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N300 million down the drain: Why water projects for Enugu communities don’t work (PART 2)

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In this concluding part, ARINZE CHIJIOKE reports about various WASH programmes that have failed to tackle perennial water issues in the country. He also highlighted functional projects that are serving the people.


 Solar-powered borehole still functional in Eziagu,

Before the government rehabilitated the solar-powered borehole in Obinofia Ndiuno, residents had to cross hills to get water. The borehole had been long abandoned after it stopped working three years ago.

Vincent Okoli, Chairman of the WASH committee in the community, said water scarcity had been a major challenge. He told this reporter that his community’s health centre, where the water project was sited, did not have water supply from any source.

“Health workers always had to buy the water they used to attend to their patients. But since the government rehabilitated the borehole, there is constant water. They no longer go to buy water. The project means a lot to us. It is what we drink and cook with,” he said.

Although the water project is still functional, the taps used, according to Okoli, are of low quality. They have had to change them several times because the ones used are plastic.

He said: “We told them when we started having challenges with the taps, and they promised to change them. But we have not heard from them. We have not even seen them. One of them is currently having issues.”

Read AlsoN300 million water project goes to waste in Enugu, as taps run dry few months after launch

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We don’t need boreholes; they won’t work

Despite the testimonies of the Obinofia Ndiuno people, the traditional ruler of Emeora Neke, where some of the water projects are located, Silas Udeogu, condemned the projects, which he called a White elephant. Udeogu said he told the WaterAid that the construction of boreholes would not work in Isi Uzo, given the prevalence of underground rocks.

He also said he drew their attention that the only solution to years of perennial water scarcity in Isi Uzo would be the filtering of its streams, including Amanyi and Eme, which are not seasonal.

“We have conducted a geological study and found out that water was a major problem. I suggested that the organisation conduct their survey. But I don’t think they did that. If our streams are filtered and a giant reservoir provided, it could supply water to communities,” he explained.

Udeogu told this reporter that one of the boreholes at Nkwo is currently being used by a mentally sick woman and only gets one bucket daily from it, which she uses to bathe.  Anybody talking about boreholes only wants to waste money, he added.

Water coming out of the taps
Water coming out of the taps

Contractor blames poor delivery on Geology.

Abuchi Ndukwe, one of the contractors who handled the projects in Ugwuaji and owner of Morikem Global Investment, agreed that Enugu State has a major challenge of water due to the geology of some of the areas, which makes it hard to get water.

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He said it was the same problem in Isi Uzo and other communities where the projects are not working as they should and that a survey was conducted, and it was discovered that there was low water discharge in the areas.

The solution, Ndukwe said, is for the state government to dig about five boreholes within the Night Mile, where there is sufficient groundwater as that, according to him, can sustain 100 horsepower pumps each and extend it to towns in Enugu.

“That was the problem in Ugwuaji. Even when you drill water, it dries up during the pick of the dry season. So, the problem was the Geology of the area.”

Ndukwe said that usually, one finds water projects that cannot last throughout the season and can dry up after some time. But if one can get to the water table, it will last longer, and the level of the water table can change over time because of changes in weather cycles and precipitation patterns, streamflow and geologic changes.

From a Geology expert’s point of view

A former Head of Geology Department, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Smart Obioara, also aligned with Udeogu and Ndukwe’s position. He confirmed that the geology of a particular area must be considered before a borehole drilling process commences. According to him, Enugu generally is a terrible place to drill for water, and you can hardly find the rocks that can store water, although people have been making efforts and drilling wells.

“If you don’t have the necessary rock, what is called an aquifer, which can contain and also be able to release water in abundance, it will be hard. If you are not on the water table, the hope of getting water is slim, and even if you do, it will dry up easily,” he explained.

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Aquifer refers to when a water-bearing rock readily transmits water to wells and springs. The recharge rate is not the same for all aquifers, and that must be considered when pumping water from a well.

