INVESTIGATION: Amid widespread scarcity, Enugu residents pay tanker drivers for dirty water

By Arinze Chijioke

Adults and children squatting and defecating into trenches and pools of floodwater under the bridge at the New Artisan Market Enugu is a common sight, with some others washing their clothes and children swimming at the other end.

Those who cannot descend into the trench when they need to defecate use polythene bags and fling the content into the trench. The water flows from a gully that passes through the market, characterised by improper waste disposal, lack of toilet facilities and hygiene practices.

Dirts around the Artisan market
Dirts around the Artisan market

Residents within the market- predominantly livestock traders- say they have suffered years of water scarcity, forcing them to depend on the dirty water for everything. Bathing. Washing of cloths and sometimes, cooking and drinking.

On July 17 2021, the Enugu State Ministry of Health confirmed at least seven people dead following a Cholera outbreak at the Market. An additional 19 persons were identified with the symptoms of loose stool and vomiting afterwards.

While residents were still recovering from the news,  the director, public health and disease control at the ministry of health, Boniface Oko, confirmed, three days later that seven more people had died following another outbreak. This brought the total number of fatalities to 14.


Oko said that more than 80 people had been infected with the disease since Friday, July 17, last year when it was first reported.

He linked the outbreak to poor hygiene practices, including improper disposal of waste and consumption of untreated water which had become the norm for many households within the market.

This gully passes through the Artisan market to where the tanker drivers get water
This gully passes through the Artisan market to where the tanker drivers get water

A global health concern

There are roughly 1.3 to 4.0 million cases of Cholera- an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae– and 21 000 to 143 000 deaths worldwide due to cholera, according to a World Health Organization report.

In Nigeria, Cholera is endemic and there has been an increase in reported cases since June 2021. As at January 2022, there were 111,062 suspected cases and 3,604 associated deaths, according to an NCDC cholera situation report.

The report showed that these numbers put the case fatality rate at 3.2 per cent, with the outbreak affecting 34 of the 36 states in Nigeria and 435 local government areas. Children aged 5–14 are the most affected group.

Apart from Cholera, other sicknesses that could result from dirty water include Typhoid fever, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, worm infestation, Hepatitis A and polio, said the chief executive officer of Talkhealth9ja, a medical doctor, Laz Eze.

Eze, who is also the Founder/National Team Lead, MakeOurHospitalWork Campaign, said that the way out will be for various governments to prioritise the provision of portable water to the people.

A disaster waiting to happen

After the Cholera incidence, the health director said that the state government had launched an aggressive sensitisation campaign for residents of the market to take precautionary steps towards preventing further spread.

A tanker driver delivers water for use
A tanker driver delivers water for use

Although he confirmed that all affected persons have recovered and have been discharged from the hospital after treatment, many residents across the state risk becoming victims of Cholera because they are having to depend on water from unknown sources.

Over the years- and with the perennial challenge of water scarcity in Enugu state- tanker drivers have raked in huge sums of money through the supply of water to residents.

While only a few of them get water from portable water sources in the 9th Mile area of the state, others get water from dirty streams and trenches, including the New Artisan Market. Some of them work for months before they wash their tanks. Others hardly do.

Uncovering the dirty water sources

At one end of the trench, the deafening sounds of water pumps can be heard. Three men controlling the pumps are seen. The water tanks are packed outside the trench. At intervals, the operators receive commands from owners of water tanks who are lined up in a hidden location. “E don do. Off am” (It is okay. Turn off the machine), the tanker drivers can be heard saying.

One of the engine operators controlling the machine
One of the engine operators controlling the machine

I had walked into the trench, pretending to be a customer to be able to uncover how the tanker drivers sell dirty water to unsuspecting residents in the state amid water scarcity.

When I told one of the operators that I had come to buy water, he said that his job ends at pumping the water and pointed towards a bush path, outside the trench and asked me to go and meet the tanker owners.

He told me that there was another location where I could go and get water that is better if I needed it for cooking and drinking and other house chores. “Except you come and see for yourself, drivers don’t tell people where they fetch their water and how bad it is, “he said.

