South-East residents lament absence of safe drinking water

• We had potable water last during Mbakwe’s tenure —Aba residents

• We have revived five water schemes —Abia Govt

• We trek five miles in search of potable water —Nweze

• Work is going on in 3 locations of water projects —Imo Govt

• Abandoned water projects all over Anambra

• Enugu residents go through hell to get water…. It will end soon —Govt

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu & Steve Oko

MOST, if not all the metropolitan cities, including the state capital cities, in the South-East have no safe drinking water. Imagine what the situation is in the rural communities, some of which depend on local community streams.

Reports of water situation in some remote rural areas in the zone are very pathetic. Water is very scarce in the South-East and expensive too. This has inflicted more hardship on the people of the zone.

For residents of Aba, the commercial city of Abia State, public taps functioned last over 40 years ago, during the government of the late Dr. Samuel Mbakwe as the governor of old Imo State between 1979 and 1983. So, people born after that period have not witnessed public tap in Aba and may only be seeing the places they are located as relics.

A resident of Aba, Ambassador Darlington Kalu confirmed the situation. He said that the last time residents of Aba drank potable water from public tap was during the tenure of the late governor of old Imo State, Dr. Sam Mbakwe.

Kalu, who is the President, Abia State Long-Term Development Plan on Trade and Investment expressed worry over the ugly situation and called on the state government to rise to the challenge.

According to him, operators of water boreholes are the only saving grace of the residents else, people will have no water at all. He expressed doubt about state of the water that they get from the boreholes. According to him, the prevalence of typhoid fever and some other water-related diseases is as a result of the consumption of borehole water.

His words: “It is over 40 years we saw water from public taps in Aba. Public taps ran last in the days of the late Sam Mbakwe. Go to Water Works Aba where ASEPA is now using, what you will see there is abandoned water equipment.

“Government should provide potable water for the people; it is government’s responsibility.

“Borehole water which people are resorting to is not even safe for drinking. And most of the water boreholes sunk by the lawmakers collapse after three months. The people are suffering and government should do the needful. They keep promising that the regional water projects would be revived but it ends in promise.”

Corroborating his views, the Traditional Prime Minister of Ibeku ancient Kingdom, High Chief Uche Akwukuegbu, said that but for the intervention by the member representing Umuahia Central Constituency and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Chinedum Orji, Umuahia residents will not have access to public potable water.

He explained that the Speaker sank water boreholes at strategic locations in the metropolis where residents get free water at specific times of the day.

Chief Akwukuegbu pleaded with government to reactivate the urban regional water project and reticulate water for the taps to start running again.

“Government knows what to do, and I am hopeful that very soon, the taps will come on,” he said.

The state government, however, said it has revived five water schemes to enhance access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the state.

According to the General Manager, Abia State Water and Sewage Corporation, Engr. Leo Ogbonna, the agency has been strengthened through the introduction of a water policy and the passing of the water law by the State House of Assembly.

He listed the revived water schemes as Umuahia Urban Water Scheme, Ugba na Nkata Water Scheme, Ariaria Pumping Station in Aba, among others.

“We have been doing a lot in returning to production of potable water, sanitation and hygiene. It might interest you to know that Abia State now has a water policy, and we have a robust water law. What this means is that we can now work as an agency. We are no longer known as the Water Board, we are now known as Abia State Water and Sewage Corporation through the establishment and passing into law by the Abia State House of Assembly.

“This administration had declared a state of emergency in the water section. It means a new phase. The implication is that with the law and the water policy in place, we are now beckoning on everybody to come and help us come out of this situation and assist, whether they are donor agencies, private individuals and water bodies because it is enshrined in our water law and policy. Government alone can’t solve the problem of water.

“We have completed the rehabilitation of the Umuahia Urban Water Scheme which will serve Umuahia municipality. We have taken palliative measure at Ugba na Nkata Water Scheme to help the Umuahia Urban Water Scheme. Umuahia regional water scheme failed and it is going to cost lots of money and the government may not have the kind of funding now. We have chosen another three schemes; one in Elu Ohafia,Ubakala and Aba, the Ariaria pumping station.

“The Ariaria pumping station is going to serve five LGAs – Aba North, Aba South, part of Obingwa, Ugwunagbo and Osisioma Ngwa. Ubakala water scheme will serve Olokoro and Ubakala axis. The one we have completed the rehabilitation at Umuahia urban water scheme and the palliative we did at Ugba na Nkata water scheme will serve Umuahia municipality and environs.”

In Ebonyi State, Governor David Umahi has embarked on comprehensive rehabilitation of existing water schemes in the state to ensure adequate supply of potable safe drinking water to the people of the state. One of them is the Ezillo water scheme which is said to have received complete turn-around maintenance and rehabilitation.

