…Sad story of Nigeria’s coal city
By Dennis Agbo
Mr. Hillary Onodugu is a civil servant who resides in Community layout, Trans-Ekulu, Enugu. He has an ugly experience of water supply that he is always ready to share with whoever cares to know.
According to Onodugo, he has lived in the state capital for more than twenty five years, dating back to his days as a young school leaver when he lived in the GRA, where according to him; there was pipe borne water fetched from the public tap whenever it ran. Then, he had not much responsibility that required large volume of water usage but maintained a drum which he used to store water as reserve when the tap dried up.
But he said that ever since he relocated to Trans-Ekulu and got married, he braced up with perennial water scarcity and had since then depended on water from tankers that he buys at exorbitant rates.
Onodougu said: “There is no tap here that was fixed by anybody, be it government or individual. What we have is a well that dries up any moment from October and we start buying water from tankers that bring water from 9th mile. As my family grew, I found out that my water usage increased. This water is apart from the bags of sachet water that we buy for drinking. The water from tankers is for domestic use and that is where my agony lies.
“With my present family of six with two other dependents, I buy 750 gallons of water every two weeks and the cost is now astronomical. We used to buy it for N3, 000 per 750 gallons but it’s not N6, 000 and that means N12, 000 per month in addition to the drinking water that is now N150 per bag. So I don’t spend anything less than N20, 000 per month buying water with my meager salary. How do I coup?”
Mr. Johnson Ozifo lived many years in Europe and in return does many types of businesses including sale of water in New Haven, the Enugu city center. He said that he makes money selling water from a well he dug in his compound. According to him, he sells water from the well that he treats by using alum. He said that a bucket goes for N10 even when others sell for N15 or N20. He said that he sells 20 and 25 liters for N20 while 50 liters goes for N40.
He admitted that there is a track for public water supply in New Haven but that the taps rarely run. The pipes can be dry for two weeks, sometimes months, sometimes they will give water in once in one week and people will rush and rush but it can never serve the purpose of water. Sometimes it runs once in two, three weeks or one month from the government agency. That is why in New Haven people now have well where water ran up till the 1990s.
An entrepreneur who runs an eatery in Independence layout, but pleaded for anonymity, said he buys a full tanker of water of about 1500 gallons every day from the commercial water vendors that buy them from 9th mile, a 15 kilometer distance from Enugu metropolis.
“You know there is no water in Enugu. I buy one full tanker of water every day. The cost now is N11, 000 but in December it went up to N13, 000 and to do that every day means N130, 000 in 10 days because you flush toilets, wash hands, cook and do every other thing. After that you pay your electricity bill and you find out that you can’t break even in business,” he narrated.
Why tanker water is costly
According to the chairman of United water Tanker Divers Association, Trans-Ekulu branch, Mr. Nickolas Eze, the reason for the increase of prices of water supply to Enugu residents was as a result of increase in every other thing in the Nigeria market.
Eze said: “The cost of water in Enugu depends on the distance. What caused the present high cost of water is that the borehole owners at 9th mile increased their cost at which they sell water to us because of the high cost of diesel. One liter of diesel that used to be N170 is now N220 for original diesel that will not give your machine or truck any trouble.
“So, far places such as Abakpa or Emene will take more diesels from 9th mile. Prices have shut up in Nigeria. The engine oil that we used to buy at N16, 000 is now N20, 000.
“Our income has been depleted, drivers will eat, conductors will eat, and some can’t even maintain their vehicles again. You know how our roads are but we thank our Governor who helped us patch some portions from 9th mile to 82 Division last December otherwise there wouldn’t have been water, because tankers were crashing, falling down and blocking everywhere. If there are good roads we can make up to five trips per day.
“We are also begging the Governor to control the refuse disposal people at Ugwuonyeama. They scatter refuse everywhere and set the refuse on fire and the thick smoke will cover everywhere. The air pollution causes health challenges .The way to reduce the cost of water is to reduce the cost of diesel, improve the electricity supply, and fix the roads. We suffer many things such as multiple levies. The Governor has just intervened.”
The root of Enugu water scarcity
Geological surveys strongly indicate that underground water is difficult to find in major parts of Enugu state due to what the experts say is shale underground that makes it difficult for rigs to perforate. Coal formation across the length and breadth of the state is another reason why it’s easier to dig for gold than to dig for water in the state.
