FCT: Agonies of Women, Children In Search Of Water

By Chika Mefor

Water is everywhere, yet a scarce commodity when it comes to how safe it is for consumption. CHIKA MEFOR takes a look at how lack of potable water is affecting the lives of women and children in two communities in Bwari area council in the Federal Capital Territory(FCT).

Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, for a new-comer is a place where basic amenities are readily available for its inhabitants, but the irony of it all is that many communities in the Federal Capital Territory are in desperate need of basic amenities, with some of them still depending on flowing streams as their source of water. Ijabisa and Angwan Fulani are two of such communities in the Bwari Area Council.

Ijabisa is about an hour drive from Kubwa, a satellite town in the FCT. A trip to Ijabusa requires a lot of patience owing to the bad roads and the streams which over flow their boundaries to claim the roads. The residents have to wade at least two of these streams to convey their wares to the Kubwa Market. Residents of these communities are predominantly farmers who cultivate yams, guinea corn and other crops.

Women and Children In Search of Water

Nimat Zakari, a resident of the community, narrated the sad tale of how she had to wake up at 5 am every morning to head for the stream in search of water for her family. Zakari is now 25 years and married with two kids, yet the story has remained the same. She still wakes up at 5am every morning to head for the stream, and this time, her ten year old daughter goes along with her.

“I grew up to meet this situation. My daughter has also met the same situation, and I am afraid it will continue like this for a very long time,” Zakari stated in despair as she treaded through the narrow path to the stream.

The road to the stream is flanked by tall grasses that could make one fear for snake and other harmful animals, but Zakari assured that there has hardly been any reports about snakes bites on that road.

She however, explained that the slippery nature of the road to the stream has caused many women and children to slip, fall and get injured.

“There was a day a pregnant woman went to fetch water. She slipped down the road. It was only God that saved her from losing her pregnancy” Zakari recounted as she carefully meandered through the hilly path to the stream.

Although the communities can boast owning many streams, they cannot boast of enjoying potable drinking water. It is a case of water everywhere, but not safe for consumption. The streams serve as source of water for the residents for cooking, drinking, washing and bathing. The challenge of getting potable drinking water in these communities is one that has outlived many generations of women, with no hope in sight.

“Since I was born, and now I am married in this same village, it is this stream that has supplied us all our water needs. When I was a young school girl, my mother never allowed me to go to school unless I had fetched water. Even when I had to travel to Ijah, in Niger State for my secondary education, I still fetched water before I was allowed to head to school.

“I would wake by 5am and head straight to the river. In the dry season, it was much more difficult because of the many water-seekers that often queued up at the stream then. Even when I managed to get to the stream that early, I still met some five or more persons who had arrived earlier to also fetch water. I’d then have to wait and wait before I’m able to get water. Sometimes, they allowed me to fetch and hurry home because they knew I was a student who needed to run along to school,” Zakari narrated.

“And despite being allowed to fetch water on time, I still trekked a long distance to Ijah and get to school late because my mother always insisted that I must sweep the house, and wash the plates in addition to fetching water, before going to school. Now, my daughter who is in primary six has to perform the same routine. She must fetch water for me before heading to school. It is a must,” Zakari asserted.

Now, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), women and girls are responsible for collecting water in eight out of every 10 households with water-off premises. This is the case with Zakari and many other females who live in communities without potable water. Zakari further narrated how her hope of being assisted by her husband to get water for their household was dashed when shortly after their wedding, her husband suddenly stopped lending a helping hand, abandoning her to source for water alone.

“I had thought that the fetching of water would be handled by my husband, but he eventually got tired and left the task for me and my children. Now, I handle the fetching of water with my children,” she said as she poured the content of the bucket on her head into a big plastic container on the ground.

The residents, after fetching water, use net-like materials to sieve it and allow the dirt in it to settle at the base of the container before drinking it.

