By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Though surrounded by water, Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State like its sister communities in the heart of the Niger Delta, can best be described as a contradiction and a confounding paradox. Or how do you explain a situation whereby one is surrounded by water and yet has none to drink?
Such is the pathetic story of the residents whose plight reminds one of the lamentation of the Ancient Mariner: â€œ…Water,Â water everywhere but not a drop to drinkâ€ as captured by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
Despite an apparent abundance of river, creeks and rivulets most residents still lack clean safe drinking water in this rustic settlement tagged one of the fastest growing capital cities in the country. For most residents, clean potable water which is being taken for granted in some other capital cities in the country is a luxury here.
When the present administration came on board in 2007, a blueprint for water supply was done, with the goal of supplying potable water to Yenagoa metropolis by the year 2009.
And in a flurry, the administration embarked on a water reticulation scheme in the capital city to the delight of most residents. But this was soon stalled as the government did not anticipate the shortfalls in revenue allocation from the Federation Account.
The implication is that set targets were not met and this has prompted Governor Timipre Sylva to have in the 2010 fiscal year reiterated his determination to consider the provision of water supply as his priority area, especially the completion of Yenagoa Reticulation System phase II and the upgrading of the Yenagoa Main Water Works at Ovom, Swali, Etegwe, Kpansia and Igbogene.
Apart from that, 13 new water projects, he added, will be completed. Hence, he proposed the sum of N702.76 million for the sector within the context of the macro-economic variables.
The hope of residents is that the government will live up to its promise as public water supply has become epilepticÂ in the capital city while majority of residents are forced to make do with water from private sources which are not subjected to strict guidelines and quality testing to ensure that the water meets the accepted standards and is safe to drink.
Interestingly, there are several private boreholes which serve as the primary water supply for a large number of residents of Yenagoa, due to delay in the completion of the government water scheme. The sad scenario has turned out to be a blessing in guise for water vendors who smile to the banks daily given the high patronage of residents.
Vendors now sell a jerry can of water for between N20 and N30 depending on the location of the consumers. Though a strenuous business given the volume of water being pushed on every trip, a vendor who simply identified himself as Cletus said: â€œIt is a very serious, energy-sapping venture but what can we do? The money is good. I go home with an average of N6000 on a good dayâ€. On why his white jerry can was looking discoloured, he said: â€œAs you can see the water table here contains iron rust and this partly explains why we wash our jerry cans with detergent and sand daily to at least make them attractive to our customersâ€.
This water could be contaminated from a variety of sources, and most water pollutants cannot be easily detected by taste or smell with the result that the end users are exposed to water borne diseases.
Also, Vanguard Metro investigation revealed that most borehole owners had not even tested their drinking water in the last six years, while others did not know the depth of their well.
â€œLack of clean drinking water and basic sanitation is a big challenge to most residents and the worst sufferers are women and children who have to wake up early to get water for domestic use from private owners,â€ Stanley Disi, a civil servant with the Federal Medical Centre lamented.
Continuing he said: â€œThe quest for water, especially during a long period of power failure in the capital city can drive one mad. The amount spent daily to purchase water from Mallams is close to N500 and N600. How much is my salary? Government should expedite action on its public water schemeâ€.
Another resident, Kurotimi Ebiowei said: â€œTo get a jerry can of drinking water is a struggle for many poor families. The cost of buying water daily in Yenagoa is enormous considering the delay of the state government water reticulation scheme. I part with an average of N400 daily to get a water vendor to fill my storage tank because of my large family. You need to go to one of the selling points at Ekeki in the early hours of the day to see the long queue for water by women and children and water vendors who in turn supply their customersâ€.
Even in the outskirts of Yenagoa like Biseni where the Federal Government interventionist agency the NDDC commissioned a water project which is a turnkey pilot project with a production capacity of 27,000 gallons per hour and facility for treatment of surface water from a brackish source, the struggle for potable water supply still lingers due to poor management of the facility.
â€œThe supply of clean, potable water is a business which is in private hands. It is an irony that most families often wake early to get water from water vendors. At best most families strike a deal with the water vendors to supply their homes daily and in return settled for monthly payment for services rendered,â€ one of themÂ lamented.
As it is, the need of the hour in Yenagoa is rain water harvesting, judicious use of water for domestic use and, above all, the political will to tackle the problem. Thank God the wet season is around the corner again.