Projects worked at the inauguration – WaterAid

The Enugu State Programme Lead for WaterAid, Terkimbi Tom, said that at the time of commissioning, the five boreholes drilled in Ugwuaji were working well and that they had stopped working. It is because of the nature of the area. Tom also confirmed that there are places where one can hardly get water at the peak of the dry season, like in some locations where boreholes were rehabilitated.

He said: “I’m surprised to hear that places, where we drilled have stopped working. It would not have been a result of failure on our part because we are professionals. We did what we could do. But we don’t have control over the Geology of these places.”

He said the state government monitored the projects to ensure that they met the specifications, as getting locations to drill in Ugwuaji, for instance, was a problem because “we had to do a lot of geophysical surveys.”

Children frolicking at the Amanyi stream
Children frolicking at the Amanyi stream

Poor access to clean water in a COVID-19 era

The COVID 19 pandemic made it evident that investments in the provision of basic water, sanitation and hygiene services must be a key priority in the coming years.

A total of 167 million homes out of the entire Nigerian population of over 200 million are said to be without access to handwashing facilities – especially worrying in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with handwashing being a critical infection prevention practice.

In June 2020, the Federal Government said that N10 billion would be shared among states to construct and rehabilitate water schemes as part of efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said that the interventions would include hiring WASH volunteers to educate the populace on the importance of handwashing and personal hygiene.

Access to clean water and sanitation, a critical SDG goal

The water demand already exceeds the available supply in many regions and river basins, especially in parts of sub-Saharan Africa – where the vast majority of poor people live and where the population is growing most rapidly, according to the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

Global water demand (withdrawals) is expected to increase by 40 per cent by 2030 and 55 per cent by 2050, UNDESA stated. This is part of why member States of the United Nations came together in September 2015 to adopt the Sustainable Development (SDG) goals. These goals had access to clean water and sanitation occupying 6th place. The aim is to ensure that everyone has sustainably managed safe water and sanitation.

Ensuring the sustainable provision of equitable access to sufficient good quality water for people, productivity, and the environment is necessary for ending poverty and hunger and achieving other ambitious goals being proposed for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Nigeria’s poor WASH sector: The reality

A 2018 national survey found that 62 million Nigerians depend on unimproved water sources or spend more than 30 minutes travelling to fetch water. Another survey on WASH NORM shows that only about 18 million Nigerians, representing less than 10 per cent of the population, have access to pipe-borne water.

Key findings from the survey revealed that up to 171 million people are off the SDG target for access to safely managed drinking water supply services, with only 14 per cent of the population having access to safely managed drinking water supply services.

In Enugu State, data from WaterAid shows that at least 28 per cent of the population do not have access to basic water supply service and have to depend on contaminated streams and rivers, unlined and unprotected wells to meet their needs.

According to UNICEF, over 70,000 children under five die annually in Nigeria from diarrhoea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation conditions. Lack of decent WASH facilities is also linked to under-nutrition, stunting and poor educational attainment among young children.

State of emergency on WASH sector

In November 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency on Nigeria’s WASH sector. With the declaration came the launch of the National Action Plan for the revitalization of the sector.

During the declaration, Buhari said that Nigeria had taken positive efforts in the WASH sector towards improving the living standards of Nigerians both in the rural and urban areas, noting that access to adequate Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene is part of the indices for socio-economic development of any nation and thus cannot be ignored.

The overall goal of the plan is to ensure that all Nigerians have access to sustainable and safely managed WASH services by 2030 in compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water (Goal 6.1) and sanitation (Goal 6.2).

Emergency declaration not enough

Although the Federal Government has since declared a state of emergency on WASH, the sector has not been given the priority attention it deserves. President Buhari noted that water supply and sanitation issues are not given the right attention by various states judging from the high prevalence of waterborne diseases reported in different parts of the country.

In Enugu State, the government declared a state of emergency on the WASH sector in late January 2020. The governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, followed the declaration with the inauguration of an 18-member Inter-ministerial Committee on implementing the WASH Action Plan in the state.

The State had signed up to the national partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) strategy as required by states to access the Federal Governments support to deal with challenges in the WASH sector.

