TRACKING >>Pipe borne water, which used to be a common feature in Imo State has disappeared. In this report, STEVE UZOECHI, in Owerri, reports, on the lamentations of citizens on the failure of the government to maintain already existing infrastructure, if not to build new ones
For more than 10 years, Owerri, the Imo State capital, has not experienced a drop of pipe-borne water. The taps have run dry in homes and public places across the state capital. Former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State rather aggravated the plight of Owerri residents by his clear indication that he had no strategic plan to address the issues of public water supply in the state. The governor relocated the Water Board and by no written policy rendered most of the workers redundant.
Consequently, most water infrastructure were left to rust and rot, while others were left at the mercy of vandals. No action of the Imo government till date suggested that it was sensitive to the plight of Owerri residents, who have had to live for more than a decade without pipeborne water.
Needless to mention the health hazards residents are exposed to daily for depending on borehole as the major source of water supply in the state capital. Former Governor Ikedi Ohakim had repeatedly queried Okorocha in his open letters to the governor, on what has become of the more than 22 water schemes his administration built across the state, most of which have been left to run to waste. Okorocha wiped out every hope of revamping the public water system in the state, when he utterly destroyed the water reticulation infrastructure built by Israelis and funded by the Sam Mbakwe’s administration to the tune of $40 million.
A mockery of water reticulation initiated by the government ended in a fiasco with comparatively substandard pipes that did not deliver a drop of water to any pipe in Owerri. Consequently, water supply in Imo has remained a product of self-help by residents of the state capital, who have exhausted all available option at ensuring a decent and sustainable water supply system in the state capital.
With the taps in Owerri, the state capital all dried up for more than a full decade, the situation in the hinterland and rural communities of Imo State can only be imagined. Mrs. Juliana Ozor, 72, lives alone in the rural community of Mgbele in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State.
All her children have left home in search of greener pastures. Like many other communities across the state and the state capital, Owerri, public taps in the community erected by the government to meet the water needs of the people in the area, have gone dry for years. So, the Septuagenerian is forced to buy water from a private water borehole owner, and that has become a permanent feature serving the water needs of the people in virtually every community and street in Imo State. But most of the time, Mrs. Ozor hardly affords the cost of buying water from the borehole operators.
So, she and other women and children within the community would go in search of water at the Unamiri River, which is more than one kilometer away from the community. According to Mrs. Ozor, because she lives alone, she only goes to the river once a day while those with large family have their children do three trips each if they must get enough water every morning. With the poverty level in the villages, it is difficult for such families to spend N100 to buy water every morning at the rate N20 for each 20 litre of jerry can.
Mrs. Ozor said: “ Our pains is the fact that we journey to a far distance through bad roads to fetch free water from the Unamiri stream and any time we have money, we fetch from the private boreholes here which sells to us at exorbitant rates. I spend about N500 weekly to buy water for my personal use at the rate of N20 for one 20 litre jerry can. “Why this water issue is troubling me is because none of my children is at home to help. If it were to be when they were at home, three of them could go to Unamiri to fetch me water. But look at an old woman like me, I barely have the strength to walk such distances, what’s more carrying heavy cans.
“So tell them to give us water here. It will help us in our agricultural activities. Sometimes when you return from farm with some cassava tubers, it will be too stressful to take it to the stream to process. That is the difficulty we are facing”. Almost on a daily basis, Mrs. Ozor and others like her live with the stress of journeying to the river every morning, except on days they have enough money to spare to go and buy from borehole operators, not just for drinking and cooking, but also for other domestic uses.
This is a repressive spectacle that has become part of the lifestyle of people of the state, both at the rural communities and the urban centres, in 21st century Nigeria. At the moment, many residents of Imo State do not seem to have access to potable water.
Some do not even know what it feels like to have water running through the pipes to their homes let alone enjoying it. In fact, there are many who have never seen any pipes in their homes. Even in areas where people are lucky to buy water from private boreholes, there remains the festering fear about the quality and purity of such water. The implication of the water shortage has severe consequences, including compromised sanitation and the impoverishment of the people of Imo State.
With the water dilemma bedeviling the state, such civil society organizations in the state like the Christian Fellowship and Care Foundation have embarked on awareness campaigns, educating Imo people on the implications of water availability and scarcity. During an event on the World Water Day themed: “Leave no one behind”, a procession of water activists marched across major streets in Owerri before terminating at the government house roundabout. They bore placards with such inscriptions as “improve health from quality water, access to sanitation and improved hygiene to reduce human sufferings”; “Access to clean water is human right”; “Everyone has right and is entitled to safe water and sanitation”, amongst others. Speaking at the event, Evangelist Elizabeth Onyemaechi, of Onobeth Foundation, described the situation of water in Imo State as most worrisome. Onyemaechi, a resident of Obinze town, near Owerri, the Imo State capital, said:“The situation is terrible in many community-based hospitals.
In a health centre at Obinze, there are times, a woman is delivered of a new baby, and the hospital interns would have to find a nearby house from where they get water to clean up the woman and her new baby.
“It is a sad situation. We are appealing to the government to provide safe water to communities. Their suffering is just too much”. According to her, much of the gastro intestinal challenges treated in the hospital are linked to poor quality of water.
“Very often, people go down with typhoid fever, diarrhea and allied ailments all because of the kind of water they drink. The sad thing is that these ailments are all avoidable if only people can access good water to drink.”
In his speech at the event, the national president of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Barr. Wisdom Durueke, said the road show to create awareness of the significance of water was very important to realize and start telling people that water is one of man’s human right. “I want to thank the civil society in Imo State for taking up this initiative. It’s not just the homeopathic that talk about water is life. All of us know that water is life.
The right to water was recognized as part of human right on 28th July, 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. “Some may say, can you find it in the Nigerian Constitution. It may not be expressly written in the Nigerian constitution but when you consider the significance of water in human life, you can mainstream it to fundamental human right and you come to find that it’s part of our right. What is life without water? You find out that you need water for personal and domestic needs. Water has so much to do with our sanitation status. Absence of water in any home constitutes a danger to health.
“Nigeria is a party to declaration of water as human right. For that reason, we are asking the Nigerian government: federal, state and local government to account for how far they have helped us to realize this significance of water and sanitation”, Durueke said.