Before I climbed up, out of the trench, I saw where the pipes, connected to the water pumps, passed through a bush path straight into three tankers already lined up waiting to be filled. Residents had placed their orders.

Another machine operator
Another machine operator

I walked up to one of the drivers, identified as Emeka and told him I had a 750kg tank in my house and that I needed to fill it. He said he had already been fully booked and will bring for me ones he was done.

“What we use to fill that size now is N12,000 and N13,000 for 1000kg,” he said. “Formally, it was N6,000 while 1000kg was N8,000 but the increase in gas price has taken everything up.

He said he sells the whole tank for N25,000.

I met another driver and he asked me to go and come back the next day since I needed it for cooking. He said the best time to get clean water was in the morning hours when the water has settled.

One of the workers at the location in Monarch trying to pump water
One of the workers at the location in Monarch trying to pump water

At another location in the Monarch area of the state, tanker drivers are waiting for their turns to fetch water.  Inside the stream, which is dirty and dried up, a boy bends towards a water pump and puts it on. It is John’s (not real name) turn to fetch water.

“I have waited for over 4 hours, that is how we do it every day because the demand for water is high,” he said. “We used to go to 9th Mile to get water, but we had to stop because of distance and how long we must wait to get water”.

Soon, his tank gets filled up and he gets on it and goes to deliver to households who, according to him, use it for cooking, drinking and general chores.

“I also supply the water to my family and we use it for everything, “he said when asked what people use the water for. “It is hard to get water in Enugu and so, many families just must drink this one, the demand is even high”.

Billions down the drain

In the last two decades, several billions of naira have gone into the provision of sufficient and portable water for residents in Enugu State. Yet, nothing has change.

In 2013 for instance, former governor of Enugu state, Sullivan Chime approved 400 million for portable water. In 2014, the government budgeted N2.613 billion for urban and rural water supply in the state.

Out of the above sum, the State Water Corporation had an allocation of N1.871 billion while the Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) got N707.5 million respectively. The sum of N35 million was allocated to the Ministry of Water Resources.

The is apart from a $50 million loan for the provision of water in Enugu metropolis and other towns the administration was reported to have received from the World Bank.

In 2016, after there was no significant improvement in the provision of water, the Enugu State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), asked Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who had been elected as governor to set up a panel of inquiry to unravel how the $50 million World Bank loan was spent.

A tanker driver comes In to fetch water from the source
A tanker driver comes In to fetch water from the source

Since the Ugwuanyi administration came on board, billions of naira have been allocated for the improvement of the water situation in the state.   In 2015, 49,645,840 was allocated to the Ministry of Water Resources, 195,089,123 was allocated to the Enugu State Water Corporation while 29,581,515 was allocated to the Enugu State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (ENRUWAS).

In 2016, 303,505,000 was allocated to ENRUWASA. The State Water Corporation got 308,000,000 while the Ministry of Water Resources got 50,000,000. In 2017, 55,317,209 was appropriated for the Ministry of Water Resources, 212,608,734 for Enugu State Water Corporation and 35,679,340 for ENRUWAS.

In the 2018 budget, N185.78 million was appropriated for the  Ministry of Water Resources while N75.5 million was allocated to Small Towns Water Supply and Sanitation Agency. N318 million was appropriated for the state Water Corporation while N200 million was allocated to the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency.

In 2019, N1.950 billion was appropriated for both the Ministry of Water Resources and the state water corporation. In 2020, N645,000,000 was allocated to the Ministry of Water Resources, N1,024,000,000 was allocated to the Enugu State Water Corporation while N733,969,000 was allocated to the ENRUWAS.  N27,000,000 was allocated to the Small-Town Water and Sanitation Agency.

People bathe and wash inside the water
People bathe and wash inside the water

In 2021, N4,850,000,000 was appropriated for the same ministry and the Corporation, including the award of a N600 million contract for the rehabilitation of the 9th Mile Water Scheme.