But for Nigeria to meet the WASH targets of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, the World Bank said it must invest three times more than it currently does or allocates 1.7 per cent of the current Gross Domestic Product to WASH.

Women washing their clothes at the Isi stream in Uzo Uwani
Women washing their clothes at the Isi stream in Uzo Uwani

A policy brief released by the Society for Water and Sanitation (NEWSAN) shows that there has been no significant increase in budgets for sanitation at either the Federal or State levels. It showed that the Federal Ministry of Environment had no budget allocation for sanitation between 2014 and 2016. While there was a budget line for sanitation in 2017, it was less than 0.5 per cent against a 1.0 per cent commitment, with only 46 per cent of the amount budgeted being released.

Several WASH programmes, little results

Nigeria has several WASH development strategies to guide its progress to provide safe and accessible WASH services for all of its citizens. But all of these have been constrained by inefficient and ineffective service delivery, failing facilities and poor maintenance, according to a report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

While more than 38 per cent of all improved water points and around 46 per cent of all water schemes in Nigeria are nonfunctional, nearly 30 per cent of water points and water schemes appeared to fail in the first year of operation after construction, presumably because of poor build quality.

Specifically, the translation of policy principles into actionable plans and budgets has been weak, with some of these services including the 2000 National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Policy, the 2003 National Water Resources Management Police, the 2004 National Water and Sanitation Policy and the 2016–2030 Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene, the USAID report added.

It should be noted that several donors, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the French Development Bank, have supported the Nigerian WASH sector over the years with over $638M (262,141,440,000).

Enugu State government not aware of the development

When the reporter contacted the state government for a reaction, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Water Resources, Dubem Onyia, said he was unaware that some of the projects had stopped working. He, however, said that the government would complain to the organizations that brought the projects to see if anything can be done about it.

“If they don’t do anything, we will look at it because we are the beneficiaries. The organizations only came to invest,” he said.

Meeting international standards

According to the World Health Organization, WHO, between 50 and 100 litres of safe water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met, and few health concerns arise.

The solar-powered borehole in Ndiuno
The solar-powered borehole in Ndiuno

The World Population Review estimates that the population for Enugu in 2021 stands at 795,271. This means that the state government, by international standards, is expected to provide at least fourteen billion, five hundred and thirteen million, six hundred and ninety-five thousand, seven hundred and fifty litres of water (14,513,695,750) yearly for the entire population.

It is expected to provide eighteen thousand, two hundred and fifty litres of water (18,250) yearly for every citizen. This is going by the per capita water demand and consumption rate.

Reporter denied access to contract details as Coca Cola, SSDO fail to react.

To get the full details of the N300 million WASH projects, including the cost of each project and the contractors, this reporter sent an email to the Enugu State programme lead for WaterAid, Terkimbi Tom, in March 1. He replied three days later, directing the reporter to the Coordinator, Small Town Unit of the Enugu State Ministry of Water Resources, Christopher Ogbu.

This reporter subsequently sent a Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request to the Permanent Secretary, Enugu State Ministry of Water Resources, through the Small Town Unit coordinator on March 8. But, there has been no response to the request for over a month.

When the reporter contacted Ogbu to find out why there was a delay in the release of the information requested, the reporter was directed to the legal representative of the ministry, Ginika Iloma, who was supposed to review the request before approving.

On March 22, this reporter sent a reminder to the ministry and called Iloma, who in turn said she would have to inform the Attorney-General of the State to give his approval for the details requested to be given.

On April 20, six weeks after this reporter sent an FOI, the Ministry replied that information on the water projects was not in the Ministry.
The ministry said it only participated in the supervision of both the construction of new boreholes and rehabilitation of non-functioning boreholes through the Small Town Water Supply and Sanitation Unit of the Ministry.

This reporter also tried to reach out to the South Saharan Development Organization (SSDO) and The Coca-Cola Foundation via email on April 1, April 3, respectively. But neither of them responded.

This investigative report was supported by MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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