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To quench thirst, meet basic needs, Abuja communities turn to caves, holes for water

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Despite the N50 million naira budgeted in 2021 for constructing motorised boreholes in Kwali and Kuje, children within these Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) still die from water-borne diseases due to a lack of access to potable water.

WHEN Amina Sunday relocated to Ike Bassa in the Kwali Area Council of the FCT after her marriage, she did not expect to be confronted with the abject lack of potable water that she met.

In a desperate search for water, residents of her new community dug shallow holes in the ground from which rivulets of water trickled out and gathered over time to form small, dirty pools on the surface.

The water, usually muddy, gets scooped into buckets from the floor by children or women using a small bowl and carried home for all domestic use, including drinking.

Water source in Ike Bassa community, Kwali. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

Access to potable water is a mirage in many rural communities within the FCT. This questions the possibility of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which aims at ensuring the availability of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

At least 60 million Nigerians drink contaminated water, which has generally been linked to several deadly diseases, including cholera. Many children in Ike Bassa suffer from typhoid and other water-related diseases.

Another water source at Ike Bassa community, Kwali. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

In 2020, Sunday’s daughter, Hope, came down with a fever accompanied by frequent stooling and vomiting. She immediately suspected that the ailment was water-related and sought medical attention in a health centre miles away from the village.

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“Children fall ill frequently in this community. When my daughter became sick, the doctor said it was because of the water we drink,” she said.

Hope recovered from her ailment. But she has continued to drink from contaminated water sources, as the shortage of water in the community leaves her with no other choice.

“It took over a month for my child to get better. I can’t remember exactly, but I spent over N10,000 on the treatment. We still drink the same water. What other choices do we have?” Sunday asked.

Amina Sunday and her daughter, Hope. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children are more likely to die from water-borne diseases. Drinking contaminated water leads to the death of more than 70 000 children globally every year.

The UNICEF also noted that seventy-three per cent of diarrhoeal diseases are associated with poor access to potable water, which is predominant in impoverished communities.

While Sunday’s daughter survived the illness, many children in Ike Bassa have lost their lives to similar ailments.

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Mercy Jibril had three children but lost two of them a few years back. She told The ICIR that both children, aged 1 and 5, had died after stooling and vomiting for days.

“They had both developed a fever while vomiting and stooling before they died,” she said.

Though Jibril did not get a diagnosis before her children died, she believes the ailment resulted from the water they drank.

Many parents like Jibril often lack the resources to seek proper health care or get accurate diagnoses from a doctor, but a local chemist, James Joseph, told The ICIR that typhoid and diarrhoea, which are water-borne diseases, were common in the town.

Mercy Jibril, resident of Ike Bassa, Kwali. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

“One common illness around here is typhoid. When they come for treatment, I run tests on them. Typhoid and other infections come up due to the lack of clean water.

“There are also cases of cholera here. At times, when they come with complaints, I see the symptoms, and I know I cannot treat the infection here, so I refer them to the hospital at Kwaita,” he said

A short distance from the Ike Bassa community is Ike Ninzo, where Hassan Damboyi has lived since 1991.

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According to Damboyi, he has not had access to potable water for the past thirty-one years.

The water we take is not good, that is why most times when children drink it, they suffer from dysentery. Sometimes, we have to boil the water, put alum and wait for it to settle before we drink,” he said.

Damboyi had been a father of nine but lost two of his children to what he believes were water-borne diseases over four years ago.

Hassan Damboyi drinking from a water source at Ike Ninzo, Kwali. Photo credit: The ICIR

“Two of my children have died because of this water. We took them to the hospital, and we were told the water we drink is not good,” he said.

A sparsely equipped room in an Islamic school serves as a health care centre for community residents.

It is single-handedly managed by a health attendant, Racheal Yakubu Bako, who told The ICIR that residents suffer a myriad of water-related diseases, with many showing symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and dysentery.

Yakubu Bako, Health personnel at Ike Bassa community, Kwali. Phot Credit: The ICIR.

“I always suspect bad water to be responsible for these ailments. Cattle go there to drink, even dogs. Children are dying from these diseases. Most times, the villagers are negligent of the health problems. Before they come in for treatment, the sickness has dealt with them to the extent that they lose their lives,” she said.

Nigeria was severely hit by a cholera outbreak in 2021. Thirty-three states and the FCT had been affected by the outbreak.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recorded 111, 062 suspected cholera cases and 3,604 deaths in 2021. Children between five and fourteen years were most affected.

In the FCT alone, 1,286 suspected cases were recorded, and about 77 lives were lost.

Residents of both communities also suffer from varying skin diseases attributed to the contaminated water.

A child’s arm affected by a skin rash in Ike Bassa, Kwali. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

There are no available water vendors or boreholes in these communities.

The only available means of getting clean water is to purchase sachet water from Kwaita, a town miles away, which costs at least N600 to and fro per person. This excludes the recently increased water costs from N120 to N250 per bag.

The residents, who are predominantly farmers, consider this an unaffordable option.