“As at today, the capital city and all the adjoining communities from Ezillo to the capital city are happy with the governor for this promise kept,” the government said.
The government has also brought back the contractor that handled the Oferekpe water scheme to site to effect the necessary repair on the plant which was discovered during the hand over to the previous administration. According to government sources, if not for Covid-19, the repair work would have been completed by April 2020, but “work is ongoing now and hopefully the plant will be test-run by end of July.”

When completed, it would complement the Ezillo water scheme in serving the metropolis and the adjoining communities from Ikwo to Abakaliki, including the Federal University at Ndufu Alike.

The water schemes include Ezillo water scheme established by the then governor of Old Anambra State, Dr. Jim Nwobodo and multi-billion naira Oferekpe water scheme built by the former governor, Chief Martin Elechi with installed capacity of about 100 million litres.

Also, the government, as part of its programme to end water problem, initiated the construction of Ivo water scheme which is almost 90% completed and will serve Ivo and its environs when completed. There is also the low lift section of Ukawu water scheme being worked on.

“In the area of PEWASH, the state government has through its agency, EBRWASA ensured that the source of water like boreholes and HDW are made available to rural dwellers as the need arises. Ebonyi State Govt. has participated in the entire federal water project through this agency. Most importantly, it is pertinent to note that Gov. Umahi is one of the governors who have graciously signed the WASH protocol.”

However, private borehole operators are on hand to fill the water gap in the state but at higher costs. In spite of all these interventions, some parts of the state capital have continued to experience perennial water scarcity.

According to a resident, Mrs. Chinwe Ebere: “There is water scarcity in Ebonyi and it is biting hard. I patronize borehole operators whenever the borehole in my residence is not functioning. These operators discriminate and I don’t blame them. They fix the price themselves and decide who they sell to.”

Enugu is one state that water problem is prominent. But the recently appointed Managing Director of the State Water Corporation, Engr. Martins Okwor who accepted that presently, there is water scarcity in the state said however that it would not be long before the problem is resolved.

He disclosed that part of the reason for the scarcity was the shutdown of major water distribution points due to ongoing emergency rehabilitation.

Okwor disclosed the state govt plans to produce and pump over 10, 000 cubic meters of water per day, particularly with the solar-power water crash program. According to him, the state has earmarked N30 billion for the state water supply that includes Enugu, Nsukka, Oji-River, Obollo-Afor and Udi regional water schemes.

Okwor further disclosed that in the big water plan, new estates and developing satellite residences that were not connected with public water supply will soon be connected.

“There is state government intervention to improve water supply in the state. Presently, there is water scarcity but the government has been trying to accumulate funds which it has used to pay for counterpart funding for the French Devt Agency, FDA, intervention project called the Third Regional Urban Water Rehabilitation program, a multi-billion naira project to which the state has contributed 30%.

“This project entails rehabilitation of all the regional water schemes in Enugu State, that is the Ajali, Oji River, Nsukka and water schemes to make sure that they are working. We are going to lay new transmission lines because the one existing between Ajali/ Enugu and between Oji River/ Enugu are old. We are equally going to construct a new distribution line which is the one that takes water into houses. All the new estates are going to be captured.

“The state government just released some millions of naira to the Water Corporation in what is called emergency water rehabilitation. This is for repair of non-functional pumps. The repair is in progress.

“The 9th Mile Crash Water scheme is a cluster of 12 boreholes that were drilled earlier. As at Friday, we were confident of recovering about nine of them and they are powered by solar; so power supply which is one of our problems will be solved. It will be producing close to 500 cubic meters per hour, which translates to over 10,000 cubic meters per day from that stream and if you add it to what we are rehabilitating, in the next four months, Enugu will be flooded with water.

“At Nsukka, by next week, we are going to take delivery of new pumps and other equipment. Presently, only one borehole is working but in the next two weeks, we are going to add another five boreholes to make it six, which means that the water scarcity in Nsukka in the next three to four weeks will be solved.

“Obollo-Afor is one of our urban schemes. Some communities – Eha-Alumona, Orba, Obollo-Afor down to Ezimo, some parts of Igboeze North, have joined to become a big urban location and there is a regional pipe water scheme in the pipeline. A lot of boreholes will be rehabilitated and new ones drilled.

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“There is a program for the Enugu State Rural Water Sanitation Agency, ENRUWASA that is going to improve water in the rural areas. It is another development-funded program which the state government keyed into and has paid its counterpart funding. That one will ensure that some rural areas are going to be provided with water.

“So, in a nutshell, the state govt has a very serious program for water supply that involves a lot of money; it’s worth over N30 billion. It is now in design. The AFD contract has been signed and in the next two weeks, they are going to take residency.

