Access to safe water: Agony of Nigerian rural communities

Water scarcity and lack of access to safe water constitute a problem, if not nightmare for majority of Nigerians, most especially to those in rural areas where other basic necessities of life are denied them.
TEMITOPE MUSOWO writes on the pains of Nigerians searching for clean water

WHO on safe water According to World Health Organization (WHO), safe water means consistent access to and adequate supply of clean water, suitable for drinking, bathing, cooking and cleaning.
This must be from a source less than 1kilometer (62miles) away and at least 20 litres (5.28 gallons) per person per day.
Going strictly by the above definition, then, safe water is out of the reach of most people living in the rural communities in Nigeria.
Water has no enemy Talking about importance of water, the late Afro-beat legend, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, described water as an indispensable essential of life that has no enemy.
One of the most crucial natural resources which can make a meaningful contribution to the socio-economic development of rural communities is water.
It is widely used for various purposes ranging from household chores to agricultural purposes.
However, to most rural dwellers, safe water is a luxury meant for the people in the cities.
But sadly, despite the rate of rural-urban migration in recent time, more than half population of Nigerians still live in rural communities where living standard is acutely poor and primitive.
Nigeria as a Case Study Sadly in Nigeria, apart from the 36 state capitals, Abuja, the nation’s capital, and probably the 774 local government headquarters, life in other parts which formed the larger percentage of the entire country is characterized by pervasive rural poverty.
So worrisome is the situation but the federal government seems not to be in touch with this harsh reality.
Unarguably, these people are completely cut off from governance.
There is hardly government presence in the rural communities, perhaps the only time they are remembered is during electioneering campaign, when politicians use them, after that, they cease to exist in government developmental agenda.
Pervasive rural poverty The ordeal of the rural communities sounds painfully familiar, majority of the villages in Nigeria are where people still trek several miles to the stream, which is their major source of water, places where there is no communication at all, they are completely cut off from the national grid.
In these communities children trek distance to school every morning and would get completely fagged off and too tired to listen to teachers in class.
Worst still, many of them would still have to walk several kilometers after school hours to meet their parents in the farm, where they would have their lunch.
In this day and age, the people have not advanced beyond the use of firewood for their cooking, like in the Stone Age, the use of grinding stone to grind pepper is still a common practice among the villagers.
There is just no sophistry to dress up this naked fact, this is the real situation in our rural communities.
Politics apart, this is still the Nigeria of 21st century, uninterestingly, Nigeria is being mirrored in the light of Lagos, Abuja, PortHarcourt and other cities.
And the question is, what percentage of the entire country are living in urban centers? Water scarcity and mamu community The condition of people of Mamu community best describe this sorry state of rural life, Mamu, a community in Ijebu-North local government area of Ogun state, located between the boundary of Oyo and Ogun, less than 20 kilometers to Ago-Iwoye, with an average population of 3000 inhabitants.
People of this community are predominantly peasant farmers and petty traders, Mamu is notable for its market which is a point of convergence for traders across Ogun state and beyond, every five days, a good chunk of the local government revenue comes from this market, yet, the community has not been fortunate to enjoy government attention, much of the amenities that make life worth living in this century still elude them.
Visiting the village, in this day and age, as important as water is to human existence, the first observation anyone would make is water scarcity, more vulnerable are the children and women who are seen carrying buckets in search of water to meet daily household needs.
Government’s failure A major cause of water scarcity in Mamu is the government’s failure to redress the colonial imbalances which resulted in rural areas deliberately being side lined as far as water development projects are concerned.
The centralisation of power since independence has resulted in bias towards improvement of water availability in urban areas and commercial farms at the expense of rural areas.
Major sources of water in Mamu Apart from one or two unprotected wells dug by people for provision of water for their households, the community major source of water are streams and a small river, quite unfortunate, most of these water sources are far from being clean and unsafe for domestic use, many of the streams visited takes their sources from another stream somewhere that flows down to form another body of water somewhere.
Although, there are indications that efforts have been made in the past by government to provide water for the community through borehole, even pipe- borne- water, as relics of broken plastic pipes, rusted tanks and water points were found, yet, scarcity of water remain the current reality of the community.
