In ABUJA, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) many communities, particularly the ones sited at the outskirt of the city do not have access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), The ICIR findings revealed.
As COVID-19 and Cholera surge in Nigeria, keeping safe is becoming difficult for these communities, who have continued to struggle with safe water, toilets and good hygiene. Many of the residents who spoke with The ICIR allay the fear of contracting any of the infectious diseases.
Inside Gosa Kpai Kpai community where residents lack potable water, practice open defecation
For people in Gosa Kpai Kpai, hand washing is a challenge many find difficult to observe. The residents’ problem could not be far-fetched from the fact that they lack potable water.
In October 2020, the people of Gosa Kpai Kpai were full of high spirit, when the Riders for Health Nigeria borehole water project funded by the Ford Foundation was commissioned in the community.
However, barely a year after the project was birthed, the people’s hope was cut short, as the borehole suddenly stopped working.
Obadiah Ado, a resident of the community said the people had no choice but to retire to the traditional way of fetching water from the stream.
“Our children and wives always wake up very early in the morning, trek a few kilometers before they could fetch from the stream.”
Ado said the stream water itself is always dirty and unsafe for the residents to drink, adding that they are always left with no choice but to wait several hours to allow the dirt in the water to settle underneath.
“People who can’t wait for the water to settle usually use alum to purify the water before use.”
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a body leading the national response to an outbreak of cholera and other epidemic diseases across states in Nigeria stated that the surge in COVID-19 and cholera cases in Nigeria has been exacerbated by poor access to clean water, open defecation, poor sanitation, and hygiene.
Residents of Gosa Kpai Kpai are not being faced with the challenge of potable water alone; they also indulge in unhealthy and unhygienic open defecation.
“There is no single house in this community that has toilet, we all use the nearby bush whenever we want to ease ourselves,” says Ado.
Other Abuja communities with similar woes
Like Gosa Kpai Kpai, a number of communities in Kuje area council cannot boast of safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
Apart from the fact that they have no access to potable water, majority of these communities located about 50 kilometres away from the Federal Capital Territory Abuja lack access to decent toilets.
Adamu Farida, a resident of Kutasa community told The ICIR that the only source of water, which is the stream has been contaminated by the mining activities going on in the neighbouring community.
“Politicians only come here to make promises during electioneering period but often neglect us after then. “
About five other communities around Kutasa, including Tukaba 1, Tukaba 2, Sabongaduru, Kahodahanu and Kabin-Mangoro depend on the stream water in Kutasa, which they said is now muddy and unsafe for use.
Ruth Bali, a farmer in Sabongaduru told The ICIR that the water used to be very clean before the infiltration of miners into the community.
“We know the water is dirty and unsafe but we have no choice but to drink and make use of it for other domestic use.”
The members of these communities were laughing when this reporter asked them if they have access to toilet.
“We have bush around us where we defecate,” says Bali
The rising cases of COVID-19, Cholera in Nigeria
Since the NCDC on July 8, confirmed the first case of SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2 in Nigeria, there has been a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
For instance, Nigeria’s total COVID-19 cases were 168,110 as of July 7, before the first Delta variant was recorded.
The country’s total COVID-19 cases now stand at 188,243, which implies that over 20,000 new COVID-19 cases have been recorded since the country witnessed the first Delta variant.
Affirming the upsurge, Nigeria’s health minister Osagie Ehanire, stated that the country’s COVID-19 cases started rising sharply in July.
“Nigeria has begun to record a sharp increase in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases since the month of July, as global anxiety over the Delta variant spreads.”
Also corroborating the minister, Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in a statement noted that despite efforts to prevent the third wave from hitting Nigeria, the third wave has already arrived.
“The third wave is already here with us, as much as we would have wished for a more positive outcome. We do not have a choice than to tackle it. We are no longer inexperienced, as a people, in dealing with the Coronavirus.