“We use this cloth with which we filter Akamu (pap), to filter our water so that it will be a bit clean,” Maryam Sani, another resident explained. Sani revealed that during the rainy seasons, residents collected rainy water making their visit to the stream less frequent. She added that the search for water is more tougher during the dry season as residents had to dig holes in the dried streams to get water.

“When the stream are still flowing, we usually fetch the water early in the morning to get fresh water before those who come there to bathe muddle the water.

“During the dry season, the people in the community would have to dig the ground to allow water to gather before they are able to fetch.

“It takes time for the water to seep out, so we just wait. It takes about 30 minutes for the water to gather up for one person to fetch, before another person takes turn to fetch. We are just happy for the rain. If it stops, we will enter wahala,” Sani explained.

“The wahala would have been minimal if the men in the community had been helping out,” noted Sani.

Mohammed Buhari, another resident of the area, had a contrary view about fetching of water. He explained that fetching of water in the community was meant for the women alone, adding that the men of the house also had their own work spelt for them, which he said was more of farm work.

He argued that although women also go to the farm, the bulk of the farm work is done by the men.

“In the dry season, the women don’t have anything else doing except they decide to fetch fire wood”.

Buhari lamented that his community had been writing for over 15 years to the authorities, appealing to them to come to their aid, but that it was all to no avail.

“We have written to four chairmen who have come and gone, and nothing has been done about our problem. This Ijabisa community is suffering. When one man became councilor about 20 years ago, he dug one well that was very deep. We were getting water but suddenly, it seized,” lamented Buhari.

Health Implications

A research on the Impact of Water and Sanitation on Child Mortality in Nigeria: Evidence from Demographic and Health Surveys, 2003–2013 and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, had revealed that unimproved water and sanitation are major causes of diarrhoea, which globally accounts for approximately 1.4 million child deaths each year.

The report added that the federal government in response to this, in the past two decades, launched and implemented the National Water Supply and Sanitation Policy (NWSSP), Presidential Water Initiative (PWI), and National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), which according to the report, have touched just the surface of the water challenge.

Also, UNICEF has attributed poor access to improved water and sanitation in Nigeria as a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five. It added that use of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitary conditions result in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including diarrhea which leads to deaths of more than 70,000 children under five, annually.

Diarrhoea has become the major illness in the Ijabisa community, a fact that was disclosed to reporter by residents of the community, health workers and a patent medicine seller.

Sani who is a house wife, stated that their stream water causes vomiting and diarrhea among residents, especially the children.

“Apart from the diarrhea and vomiting, we have also noticed that the legs of our children are often covered with rashes. Whenever we go to the hospital, they say it is the water that is responsible for it. Recently, I had to spend N1,500 on my son. We are really suffering here,” she agonized, holding out her son’s leg to be properly seen.

Lami Sani, a health worker who had worked in the Primary Health Center in the community for about 11 years, stated that apart from the diarrhoea, the community was hit by cholera three years ago. She revealed that a Non-Governmental Organization had drilled a borehole in a neighbouring community, Paspa, which helped to stop the spread of the illness.

Sani however, stated that the residents in the community have continued to suffer from diarrhoea especially during the dry season when the streams are dried up and there are no rains to give water to the villagers.

For Sani, the unsafe water in the area has affected not only the health of the residents but also the health service providers in the area.

“In the clinic, we have to manage to use the unsafe water, and it is rather unfortunate. Something has to be done in the area. Water is very important. Although we haven’t recorded any death, we don’t want this to continue,” she stressed.

Michael Egonu, a patent medicine seller who has been in the community for years, also confirmed that residents always came to his chemist shop to buy drugs for diarrhoea.

“I have been in the community for three years. The drugs they normally come to buy are for malaria during the rainy season and diarrhea during the dry seasons,” he stated.

Such illnesses are also common in Angwan Fulani, says Adamu Jibril, a resident of the area. Jibril who took our reporter to their source of water which is a tiny stream, lamented that those who are vying for political offices in the area often come with promises of delivering social amenities to the communities, and disappear after they have achieved their political goals.

