By Adeola Adenuga
Abubakar Muhammed Gege is Executive Director, Katsina State Water Supply and Sanitation Agency. In this interview, he speaks on the efforts by the Shema administration to put in place a regime of sanitation in the state while also providing potable water.
To what extent have you supplied all parts of the state with potable water?
The agency was established in 2003 during the tenure of the president as the governor of the state, Alhaji Musa Yar’ Adua. The agency was given the mandate to coordinate the activities of rural water supply and sanitation in the state. It collaborates with the agencies in the sector to accelerate the coverage in terms of rural water supply and sanitation in the state.
When the agency was established in 2003, we took an inventory of existing facilities and what we found out at that time was that only about 30% of the rural populace in the state had access to potable water and adequate sanitation. The state itself has a population of 60% rural and that is communities with the population of 5,000 and below. After the inventory, we went into action to procure some facilities so that not only to get water to these communities but also ensured that they took ownership of the project.
When I came in as Executive Director in 2007, we took another inventory and found out that about 45% of the rural population have access to water but when we took another inventory in 2009 the percentage had risen to 65% of the rural populace that had access to safe water supply. And soon we are likely to take another inventory to see how far we have gone in acceleration coverage.
Strategy to ensure compliance
One of the strategies that has worked particularly in the urban centres is compulsory sanitation which incidentally is also replicated here in the state by the state environmental agency. In the rural areas, we also have a strategy to ensure cleaner environment. This is the community- led total sanitation. It is the communities themselves responsible for ensuring the improvement of sanitation and hygiene in their environment and we do this through facilitation.
We go to the communities, sensitise them, facilitate their understanding on issues relating to hygiene, sanitation and defecating in the open which can be injurious to their health, we make them to understand that defecation in the open is responsible for most of the health problems they are having especially diarrhoea. Once that is done, we supply them potable water. We are not alone in this action plan, there is the DFD, there is UNICEF.
They are supporting us in the implementation of this strategy. We are presently declaring three of the LGAs in the state open defecation free, ODF. You can no longer go to these communities to defecate openly. And things have started improving because some of them are no longer waiting for government as they now construct their own latrines but we still support them with cleaning materials. This has greatly improved the health conditions of the people in these areas.
Apart from the strategy adopted, have you made any arrest of deviants?
This why I said it is a community-led approach. The communities have their own communal courts. They assign some people especially the young ones within the community who keep their eyes open and once they see anyone defecating in the open, they arrest the person; there are steps, depending on the communities on how to discipline any deviant. We don’t impose the rules on them. They enforced it on themselves.
In some of the communities they call the vigilante Shit Police. Sometimes, they fine the culprit, or show him or her round the community; of course you know that can be disgraceful. So people are really complying with the rules. Another strategy that has really assisted us in getting the people to be conscious of their health is the one by the First Lady of the state. She and her NGO go from house to house to inspect the latrines. She goes to the communities to sensitise them on the need to stop defecating in the open, to be health conscious.
You said over 65%of the populace have access to water. What happens to the remaining 45%?
I told you 65% as at 2009 and between 2009 and to date we have been doing a lot of work to ensure that water gets to everybody in the state. Very soon, we are going to take another inventory to know where we are now. Between 2003 and 2007, this agency had just two drilling rigs providing borehole water to the communities, but between 2007to date, we have additional four brand new rigs, three of where were procured by the state government and went to each of the three senatorial zones while the agency, with collaboration with the Japanese International Corporation Agency, has been able to secure another bore water drilling equipment.
The initial two rigs broke down but the state government brought them back to life. So, as we speak, we have six serviceable rigs which obviously have accelerated the pace of our work in the rural areas.
How long does it take to successfully complete a borehole?
Each of the rigs can drill a complete borehole to about 70 metres within one day. Once we are able to do the geo- physical survey which has three crews, they go round to take survey, results interpreted, within a day we are through with drilling. The following day, we do the hill test and by the next day we can under take the installation if it is hand pump but if it is motorised we need about two weeks after that to carry out construction of the site. For hand pumps, within maximum of five days, from survey to installations, you can have your water. For the motorised system, you need nothing less than three weeks to have water.
But even in the state capital, there are still water vendors all around. Why?
Katsina is an urban settlement. It is beyond the mandate of the agency. That is for the state water board to handle. There are areas we call the semi-urban where the population is between 5,000 and 20,000, they are not also part of the rural, they are being handled by the ministry of water resources. What this agency is really taking care of is purely the rural communities that are below 5,000 population. But there are occasions we do come in as interventionist to help the situation albeit temporarily. True if you go round, there are some areas that have been experiencing water shortage, so in the interim, we sank hand pump or motorised bore holes in the affected areas.
There are still communities even with potable water where people still go long to distances to fetch water because their borehole with them is no longer functioning.
That is what we are saying that people should take ownership of the projects. This is a national policy and also the state policy. You see some of these people in the communities still do not understand that it is their responsibility to maintain these facilities. While some have taken ownership of their facilities, others have not.
So where you find people with the facilities and still going to fetch water from other sources, it is because their facilities may have broken down and they have not been able to come together to repair it. Even when we repair or provide brand new facilities, we first of all ensure that these communities form their own associations, we support them to get the associations registered with the ministry of youth and social development so that they can open an account.
We train them on the operational methods of these facilities and how they can raise funds, usually a token to be able to repair the facilities whenever they break down. However we are not relenting. When we go round and find things like this, because we do get feed backs from the local government water supply and sanitation agency, we still provide back up by mobilising them to take action in ensuring that the facilities are brought back to life.
What are your targets this year?
We have our investment plan which we have developed, our target is to achieve 85% by next year. That is the Millennium Development Goal, MDG, year. Why the increment had been good prior to the establishment of the agency is because until that time there were several agencies providing the same facilities. So it was more like duplication of duties. And all of these agencies were working parallel to each other.
They were not working together, because there was no agency mandated to coordinate their works. Now any agency that is doing something in the rural area must liaise with the rural water supply and sanitation agency and that is why we have succeeded in stopping the duplication of mandates that was synonymous with the past. But I must add that without the assistance of the governor who understands the importance and the enormity that comes with providing water to the people, we would not have come this far.
In 2003, we started with a paltry budget of N500m and there was no year we were able to draw beyond N400m but, from 2007, the agency’s budget has continue to rise far and above that. It was initially raised to N800m, by the following year, our budget was more than N1billion the initial stage only the government was funding rural water supply activities in the state, we were not able to attract investment from outside, probably government thought it could do it all alone but the clear understanding of Shema is to collaborate with others from outside, get investments from outside, we have developed partnership with UNICEF, we have developed partnership with the DFID of the U.K , China government, Japanese International Corporation Agency and all the NGOs both local and international; all of these are additional investments.