, I no longer trek from here to Okorotu every day for one gallon of water that may not be enough for one day Adeline Pius a trader in the community says’’
Monema Peters said her children no longer complain of stomach ache and the
stooling has also reduced.
Despite the success of Opobo Nkoro water project, many other riverine communities still wallow in poor sanitation.
This according to experts has stalled Nigeria’s chances of attaining Sustainable Development Goal 6, which aims to ensure sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030

The United Nations now wants government to prioritise sanitation.

 

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