FEATURE… Anambra’s Water Crisis: Billions spent yet residents struggle for clean water

FEATURE… Anambra’s Water Crisis: Billions spent yet residents struggle for clean water
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To access water, residents have resorted to using unsafe water supply and poor hygiene to survive.
Despite billions of naira injected into providing potable water for residents of Anambra State over the last few years by successive governments, many residents still struggle daily to access clean, potable water. CHIDALU GLORY reports

Visits to at least five communities by this reporter revealed the difficulties faced by residents daily in the search for water. It is also reflective of the difficulties faced by many other communities across the South-eastern states.

For mothers like Ujunwa Onyeka, accessing clean water is difficult. Mrs Onyeka lives in Umuoji, a community in the Idemili North Local Government Area of the state. She struggles daily to get enough water for her household, she tells UDEME.

“Ever since I came to Umuoji ten years ago, I cannot remember having access to quality water,” she said. “We use boreholes opened by private individuals who extort exorbitant rates from us. We buy one gallon for 50 naira and 100 naira if there is no light.”

“Most times, they sell the water based on how they feel. For example, the nearest one near my house only sells whenever there is light, and the owner feels merciful enough to open it for the public.”

For Ogechukwu Ojiofor, a hairstylist and salon owner in Nkpor, a small town in the heart of Idemili North Local Government Area in the state, it is also nearly impossible to access enough water to run her salon business.

“You know, in salons, we need water for washing and setting hair,” she said. “My shop is in the heart of a busy city, made up of only shops. What this means is that there is hardly any pipe-borne water supply nearby for my business. I must carry one gallon of water daily to work to ensure that my business runs smoothly.”

For school owner, Blessing Onwudinjo, who runs a nursery and primary school in Ifitedunu in Dunkofia Local Government Area in the state, ”it is also a struggle to provide a good water supply for the children.”

“As someone who runs a school, we consume a lot of water to keep the environment clean and healthy for kids,” she said. “Most of them urinate or defecate on their bodies, and you need water to wash their clothes and bathe them.”

“Even their toilets need to be cleaned constantly. This makes it important to ensure there is always water on the premises.

“Getting it is not easy. I pay commercial water vendors to supply us monthly when this basic amenity should be accessible to all.”

Interventions to solve challenge

Many residents from communities visited claim assessing clean, affordable water in Anambra State is a difficult task,.

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Despite huge amounts budgeted yearly for water supply projects in the state, clean public pipe-borne water is nearly nonexistent in Anambra State.

Within the last 13 years, the government of Anambra State has released over N49 billion for the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes. Regardless of this huge amount, more effort must be put into solving water-related issues in the state.

Abandoned and dead water projects are scattered across the state. For example, in Umuoji, the public water system has been abandoned for years. The same goes for various towns visited in the state.

In 2020, the Anambra State Government collaborated with the European Union (EU) for the rehabilitation of the Otucha Water Scheme and the Obizi-Uga Regional Water Scheme, which were to provide water to communities in Anambra East and West, including communities in the Aguata Local Government Area of the state.

The Otucha Water Scheme was to provide water to communities in Umueri, Aguleri, and Umu-Otucha, while Obizi-Uga provided water to Uga, Isuofia, and Ekulobia. This project was inaugurated by Governor Willie Obiano in 2020. He promised to deliver the project in April 2020, but when this reporter visited the sites, it was discovered that they had been abandoned.

However, there are ongoing plans by the present government to resuscitate it.

The same goes for the Onitsha Water Scheme, with funding from the World Bank and the African Development Bank, which was initially planned to be completed by 2020. However, this project is still ongoing.

In 2015, the administration of Peter Obi constructed 17 water schemes in collaboration with some international donor agencies, namely the European Union, UNICEF, and the Federal Government of Nigeria, as part of the efforts to achieve the MDG target 2015 in the water supply sector. Residents say all those projects failed due to a lack of maintenance under the administration of Mr Obiano.

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The Charles Soludo administration in 2023, promised to resuscitate major water schemes in the state: Awka, Nnewi, Onitsha, and Otucha. Although there are ongoing efforts to fulfill this promise, residents say more must be done to ensure it reaches the appropriate communities, not just the major cities in the state.

One of the newly constructed pipe borne water taps in Awka.

To solve this water problem, the House of Assembly passed a bill establishing the Anambra State Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) Law, 2015. The bill signed into law by Governor Obiano established the Anambra State Asset Holding Company, the Anambra State Small Town Water and Sanitation Agency (STOWA) the Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) the Regulatory Commission to supervise and facilitate water supply in the state.