A Geophysicist and Senior lecturer in Enugu state University of Science and Technology, ESUT, Prof G.Z Ugwu said that borehole water is almost impossible in most communities in Enugu state because of the soil formations. He said that what is easily obtained is harvest of surface water from streams that are processed in treatment plants and reticulated to homes.
Prof Ugwu said that in Enugu state “water can only be found in Ajali formation within the 9th mile area and at Nsukka formation, particularly within Nsukka metropolis and the third is the sandstone found around Agbani/Akpugo area. These are the three water bearing formations in Enugu state called the Aquifers, that is the Ajali, Nsukka and Agbani sand stones and that is why water can be found within those three areas.
Apart from these areas, in any other place in the state you get shale because Enugu state is predominately shale which extends from Enugu up to Benue state. Ikem is a typical example of where you have a thick column of shale and you can’t find water in such places. “The option is damming of rivers which are surface water, wherever you have perennial streams or rivers, what we have in Enugu state are streams, there is no river and you source water from there. Any other thing you dig apart from these three places is just temporary and will be for wet seasons after which they will dry up in dry seasons. Again, because of the coal the ones you get during the wet seasons will not be portable water because the coal will dissolve , there will be impurities and it will become very hard, it becomes hard water and with time it will decay and it will give you odor, so it’s not a good drinking water.
Issues of water scarcity
Long before now, public water supplies for Enugu urban were derived from the colonial waterworks at the foot of Milliken Hill, besides new market, Ngwo and the Ajali water works at the top of Udi hill, after 9th mile, also at Ngwo. The two water schemes managed by the state water corporation were separately and jointly reticulated into the municipality for public water supplies. There was tap water supply in the state in those early administrations up till the 1990s. Things got bad after these times.
The federal government under former President Olusegun Obansanjo commissioned the Oji River Artisan water project that was also reticulated into the coal city to complement the existing water supply, yet availability of water remains a big issue in the entire state. Previously, water was reticulated to parts of the state capital such as in GRA, Coal Camp, Ogui New layout, New haven, parts of Independence layout, Uwani, Abakpa, Agbani road, Emene and some parts of Trans-Ekulu, yet water remains dry in those taps.
Insider sources said that the major problem militating against urban water supply in Enugu and Nsukka is the lack of maintenance of water pumping machines and its components. They also said that the governments needed to be more sincere in tackling the issues. The case of the Emene fabrication industry where tools for maintenance of the water machines were cited but has now been allegedly cleared, the machines removed and an estate built on the premises is mind boggling.
At Nsukka, Saturday vanguard investigation revealed that there is a cluster of about five boreholes from where water is harvested to the reservoir for distribution, but that it is not enough and has not experienced expansion in decades. There is also the issue of electricity problem that hampers pumping of water in the university town. It was however gathered that the state government has intervened by digging a reticulation pipe from the Adada federal government water project at Uzo-Uwani to Nsukka but the main water harvesting project is yet to be completed.
Under the Sullivan Chime administration, the state government, through the support of the World Bank, made a serious attempt at reactivating provision of pipe water in every building in the state capital through mid/long term concession, involving the private sector in management. The private sector initiative was met with stiff opposition and never materialized.
Though the officials of the state government failed to speak with Saturday Vanguard, it was learnt that upon the coming of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration in 2015, it moved to revive water projects. Enugu State was selected along with other states which did not benefit from the first National Urban Water Sector Reform Project, 1st NUWSRP, to enable the state sustain and improve upon the investment recorded under the first NUWSRP.
Plans are underway for the French Development Agency, AFD, to support the state with $50million which will help the state develop its water supply infrastructure in the capital city of Enugu. The project is expected to address the challenges in the areas of water production, transmission, distribution; metering, revenue generation and revenue recycle management for sustainability and return on investment.
In particular, the project will see to the rehabilitation of Ajali and Oji River waterworks and installation of a dedicated power line for Ajali; upgrading of the water transmission system by the installation of a second pipeline, 12.8 km long, 700 mm dia; replacement of around 240 km of asbestos cement pipelines (40 km in the primary distribution network and 200 km in the secondary network); expansion of the secondary network over about 60 km, to supply nearly 5000 new domestic connections.
It will also replace the 16,000 existing connections with new piping as well as installation of a meter on each connection; and the equipment of a central maintenance workshop to provide Enugu State Water Corporation, ENSWC, with the resources required for the sustainability of operation of the water system. However, that is still work in progress. Enugu people can’t wait to enjoy regular water supply. It has been decades they experienced that.