In Imo State, the government said that it has intensified works in the three locations of water schemes in the state. The Senior Special Assistant, SSA, on Public Enlightenment, Stanford Nwokedi, disclosed this.

According to him, the water schemes are Otammiri water scheme in Owerri; Eke Ngwuru water scheme and Eluama water scheme in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State.

“The government of Imo State has done much in making sure that Imo people receive water in their homes. Efforts are really on and you know it is not what one will do immediately. A lot of work is going to be done.

“As I speak to you now, the government has shown so much capacity in the reactivation of water schemes in the state; the reactivation of the Otammiri water scheme is ongoing. The reactivation of Eke Ngwuru water scheme is ongoing. Work is also ongoing at the Eluama Orlu water scheme. To an extent, these water schemes are providing water.

“However, we have noticed that there are so much damages on the network of pipes that pump water to different homes due to bad construction work not only in Owerri.

“We have also procured new water treatment system. The essence is to ensure that safe drinking water is delivered to the people of Imo State. However, it will take time to reticulate this water to our people and soon the issue of making available safe drinking water to our people will be completely achieved,” Nwokedi said.

In Anambra, abandoned water projects abound. According to Deputy Director, Public Relations, Anambra State Water Corporation, Sir Victor Okonye:  “In Anambra State, the last regime that showed genuine effort in rehabilitation of existing water schemes was former Gov. Chris Ngige’s administration. Ngige restored the World Bank-

Assisted Greater Onitsha Regional Water Scheme and waded gradually into community water schemes. Even during the time of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju’s administration when the Anambra State Water Corporation started going down, Dr. Mbadinuju was still managing to maintain the corporation and its water schemes until Ngige took over.

All the gains of rehabilitation made by Ngige were thrown overboard and water supply became a mirage and water scarcity hit major cities of Onitsha and Awka.

During the administration of Peter Obi, 17 water schemes were executed in collaboration with some international donor agencies namely: the European Union, UNICEF and the FG as part of efforts to achieve the MDGs target of 2015 in the water supply sector. Apart from the major water schemes, the then government also executed water projects in virtually all secondary schools and health institutions.

Unfortunately, most of the projects had since collapsed, a development that had made many people to wonder if Anambra is jinxed as far as water supply was concerned. In fact, the Peter Obi administration spent about N3 billion to execute water projects, but due to lack of sustained maintenance, most of the projects have failed.

“Staff of the water corporation remained without salaries throughout the Obi administration and the incumbent, which led to prolonged litigation at the National Industrial Court, which awarded salaries to the workers and condemned the action of the government.”

“The water sector has suffered so much because there is no political will by people in government to do something about it. Anambra State situation is the worst with all the major water schemes vandalized even by people in government.

The Anambra State Government recently this year, allowed people to encroach into the massive Onitsha Water Works to erect buildings inside the beautiful Water Works erected with assistance of the World Bank, attracted by the regime of Jim Nwobodo.

“Presently, water projects are fraudulently done to create opportunity and avenue to siphon money. If any project is done, it is done half hearted and haphazardly to create room for costly maintenance and siphon of funds. “There is no hope for good pipe borne water in Nigeria unless we have entirely new Nigeria and a new people. Everyone has become a thief”.

Because the government can’t adequately provide water for all, communities through self-help efforts have been doing a lot to fill the gap. Such effort was recently witnessed when the people of Umulaligbo, Egwu Achi autonomous community, Oji River council Area of Enugu state was handed over a water borehole to provide them with steady water supply after decades of water scarcity.

The project was built by a group, Sons of Umulaligbo Progressive Association, SUPA, under the programme of Replenish Africa Initiative, RAIN, meant to provide the community access to sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene services to rural communities in the area. The project was inaugurated by the Enugu State Commissioner for Rural Development, Emeka Mamah.

According to Chinedu Eze, the acting chairman of SUPA, the association constructed the borehole to address the age-long suffering of Umulaligbo in accessing portable water.

According to Eze, the group embarked on the project based on the importance of portable water to mankind and alleviated “the suffering of our people who before now would trek miles into the bush in search of safe drinking water”, Eze said.

One of the women who spoke to SEV, Mrs. Olumefolu Precious, expressed joy over the development, saying the community has never experienced intervention of such magnitude and impact. She said “after years of suffering due to lack of potable water, you can see what it means to the people from the excitement on our faces”.

Community effort is also employed by Ikem people. The President General of Federated Ikem Improvement Union, FIIU, in Isi-Uzo, Enugu State, Prof. Sam Ugwu said that Ikem communities have never had portable drinking water as long as the communities came into existence.

Ugwu said that in the community, “We have been dependent on stream waters such as Ebonyi, Ojome, Olu and other streams and during the dry seasons, it is only Ebonyi that survives and that is where everybody draws water.”

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