Known as the “crash programme” water supply scheme, the multi-million-naira project was expected to boost the adequate supply of water from the Oji River, Ajali and Iva Valley water schemes to the Enugu metropolis.

The state government also secured another $50 million grant from the French Development Agency (AFD) to expand the water supply in the state.

The Chairman of the board of Directors of the state water corporation, Innocent Diyoke, said that the government will use the funding to further extend water pipes to areas in the state that hitherto lacked water supply.

He said that Enugu would be flooded with water from that project and that the goal was to commercialise the project because people were willing to pay.

Water pipes
Water pipes

No end in sight

Despite the huge sums of money budgeted, allocated and secured to provide water, it remains a major challenge for residents in the state, including those living within the metropolis, where the government claims it has provided water; New Haven, Ogui/Asata, Uwani, Abakpa Nike, Trans Ekulu and other parts.

A resident of GRA said that they have gone for months without water, adding that even when it comes, it is not consistent. The story is the same for those living in parts of Independent Layout, Ogui, Abakpa, and Trans Ekulu, who say they have not had access to water since January and some who have not even had access to water at all.

Tankers waiting to be filled at Monarch
Tankers waiting to be filled at Monarch

Izuchukwu Epueke, who has lived in Ogwuagor, a suburb of Abakpa, for two years, says he has not seen or benefitted from any water supply from the government since he packed in.

“The government is lying to say they are providing water for people,” he said. “Even in Ugbo Oghe where there are government taps, it is not consistent, and residents still buy water”.

Chinedu Jude, a resident in Abakpa, told this reporter that the situation is so bad that some landlords are beginning to commercialise their wells.  “Those who live in compounds that do not have wells pay N10 for 20 litres of water,” he said.

Those living at One Day in the Agbani area of the state have not had water supply even after the administration of a former governor Sullivan Chime laid new pipes everywhere. They have since given up hope on the government and its promise of providing water.

In March 2021, residents of the State took to Twitter to complain about the widespread water scarcity in the state, with hashtags such #EnuguWaterScarcity and #NoWaterInEnugu trending. Pictures of residents standing in long queues to get water had made the rounds.

While those living within the metropolis complain about inconsistency in delivery, those living in some communities do not have access to potable water. For these people resort to dirty streams.

In one such community, Ugwuaji, women and their children trekking long distances with buckets on their heads are a common sight. They must get to Ndafa Afa- their major source of water- as early as 6 am to be able to fetch for the day.

People try to fetch water as machine operators do their job
People try to fetch water as machine operators do their job

Residents of the community have since given up on the government’s promises to provide them with water, more so as the current administration now has barely one year to live in office.

Water situation better than we met it

The Special Adviser to the governor on media, Samson Eze said that the current administration has made efforts to improve water supply and tackle water scarcity which is ‘as old as the state itself’.

“The topography of the state makes it hard to get water, but the state government came in and commenced a comprehensive rehabilitation of the 9th Mile Crash Programme to ensure the improved volume of potable water supply from Oji River, Ajali and Iva Water schemes to Enugu metropolis among other initiatives”.

Although Eze argues that the current administration is committed to increasing the water supply in the state, he noted that completely tackling the challenge of water scarcity would require massive funding and time.

“It will require laying more pipes and changing others, and the government will have to bring down many houses and shops along the way, “he said, “We will have to pay compensations”.

Tankers waiting to be filled
Tankers waiting to be filled

Special Adviser on Water Resources, Anthony Dubem Onyia, said that the Ugwuanyi administration had constituted the water corporation board as part of its determination to address the issue of water in the state.

Onyia said that the government also embarked on the Okwojo Ngwo boreholes augmentation, which is a network of 10 solar-powered boreholes intended to help boost water production for the newly awarded 9th Mile Crash Programme and to effectively manage and meet the demand of the growing population of Enugu metropolis.

However, efforts to get Diyoke, head of the board to provide information about what the water corporation had achieved with the $50 million French Development Agency grant was unsuccessful as he neither responded to calls nor Whatsapp messages sent to him.

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