“I was badly injured during the last election while trying to vote. I even campaigned for the new chairman of the Bwari Area Council, but we are still were we’ve always been, drinking from the stream,” he lamented deeply.

Jibril who stated emphatically that fetching of water was for women and children, revealed that sometimes, his daughters had to miss school just to get water for use in the house.

Jibril would not let this reporter talk to his wives or daughters, but the anguish on his face was symptomatic of deep worry and despondence.

As he watch one of his wives and daughters scoop water from the little stream, Jibril wondered aloud what the dry season had in stock for them.

Speaking on the issue, a medical practitioner, Dr Maryjane Nweje lamented that women and children are mostly affected when it comes to natural disaster and issue of unsafe water.

Nweje who works at Primecare Hospital in Abuja stated that apart from diarrhoea which mostly affects the children, people who come in contact with unsafe water could be expose to cancer and different type of skin diseases.

She added that many women and children had to go to far distance in search of water, thereby making them lose time they would have used for other important things.

While Nweje agreed that the case of these communities was pathetic, she however urged the residents to boil their water before consumption.

“Again, there is something they call water guard. They can buy it and use it for the mean time to minimise the risk, while they await government intervention,” she added.

Government’s Response

The responsibility of supplying water to citizens in Nigeria is shared among the three levels of government – the federal, the state and the local governments. The federal government is in charge of water resources management, the state governments have the primary responsibility of supplying water to the urban communities, while the local governments together with the communities are responsible for rural water supply.

However, the Area Council Administration has stated that the enormous responsibility of supplying water to the people was too much for the Council to bear. Patrick Awusha, the Press Secretary to the Chairman of Bwari Area Council, John Gabaya, in his reaction to the water crisis in the Area Council, appealed to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and the minister of FCT, Mallam Mohammed Bello, to assist the Area Council in providing water for the many communities that needed water within it.

“The Area Council cannot provide all the needs of the communities. Bwari is one of the second largest area councils in the FCT. It is one of the local government where you have the highest number of rural villages where development has not reached. Even the chairman’s village, you cannot access it. We are not hiding the fact that it is enormous and we need help,” he said.

Way Forward

According to the current most authoritative data on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Nigerian which was encapsulated in the 2018/19 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping Survey (WASH-NORMS), an annual survey being conducted by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) and the National Bureau of Statistics, about 56 million Nigerians (27 percent of the country’s population) drink water from unsafe and unimproved sources.  It added that achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) by 2030, requires extraordinary efforts, and based on World Bank estimates, Nigeria will be required to triple its budget or at least allocate 1.7 per cent of the current Gross Domestic Product to WASH.

What then can communities like Ijabusa and Angwan Fulani do as they await government’s intervention? A public and environmental health consultant, Mark Ebisike, called for community mobilization in order to make safe water available to communities, especially to children who are mostly affected by the water crisis.

“When I was working with an NGO, residents of a community I was working for were complaining always about outbreak of diseases due to the type of water they were taking. I told them to get their young men together. Whatever the community had to support the work, they should bring.

“I told them to identify a place to dig a well, and with the little money they realized, they bought ring, some people donated cement and some people, food. That was how we were able to dig a well that the community is benefitting from,” he narrated.

Ebisike, while acceding to the fact that the topography of some of the communities will make it difficult for some of them to achieve this, stated that inter-governmental partnership will help in bringing safe water especially to the rural areas.

The Lower Usuma Dam, from where Abuja, the federal capital city gets its water supply, is located at the Bwari area council where many communities like Ijabisa and Angwan Fulani are situated.

It has become a huge worry to inhabitants of these communities where lack of potable water has become a perennial problem, that they can only smell the potable water that flows around the Area Council within which they are situated, but cannot get to have a taste of it.

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