Fetching from a cave

For the inhabitants of Zokutu in the Kuje Area Council of the FCT, a dangerous descent into an underground cave is the only available means of getting water for domestic use.

The water source is about ten minutes away from most residents, but ascending or descending into the cave requires careful negotiation of steep slopes.

Although most residents are used to the arduous task, many still suffer pain in the thighs and knees. The ICIR learnt that there had been cases of people falling off and sustaining severe injuries.

Save for rainy seasons, the cave remains dry, and the women are forced to wait for groundwater to seep out to the surface before scooping it up.

Zokutu water Source, Kuje. Phot Credit: The ICIR.

This task is usually carried out in the wee hours of the morning and takes some time. Despite this struggle, the water gotten is muddy, smelly and often attracts flies.

In many Nigerian homes, women and children are saddled with the responsibility of getting water.

It is no different for Juliet Paul, who has to undertake the dangerous journey up and down the cave with her seven-year-old son to get water.

She told The ICIR that her health had deteriorated since she started living in the community ten years ago. She said at least four children in the community had died from water-borne diseases.

“We fall sick a lot. My children and I frequently get diarrhoea and other ailments. I visit the hospital more often ever since I came here. I know of four children who have died from drinking this water,” she said.

Health personnel at the only Primary Health Centre in the village, Simon Gwajapma, said typhoid and dysentery were also quite common among residents of Zokutu.

“We have noticed several cases of water-borne diseases like typhoid and dysentery. We need clean sources of water so that the community can be healthy. The environment is very dirty,” he said.

Woman making her way out of the cave in Zokutu with water on her head. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

Residents of Zokutu told The ICIR that some people who claimed to be sent by the government had visited the village on several occasions and attempted to drill boreholes for the community.

However, the water level beneath the ground is low, and efforts to drill boreholes by the said government officials have proven futile.

For Sule Bitrus and other villagers, the futile attempts resulted from a wrong approach by the workers. They believe the nature of the land required manual drilling rather than the use of machines.

“We’ve been trying with this drilling machine for a long time. It doesn’t work because our water table is too far. The borehole there, we dug it in the form of a well. After finishing it, we put in the engine, and it works. We’ve complained about this before, but the problem is with the contractors. They don’t agree with us,” he said.

The villagers said contractors often drill large holes into the ground in search of water and abandon the project when they come up empty.

Dry cave at Zokutu community, Kuje, FCT. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

Three years ago, a child died after falling into a hole abandoned by the workers. Her mother, Akumishi Danlami, recounted the incident to The ICIR.

“The children were playing around here when she fell into the ditch. That is why I put these planks over this hole so that no one else falls in. The only way the government can help us get water is by drilling the ground manually and fixing the pumping machine in it,” she said. 

A resident of the area had successfully drilled a borehole in the community using the manual method three years back.

Occasionally, the borehole is open to other members of the community, who pay the sum of N50 to fetch a 20-litre jerry can of water. But due to the pressure of serving the whole community, it almost always needs repair.

The Upper Niger River Basin Development Authorities (UNRBDA) is responsible for developing and harnessing surface and underground water in the FCT.

According to data from BudgiT, N50 million had been budgeted in 2021 to construct motorised boreholes in Kuje and Kwali Area Councils by the UNRBDA.

The ICIR sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the UNRBDA Area office in Kwali for details of capital releases for the construction of motorised boreholes in Kuje and Kwali Area Councils on May 9, 2022.

There was no official response to the request up till the time of filing this report.

However, The ICIR learnt from the organisation’s staff that awarding and executing contracts were neither carried out nor supervised by offices in the FCT.

“These water projects, the contract awards, execution, and supervision is not handled by us. It is when they are done with their construction that we now monitor. You will only get bits of information from us, but the real information you need is at the headquarters. We are only the end-users of whatever projects are executed,” the staff said.

The ICIR also sent a letter to the FCT Water Board on the reasons behind the lack of potable water in some communities and what is being done to resolve it, but there was no response as of the time of filing this report.

Water fetched from the cave in Zokutu. Photo Credit: The ICIR.

The way forward

Speaking on the issue, Director of Programs, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Philip Jakpor, told The ICIR that bureaucracy within the FCT Administration, deteriorating infrastructure and the influx of people into the nation’s capital were significant reasons for the water shortage.

“There is the issue of the infrastructure that should pipe water to homes which are deteriorating in Abuja. Some are broken, old and have not been changed. All these are major factors that impede access to water for residents of Abuja.

“More people are pouring into Abuja, which is now putting a lot of strain on infrastructure that is not expanding or matching up to that population. It is sheer planlessness,” he said.

Jakpor recommended that infrastructure be maintained, and giant corporations who utilise more water in communities be made to pay more for its supply than average residents.

“We have big corporations that take up more water than the average citizen. Unfortunately, they pay as little as others. These corporations should be made to pay more because they take more water from the common pool, deplete the water table and pollute our environment.

“They use our water almost for free, then bottle it and sell it back to us. It all boils down to the seriousness of the government to make it available to citizens,” he said.

*Sadiq Aliyu served as a translator in some instances. 

Author profile

Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via vopara@icirnigeria.org

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