“Eighteen months into the pandemic, we have learnt a lot, we have seen progress and setbacks, we have been able to fine-tune our strategies and response, and we are now in a good place to ensure that this third wave is the final one. I believe that we can close this pandemic chapter very soon. But we must put in the work, the compliance, the regard for rules and restrictions,” says Sanwoolu.
Like the COVID-19, Cholera is another epidemic that is currently on the rise in the country.
According to the NCDC, Cholera is a waterborne disease, and the risk of transmission is higher when there is poor sanitation and disruption of clean water supply.
Obadiah Ado, who lost his friend to Cholera in Gosa Kpai Kpai stated that Cholera has become a seasonal disease in the community, due to the non-accessibility of clean water and proper sanitary hygiene.
“My friend and two other people that recently died of Cholera in this community would probably not have died if we have potable water and toilets where people defecate instead of defecating near the stream water we drink and make use of.”
The suspected cholera cases in Nigeria between January and August 2021 is 47,603, including 1,768 deaths.
Of the reported cases since the beginning of the year, children aged 5-14 years are the most affected. 51 per cent are males while 49 per cent are females.
The burden of WASH in Nigeria
In November 2018, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector.
The president made this declaration with the intention of ensuring that every Nigerian have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
His administration also set 2025 as the target to achieve this feat.
Three years down the line, 95% of healthcare centres in Nigeria and 150 million Nigerians are still without access to water and hygiene facilities.
This challenge is not putting the lives of many Nigerians at risk but also hampering the country’s fight against epidemics like Cholera and COVID-19.
Like the people of Gosa Kpai Kpai, other communities visited by The ICIR and a host of other Nigerians struggling with epidemics, poor WASH remains a major problem.
Stunted epidemic funding
Apart from the fact that poor WASH is a major problem militating against Nigeria’s struggle with epidemics, The ICIR also observed that the country’s health sector is being underfunded to tackle epidemics.
Data obtained by The ICIR from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, revealed that the country has been spending less than 5 per cent of its total health budget on epidemics.
Between 2017 and 2021, the highest amount the country has ever approved for epidemics was N355 million and that was in 2019.
IN 2017, for both structural and capacity building, the total amount approved for epidemics was N60.7 million, equating to 1 per cent of the country’s total approved budget for the health sector.
In 2018, the total amount approved for epidemics was N92 million, equating 3.8 per cent of the total approved budget for the health sector for the year.
In 2020, N139.8 million, which made up 1 per cent of the total approved budget for the health sector was spent on epidemics and in 2021, N191.5 million, equating 0.4 per cent of the country’s health budget for the year was spent on epidemics.
The country’s stunted budget for epidemic has greatly affected the NCDC’s ability to respond to epidemic outbreaks and prevent deaths.
The NCDC Director-General Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu stated that years of inadequate healthcare investment was affecting its level of response to COVID-19.
“There are several areas that we could have been better prepared if early investments were made. For example, it was evident that even though we had five molecular laboratories for Lassa Fever, they were grossly insufficient for a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19. So, appropriate funding could have enabled us to build our capacity earlier than we did.”
Meanwhile, medical experts have criticised the country’s way of handling epidemics, nothing that the country is not prepared for future ones.
Professor of Virology Oyewale Tomori said he was surprised that since 60 years that the country got Independence, it could only boast of two functional laboratories that could handle epidemics.
“We shouldn’t be building laboratories now, 60 years after Independence. We should be ashamed of ourselves that when COVID came, we only started with two laboratories. Sixty years after Independence, we shouldn’t be talking about that.”
In her own words, former Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos Folasade Ogunsola, a professor, said Nigeria and Africa operated broken health and educational systems.
She said the nation was also facing a lack of data for proper planning.
“The greatest problem we have is that our systems around health and education are broken. If you are going to do research in health, it requires knowledge. It requires that you have a strong educational system; it requires a strong health care system. What we see across Africa generally is that we have a reactive approach to health rather than being proactive.”