This Reporter in tracing the sources of these streams, found one stream called Odo- Idiarika which flows down to form another body of water called Odo-Apata, where people do all manner of washing and the dirty water from washing flows back into the stream, which is not far from another body of water called Odo-Yemoja, that flows down to Odo-Epa, and from there to OdoIyaonirobo, all these streams are along the same area.
Other stream in other part of the town include; Odo-Olopa, Odo-Gbirigbiri and so on.
According to a resident, Kunle Alagaode, who lives along the road to a popular river, called Odo-Idiarika, the community’s effort in ensuring cleanliness and water availability all year round.
He said, “ Odo-Idiarika is a major river in this town, people come from even the extreme part of the community to Idiarika , ( the river is named after the street) to come and fetch water, Oloritun (head of the street) is always in charge of the river.
Interestingly, during the raining season, the rules guiding the river are a bit relaxed, but during the dry season when most streams must have dried up, all attention shift to Odo-Idiarika, but Oloritun will open the river only around 6am, close it by 12 noon and only reopen it around 4 pm again and close it at 7 pm,” .
When asked what is used to close a body of water opened and not fenced, he said they would tie palm fronts round the river and nobody dare go there after this is done.
Ensuring cleanliness of the water As regard cleanliness, Alagaode said part of the regulations are that; you put off your slippers/ shoes some distance from the river, you do not come to the river with chewing stick or chewing gum in your mouth, you are not allowed to deep your bucket into the river to fetch water, you must use a small clean bowl to fetch into your bucket, nobody is allowed to do any form of washing around the river, if you brought a rag to carry your bucket, you do not take the rag close to the river, you cannot place your legs on the pavement built at the heart of the river, these among other are the rule to ensure cleanliness.
Rules enforcement Talking of enforcement of these rules, he said, the Oloritun and other elders on the street are always by the river to enforce disciplines, if you flout any of these rules, some people’s bucket would be seized, some will be beaten with cane, some would have their bucket broken and asked not to come to the river again if they have been found to be impervious to correction.
When we visited the river, things have changed as people were seen flouting those rules.
But Alagaode explained, “the reason is that there is no one to keep people in check anymore, most of those elders are now dead, others are too old to do all that now, I’m the one who when I see people flouting those rules sometimes rebuke them, but what much can I do?.
Moreover, things have changed now, the kind of respect we accorded elders then no longer exist, more so, we easily believed those myths then, for instance, we were told that if you catch fish from this river and boil the fish from now till tomorrow it will remain raw, if you do anything untoward to the river, the goddess of water will be annoyed with you, all those myths are today being questioned by the younger generation’’, he lamented.
Vulnerability of women and children Further findings by Blueprint show that children and women are always more vulnerable, they are at the centre of it all, grappling with the direct impact of this life bellow common standard of living.
Another odd discovered by this Reporter is that pupils in primary 5 and 6 of Wesley Primary School, Ipinle, Mamu are facing the negative toll this is having on their education, health and general wellbeing, many of who perpetually come late to school because they have to fetch water before coming to school in the morning, most times missing out on the first 2 periods in the morning, ‘’ I have to fetch water to fill at least 3 drums every morning before coming to school’’, one of the pupils said, when asked what they use that volume of water for everyday, he said ,’’we use it for our grinding machine and other commercial use’’.
Another pupil confessed that sometime she may not take her bath before coming to school if there is no water at home, some of the pupils also owned up to the fact that they pile up their dirty clothes for weeks to save water.
When they were asked if anyone of them have been infected with water borne disease before due to contaminated water, majority of them confirmed this.
More worrisome is the fact that many of these pupils are sent out by their teachers to look for water for the school use during school hours and for the teacher’s domestic use after the school hours.
The effect on their socio-economic lives Water and poverty are inextricably linked.
Lack of safe water and poverty are mutually reinforcing, access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction.
Water is essential for growing and processing raw goods for food and other materials.
Access to water in the right proportion and close to dwellings will have impact on the income and livelihood of the community.
In addition to the woes the face regarding water, Alagaode lamented “Even politically we are always short-changed.
The question is when will government do the needful and salvage the situation in rural communities?

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