Unhealthy sources of water can lead to avoidable diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. The European Union (EU), United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and Akwa Ibom government have intervened in Ikot Nkpene community to check open defecation and boost water and sanitation, reports OYEYEMI GBENGA-MUSTAPHA.
Mrs Amedi Udofa could not hide her happiness that day. The source of her joy is Ikot Nkpene, a village in Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, which has existed for no less than 400 years but lacked pipe-borne water. The stream where the community used to fetch water for household and other uses was also the site for open defecation, laundry and public bathing.
“We learnt through UNICEF that that is the cause of the many outbreaks of those water borne diseases. But since the provision of the pipe-borne water we hardly record cases again,” said Mrs Udofa.
Now, the European Union (EU), United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and Akwa Ibom government have changed the community’s story.
Mrs Udofa recalled that it was only one man that had a private pipe-borne water in the community. It was not enough for the village that has 140 households with a total population of more than 1, 474 people, according to the household survey conducted by the Water Sanitisation Hygiene (WASH) Committee.
She said: “Our children are enjoying the new development because they do not go to the stream again to fetch water. They do not miss school again or go late to same due to the fact that they go to streams to fetch water for household use- household drinking, cooking, washing and cleaning purposes and meeting the demand for other household chores. Not to mention for production. Ikot Nkpene is a farming community and one of the farm produce is palm fruit. Before the provision of the water, we have been suffering, because women and children have to go to the stream to fetch water to produce the palm oil, but now all of us can easily access the water here through the pipe borne water. Before the water came in there had been series of diarrhoea but now same has reduced.”
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a report said women and girls spend over 40 billon hours in sub-Saharan Africa fetching water. This is equal to a year of labour for the workforce of France.
A principal official of Nsit Atai WASH Unit, Mr. Terlumun Ashile, put it in perspective: “At the household level, women and girls are most often the users, providers and managers of water and guardians of household hygiene. Whether fetching, carrying from streams or a water system works or not they are the ones who are mostly affected. Similarly, without access to sanitary facilities in the household, women become inconvenienced during day light, using only the night for cover to relieve themselves. This exposes them to the risk of physical attack, violence and snake/scorpion bites.”
Mrs Udofa said the patronage of the Comprehensive Health Centre for the treatment of water-borne diseases has reduced significantly.
“The centre used to function as a hospital but it does not take emergency services. A community like ours has children and expectant women and even other adults that required urgent medical care but it only takes planned healthcare such as immunisation. The facilities required are lacking and the centre itself is in a deplorable situation. The roofs are leaking the quatres are not habitable. The people in the community are not going there again. The healthcare personnel like the doctors and nurses said they’ve written to government. In case of emergency we go to Utumba which is about 10 to 20 kilometres that is about One hour drive. There is no Midwife service scheme here but our women still deliver. But now that we have clean water, we do not experience many cases of water related diseases again,” she said.
A teacher at the Ikot Nkpene Primary School said the provision of the water has impacted positively on the school: “It has impacted on different dimension- the learning, health, childhood and community dimensions.”
She added: “We have recorded a reduction of occurrence of diarrhea related morbidity among children and absenteeism from school due to sickness. Our records show that school enrolment has significantly increased due to a friendlier school environment.
“The pupils are happy to use the modern toilet facilities and hand washing stations. They do not entertain the fear of reptiles lurking inside the pit latrines again as the alternatives are better.”
She is happy that the pupils have been given proper orientation on the need and how to practise hand washing with soap. This has had ripple effects on the community as the entire community is motivated to go for hand washing at household level.
Ikot Nkpene Primary School has functional toilets with separate provision for boys and girls.
The Village Head of Ikot Nkpene, Samuel Udoh, said his community has been certified Open defaecation free (ODF) and that has improved the health of the people in the community.
“We have a cleaner environment and we have been able to break the cycle of faecal-oral route of disease transmission. We are doing everything to retain that certification. UNICEF and people from the estate government used to send officers here periodically to see if we are still maintaining the status. This gives us the moral pressure on the community to maintain our ODF status,” stated Uwemedimo.
The Deputy Head, Uwemedimo David Udofa flesh-up on this, that Ikot Nkpene emerged 16th centuries ago and had always relied on rivers and streams but because of the importance the people in the community attached to sanitation and hygiene when the idea of WASH was first brought to the community notice by UNICEF/EU about three years ago, the community embraced same.
Udofa said the community swung into action with the establishment of WASH committee.
“Since the installation of these facilities- a collection head tank and five distribution channels in form of pipes our health status has improved as evidenced in the reduction of water related illnesses. We salute EU/UNICEF and the AKRUWASAN, Nsit Atai WASH Unit for your labour of love at a time we don’t really have any son or daughter in a sensitive post in the government.”
Mrs. Udofa is, however, worried about the sustainability of the project because of what she described as the use of inferior materials, which make the taps to break, and the fact that the contractor laid the pipes on top of the soil, which is not deep enough to cover the bigger pipes.