World Water Day: EU, UNICEF’s efforts on safe water supply in rural Nigeria

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According to a United Nations’ Report, over 19 million rural inhabitants living without safe water supply close to their houses, trek long distances to collect unsafe water from lakes, streams and rivers. They also have to cope with the health impacts of using contaminated water. AJUMA EDWINA OGIRI writes on the importance of safe water and how it improves personal hygiene and health.

A widow, Mrs. Laraba Sunday, is elated that the European Union (EU), in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the federal government, established boreholes and toilets in her village.

Mrs. Sunday, 60, and mother of eight children, lives in Darigi, a small community of over 500 people in Ryom Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau state, where they relied on a small stream for water.

She has spent more than 30 years of her life in the community, since she got married into the community in 1972, and has spent all those years fetching water from that stream which is miles away from her house.

Like other rural communities in the region, for a long time, the people in Darigi did not have access to running potable water or toilets, thereby making open defaecation the norm. The fields were contaminated with faeces, which was unsightly, pungent and also unsanitary.

Laraba noted that the stream is a mile away from the fields contaminated with faeces from open defecation, and households have had at least one family member suffer from one water-borne disease or the other, such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid.

“When we fetch water from the stream, sometimes we treat it with alum, while sometimes we just drink it directly without treatment. My children and I and other people in this village have suffered from typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea on several occasions as a result.

“Since the establishment of these boreholes, sickness has reduced; our children now go to school early; as they don’t have to go to the stream to fetch water before going to school, and I also take my bath and wash my clothes more often now. The easy access to this running water has really improved my personal hygiene and that of other women in this community, as we no longer have to manage water like before,”she said.

Access to safe drinking water remains a challenge to majority of Nigerians, especially those living in the rural areas. The recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted by the Government of Nigeria in 2016/17, indicates that about 40 per cent of households and about 69 million people do not have access to clean water sources.

In the rural areas, 19 million people walk long distances to collect unsafe water from lakes, streams and rivers.

According to UNICEF report, children without access to safe water are more likely to die in infancy and throughout childhood from water-borne diseases, as diarrhoea remains the leading cause of death among children under-five years of age in Nigeria.

Lack of safe water and sanitation also makes children vulnerable to other threats beyond health. Many children in rural areas spend hoursdaily collecting water, thereby missing out on the opportunity to go to school.

“Water, Sanitation and Hygiene has an impact on health, it has an impact on the productivity of the mother; for the mother to be responsible for the house, taking care of the kids, the hours she spends per day to go and fetch water and sometimes the children instead of spending their precious time to learn and to go to school, they use it to fetch water for the family. This is a lost time, and time is money.

“Eighty-eight per cent of diarrheal disease worldwide results from bad wash; bad water, bad sanitation and bad hygiene. Improving water and sanitation services, as well as basic hygiene practices in Nigeria, calls for a strong commitment from all partners; the government, the civil society, the private sector and communities.

“For Nigeria to achieve the global goal of providing access to safe water for every citizen by 2030, it needs to make water, together with sanitation and hygiene, a national priority. This goal is closely linked with three key results for the country; good health, environment sustainability and economic prosperity,” the Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, UNICEF Nigeria, explained to commemorate the International World Water Day.

World Water Day, which is marked on March 22, every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis, by focusing attention on the importance of water.

The theme for World Water Day 2018 is Nature for Water – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

Sustainable Development Goals-6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution.

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