By Ike Uchechukwu
CALABAR—RESIDENTS of Calabar metropolis and environs in Cross River State, reputed to have the finest potable water in Nigeria, have been hit by an excruciating water drought, following the breakdown of the operational system of the Cross River State Water Board, CRSWB, despite a subsisting public-private partnership, PPP, agreement with Ortech Nigeria Limited.
Even in Anatigha, Calabar South Local Government Area that used to enjoy 24-hour water supply from CRSWB, water hardly flow from their taps anymore. For them, the PPP is an unmitigated disaster. Inhabitants, especially at 4 Miles, 8 Miles, Ikot Ansa, part of Federal Housing, Ikot Ishie, and State Housing where the governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, resides, all suffer from this inefficiency of CRSWB.
At Mount Zion, Atimbo, Chamley, Mbukpa, Afokang and other parts of Calabar South, the water comes once in two weeks— when it does come at all. This has forced many of CRSWB customers to stop paying bills.
Enter private borehole owners
Following the failure of CRSWB, private borehole owners, who charge exorbitant rates, have taken over water supply business in the state. However, the concern is not just the supply by private borehole owners, but the quality of water they supply, knowing that unclean water is the source of typhoid fever, cholera and other killer diseases. Bemoaning the inefficiency of the state water board, Mr. Asuquo Effanga, a resident at Yellow Duke, off Mount Zion, told Niger Delta Voice it was better for him to buy water from private borehole owners than wait for CRSTWB for his daily water supply.
He said: “I can count how many times they have given us water this year. Yet they still bring high bills for us to pay when we do not even see the water. “Water is highly essential. It is not like electricity that you that you can get from generating set. It is natural, and it is life. “We prefer to buy water from these people even though it is more expensive. I spend up to N1,500 weekly, but you are rest assured that water is available for use. But we are appealing to government to fix whatever the problem is so that people can have water 24 hours every day.
”I wonder why the whole thing changed immediately their Chairman left to run for Senate. It was like the place left with him, because it was almost immediately he indicated interest to run that the place started witnessing great challenges, we no longer have water.”
Water pipes destroyed by govt contractors
Mrs. Blessing Osor, who stays at Access Road in Atimbo, told Niger Delta Voice: “Most times I have had to buy 30 litres of water for N40 or more. We used to buy fsame or N5. “They collect N20 when there is public power supply, but once NEPA interrupts even if it is for five seconds, they start selling for N40. “Only few of them sell for N30, while some good ones still maintain their normal N20. It is that bad.”
According to her, the residents have complained several times to water board to come and rectify the channel problem because it was cut off during the construction of the Airport Bye Pass, which had been commissioned, but nothing was done about it.
Speaking with Niger Delta Voice, National President, Association of Table Water Producers of Nigeria, ATWAP, Mr. Ubina Ubi, said: “50 percent of producers depend on CRSWTB; not everyone has the resources to sink boreholes that will give them the quantity of water they need on a daily basis for production. It is a big challenge for us. “The water that comes from them is also less expensive in terms of treatment; even though it needs treatment from us before packaging, the cost cannot be compared to the one coming from our own boreholes.”
A top official of the CRSWTB contacted by Niger Delta Voice directed our reporter to ORTECH, the firm in charge of the operations division of Cross River State Water Board. The PPP arrangement gives ORTECH the power to carry out the operational functions for CRSTWB, which means it is the duty of the firm to ensure that water is running from the taps.
Our difficulties—Ortech GM
The General Manager, Operations Division, Mr. James Buchan, told Niger Delta Voice that company’s major challenge was electricity, stressing that having to pump water from their major source with diesel and to also supply the city in the same manner is cost intensive. He said: “When people do not pay their water bills, it is almost impossible to continue to supply the city water. More than 40 percent of our customers have been disconnected from our channel because of non-payment of bills and it is a huge task to meet up because of this loss.
Rising production cost
“We, as Ortech Nigeria Limited, in private partnership with CRSWTB, have done everything in our power to ensure regular water supply in Calabar. “Unfortunately, in the last few months due to very high increase in critical input like PHCN, which has increased the cost by more than 77 percent and the cost of getting water from our major source having increased by 100 percent, it is even more difficult for us to run when customers are not paying their bills.”
Non-payment of debts
Buchan said over the last few months, the increase in debt by outstanding customers had led to shortage of cash to run a smooth operation, saying we cannot just increase tariff to meet up with operational cost without the approval of the state government, which has made a lot of things difficult. He asserted: “We are doing everything in our power to regularize this. Our aim over the last 12 years is to supply potable drinking water to Cross River State.
“As a company, we will not supply sub-standard water because we have a reputation to produce the best potable drinking water in Nigeria.”
Invested over N2bn
The General Manager further explained that ORTECH had invested more than N2 billion and would do everything in its power to ensure everything works, adding that over 10,000 customers have been disconnected, translating to 40 percent revenue loss, which is affecting it. He said: “We have a major stake in this partnership, we must make sure that it works because if it does not, we will definitely lose a lot of money; so we have a huge stake in this agreement.
Our pipes were damaged
”Some of the complaints you hear from customers are not totally false. “Due to some construction work, some of our pipes and other facilities have been damaged. It is only when these lines are restored that we can start supplying such areas.” He urged water users in the state to pay their bills because that is the only way they can get 24-hour water supply. Buchan also cautioned that no money should be paid to touts and impostors, but directly into designated bank accounts.