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Still, of all these established agencies, only RUWASSA, currently funded by the European Union (EU), has been constituted since 2015. However, all these agencies still appear annually in the government’s state budget.

Funds injected yearly

Massive funds have been injected over the years to solve the water challenge in Anambra State. In 2013, the capital expenditure for water resources and rural development was N2,642,733,734.41; N3,985,000,000 in 2014; N1,512,280,000 in 2015; N1,663,507,996 in 2016; N1,746,683,435 in 2017; N1,203,600,000 in 2018; N892,500,000 in 2019; N3,750,000,000 in 2020; N3,071,000,000 in 2021; N7,123,000,000 in 2022; and N1,200,000,000 in 2023.

Also, the Anambra State Ministry of Public Utilities and Water Resources in the following years had budget estimates of N4,789,290 in 2013; N130,500,000 in 2014; N150,000,000 in 2015; N156,750,023 in 2016; N 164,587,550 in 2017; N5,396,200,000 in 2018; N5,666,010,000 in 2019; and N5,949,310,500 in 2020.

Daily struggles

Despite all these investments in the water supply sector in the state, residents still battle with access.

Christiana Igbokwe, a resident of Ezinifite, a community in Aguata Local Government Area in the state, narrated how she almost lost her child to diarrhoea due to consuming unclean rainwater.

“Last year, I nearly lost my second child, Obinna, to death due to the consumption of unfiltered and unsanitised rainwater,” she said. “We did not have light for days and, as such, no water supply. We resorted to drinking rainwater, and that led to a serious illness that nearly took my child.”

For Gift Ikemba, another resident of Umudioka, a remote town in Njikoka Local Government Area of the state, boiling the water before use is helpful, although she finds it stressful.

“For me, I boil the water before using it, as I am not sure of its purification process.

“This has been my saving grace, but something can be done about this to ensure people have access to a quality water supply. Not everybody can afford 450 naira to purchase a bag of water for drinking.”

Favour Anyanwu, a student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, tells a sad tale of how she missed a quiz because of lack of water.

“Last year, I missed a quiz because I was busy looking for water to bathe and arrived late.

“Last year, our lodge flooded and our well was contaminated. Because Ifite normally has light issues, we couldn’t pump water, and our next option, the well, is already contaminated. I had to search for water around the neighbourhood and ended up late for class.

“Another challenge I have with water in the state is the cost of purchasing pure water weekly. Awka water is salty and yellowish in colour. You can barely cook with it sometimes, so drinking it is not an option. So, we resort to drinking pure water and sometimes cooking with it. As a student, this poses a huge financial burden as I have to buy at least three bags of water weekly, and a bag goes for 450 naira.”

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Ebede Okoli, a resident of Nawgu, a community in Dunkofia Local Government Area, speaks on the risk it exposes the children to. She says that in a bid to fetch water, parents release their children into some unsafe areas.

“You see small children pushing barrows with heavy gallons on busy roads,” she says. “Some even go to far, lonely streets to fetch this water. It is wrong, but parents have limited options, and you can’t blame them.”

“One day, a tricycle nearly killed one man while he was trying to cross a busy street with two gallons of water.

“Young girls, too, are being exposed to dangerous places because of lack of water.”

Residents waiting to fetch water in Anambra State

A clean water supply is essential to promoting healthy living in the society. Lack of access to a good water supply exposes the masses to harm.

According to UNICEF, contaminated water leads to diseases such as diarrhoea, which annually kills more than 70,000 children under the age of five. This is one of the challenges Anambra residents face due to the state’s poor water supply.

To access water, residents have resorted to using unsafe water supply and poor hygiene to survive. Water vendors like pure water business owners and water tankers take advantage of this situation to produce and sell unsanitised water to the masses who are desperate to survive.

Efforts to get official reactions

UDEME reached out to the commissioner of power and water resources, Julius Chukwuemeka, on its findings in the communities visited but was denied access.

Also, an FOI letter was sent to the commissioner’s office requesting the details of the Anambra water supply projects and efforts to provide potable water for affected communities. The FOI letter was not responded to.

According to the secretary to the commissioner, who responded on his behalf, ”we do not provide such information to the media and will not allow any interviews regarding the project”.

This reporter also contacted the commissioner through his social media handle, but he has not responded. Also, all attempts to contact the chairman of Anambra State Urban Water Asset Holdings Corporation (ASUWAHC), Ikeobi Ejiofor, proved abortive.

The story was supported with funding from the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).

The post FEATURE… Anambra’s Water Crisis: Billions spent yet residents struggle for clean water appeared first on Latest Nigeria News | Top Stories from Ripples Nigeria.

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