Esther Ekeme Erin is a dutiful housewife at Ikot-Esop village, Nsit-Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. The mother of four is a happy woman but any time she wakes up, she feels very miserable. Her sadness is not because she does not enjoy her sleep. Far from it. The frown on her face, as she shares her experience, poignantly explains her worry. She must trek a very long distance to the stream, four rounds in the morning every day to fetch water from the only source of water supply in the village.
“I spend two hours in the morning on a daily basis just to fetch four buckets of water ,because I must go to the stream four times. My grown up children are in the city. My husband has been very supportive, but I must play my role and I need water more than anything, because we do not joke with cleanliness here. In fact, in this community, it is sacred and mandatory to be clean and neat,” she declared.
25-year-old Augustine Caroh is another resident of the community and he must go to the stream by himself since he is not yet married. Augustine narrated how his fiancé from another community disengaged from the relationship for fear of the water issue at Ikot-Esop village. He took Daily Trust to the stream via a quiet, hilly, mouldy and slippery pathway. He also explained that the water problem has taken its toll on the health of the people of the community
His words “This is the stream. We depend on it to fetch water to drink, cook and wash. Many of our people often suffer from different water related diseases, particularly typhoid fever and diarrhoea. Some of my contemporaries have left this village, particularly because of this water problem. Young ladies from other communities would not want to marry here, because of the problem of water scarcity.”
33-year-old Edidion Edinyang prefers to assist his wife to fetch water from the motorised well, rather than sending the young woman to the stream “We have a motorised well, but it is too deep. It is very hard to fetch water from it , and that is why I do it for my wife every morning. I don’t always want her to go to the stream. Water scarcity is a big problem in this community. In fact, whoever has water in this village is a rich person because water is like gold, particularly during the dry season.”
Meanwhile, the water problem in Nigeria is not limited to Ikot-Esop village in Akwa-Ibom state. Experts say 57 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water supply, and that 15 million people in the country still drink water from rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and irrigation canals. Engineer Moustapha Niang, a water and hygiene specialist with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told Daily Trust that 45,000 children under the age of five, die annually from diseases caused by poor access to safe water.
Moustapha warned that Nigeria is unlikely to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-6) targets unless necessary steps are taken to address issues of water, sanitation and hygiene in the country. He called on government and all stakeholders to rescue the situation.
As part of efforts to address the water problem in some states that are critically affected, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on water and related issues, and a programme known as the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) was launched by the federal government.
Also, the European Union and UNICEF in collaboration with the federal government and the Akwa Ibom State government as well as the Nsit-Atai Local Government, have constructed big boreholes at Ikot Esop, Ikot Ukpong and Ikot Mkpene communities through the Niger Delta Support Programme (NDSP), a scheme devised to support provision of water, and promote sanitation and hygiene in five states to develop and implement needed reforms in the sector, and also deliver sustainable water supply, sanitation and hygiene services in various communities and schools in five Niger Delta states, which include Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa.
One of the youths in the community, Pius Edinyanga who is in charge of the community mobilization and coordination for the project, said the water project in Ikot Esop and Ikot Ukpong communities commenced on 18th of May this year and that water started running through the taps on August 12th, and that with the supply of safe water in the community now, people are no longer falling sick. He said attendance in the school in the community has improved, as pupils are no more affected by hours spent fetching water from the stream. He said each of the boreholes costs N18 million and that EU and UNICEF contributed 70 percent, while the federal, state and local government contributed 30 percent.
The women leader of Ikot-Esop community, Mrs Sarah Akpan Nathaniel told Daily Trust that the provision of boreholes in the community has taken the major worry of the residents away and helped the community to overcome its major problem, especially the children who are vulnerable to diseases. Demonstrating how to use a Tippy Tap, a simple device for hand washing with running water, she said the provision of the device and water supply have helped to improve hand washing practices among the residents after using their local latrines. She said that UNICEF through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene project (WASH) provided hand sanitation facilities for all households in the community, so as to promote hygiene since water is now available.
Chief Akpan Nathaniel Udoh, the Village head said in the past, to even go to the village stream was a tedious task because of the bad roads leading to it, but now the situation has improved, and the people do not suffer from water scarcity. He said the community has not had any government or non-governmental interventions for many years, until recently.
The Permanent Secretary, Akwa-Ibom State Ministry of Water Resources, Mr Nse Edem said the state government was committed to ensuring the provision of safe water for the residents of the state.
The acting General Manager of Akwa-Ibom State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, Mr Idongesit Ido said prompt release of the counterpart funds by the Akwa Ibom state government, aided the completion of the project. He also disclosed that 30 solar power mini water schemes and 24 sanitation facilities ,have been awarded to contractors as part of efforts to ensure provision of safe water for residents of Akwa Ibom. He said some of the projects have already been completed and delivered.