For decades, Nigerian rural populations have relied on contaminated streams to meet their households’ needs, including drinking, cooking, and bathing. ‘Pushed to Action’ is a three-part series exploring how locals in far-flung communities are improving easy access to safe drinking water.
Twice daily, Mozility Amah fills his wheelbarrow with four jerry cans for a 20-minute walk to Iyiada Spring, a major water source for residents in Odada, his village in southeast Nigeria’s Enugu State.
Iyiada Spring is at the top of the hill in Odada. To collect water from the spring, Amah would leave his wheelbarrow at the foot of the hill and climb to the top, where he fills his cans – each measuring 25 litres.
“It is almost impossible to push the wheelbarrow up or down the hill because the higher you climb, the tougher it gets, and the path is not smooth either,” 19-year-old Amah explained. “So, I would fill the cans and return to stack them in my wheelbarrow and then continue until I have filled all the cans with water.”
Amah’s daily trip to get water for his family of seven often comes with pain. He is frequently injured from climbing the hill.
Global water crisis
Globally, more than 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability, according to the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF.
In Africa, the World Health Organization or WHO states that water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people and factors such as population growth, urbanisation, and climate change exacerbate the problem. However, by 2025, about 230 million Africans will face water scarcity and up to 460 million in water-stressed areas.
The problem is worse in Nigeria. In 2018, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency on the country’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene or WASH sector, as about 60 million people were living without access to basic drinking water. To access water, these people, most of whom lived in far-flung communities, travelled far to fetch from contaminated streams.
In Enugu alone, 2.5 million people – over half of the state’s 4.4 million population – lack access to essential water services, according to WaterAid Nigeria. Despite being home to several natural sources of water, experts in the area say the state’s hilly topography, which reaches an elevation of 1,000 metres (3,300 feet), contributes to the challenge of accessing clean and safe water.
No more hill climbing
Amah’s daily routine changed in 2021 after two private individuals from Orba, a neighbouring village, sponsored the installation of two boreholes to meet the water needs of over 2,000 residents of both villages.
Two years earlier, these individuals met with leaders and young people from both villages, where they planned how the water project would be executed. The project began afterwards, and young people from both villages provided labour.
Like Odada, Like Gbata
Meanwhile, residents in Gbata, a community with about 2000households in Nigeria’s Northcentral, Nasarawa state, also struggled with water insecurity until 76-year-old Zainab Ishaku, a farmer in Gbata, mobilised about 20 women – which later doubled to 44 – to repair the only borehole donated by a private individual during a cholera outbreak in the area six years ago.
The idea to repair the borehole was born after the women enrolled in the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme – a Nigerian government’s initiative to improve vulnerable households' welfare and living conditions through a monthly stipend of N5,000 ($6.18) – in 2016.
That year, after a series of meetings with the community women, Ishaku introduced a local thrift for the water project after a series of meetings with women and encouraged them to save up to N500 ($0.66) monthly from the stipend they receive for the water project. The women agreed and worked together to complete the water project in April 2019.
To improve easy access to safe drinking water, the women installed taps at strategic locations, including the healthcare centre, mosque, and the community’s only government primary school.
“Because we have a water problem in our community, we decided to help those who did not benefit [directly] from that stipend,” Ishaku said. “Before, we used to go to the river to fetch water, and our old women couldn't go because of the distance. We don’t have [that] problem again,” added.
The fixing of the borehole is a massive relief for Maryam Sa'idu. Before now, she left her house daily at 5 am and walked a distance of 15 minutes to the stream to fetch water for domestic use and then prepare her children for school.
“We used to suffer until [we enrolled for the programme], and we decided to repair our borehole,” the mother-of-six said.
These communities’ new water source provides access to clean and safe drinking water close to homes.
“Going up the hills and spending hours trying to get water is no longer compulsory. One can fetch cans of water from any boreholes since it is less stressful,” Victoria Obayi, a mother of three in her late forties from Odada village, said.
A common challenge
Although the borehole facilities greatly relieved the people, the communities full access to clean water is sometimes limited by an epileptic power supply to pump and fill the tank.
“If there is no light, we won’t be able to pump the water,” Ishaku said. This forces residents like aged women who can’t trek to the stream, to go to the community’s well and “to line up for hours,” and that the well “sometimes dries up.”
Amah’s village also suffers from this challenge. But not having to climb the hill daily to collect water from the spring is a massive relief for him. He hopes the government will intervene and provide sustainable solutions to tackle water-related issues in his village.
“The government should intervene and build boreholes to make water more accessible. That way, we will be sure of getting water whenever we need it,” he said.
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.