AROYEHUN, KWARA: Mulikat Tijani’s community heavily depended on coloured, dirty, polluted water from a stream for drinking.
“Onigbin river was the only source of water, and we shared it with cows. When the animals were done drinking, we proceeded to take our portion from the same river,” the 32-year-old said with arms folded.
“The water affected us a lot. Imagine water that cows urinated and excreted inside. The kids stooled and vomited most of the time. What we used to do is to take medicines and traditional herbs after drinking the water.”
Tijani lives in Aroyehun, a rural community in Kwara State. But Onigbin River is in another community called Adio, and to access it, she trekked for about one hour.
Like Aroyehun, Banigbe, another remote community, had a similar challenge, with community members trekking about 20 minutes to access a stream.
Lack of access to clean water remains a global problem. The World Health Organisation says about two billion people (or one in every four persons) in the world drink contaminated water and lack access to safely managed water for drinking and other domestic use. The situation is worse in global rural settlements, where the number is eight in every 10 people, according to a 2021 UNICEF report.
Contaminated water such as a faeces-carrying stream or river water can result in health conditions like typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea, and dysentery. Diarrhoea alone is responsible for the death of over 800 000 people globally every year, suggesting that when combined, deaths resulting from all diseases relating to the intake of contaminated water yearly could be in millions.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the slowest access rate to safe water, with only 54% of people in the region accessing safely-managed drinking water, per the UNICEF report.
In Nigeria, a 2021 World Bank report says over 60 million (about 28% of the population) lack access to clean water. Last year alone, Nigeria recorded 111,662 cholera cases, with 3,604 resulting in deaths.
The water scarcity situation in Aroyehun changed two years after the Elite Network for Sustainability Development or ENetSuD, a Kwara-based civil society organisation, launched its Citizens Enlightenment and Mobilization Program or CEMP in late 2019. It is an initiative to assess the needs of marginalised communities and provide a solution.
Under the programme, ENetSuD visits rural communities in Kwara, interacts with the people to understand their most pressing needs, and takes photographs and videos of the problem. It then posts the pictures and videos on its official Facebook page of 11,578 followers, requesting donations to respond to the problem.
“The reason we take pictures is to inform the public about happenings in rural communities. From there, the people can offer help to these communities,” Olayemi Abdulrazaq, the organisation’s monitoring officer for Moro Local Government in Kwara, told Prime Progress.
In June 2021, ENetSuD visited Aroyehun and Banigbe communities for assessment, talked to residents about their water challenge, and took photos of the stream they drank from.
“When we got to these communities for assessments, the residents lamented water scarcity. When they took us to the water they drank, we realised they needed urgent intervention,” Abdulrazaq said.
ENetSuD then promised to build each of the two communities a borehole. But community members were sceptical.
“When they came and said they would provide water for us, we didn’t believe them. We were just looking at them because we were not moved as many people have promised us without fulfilling,” said Khadijat Amoke, 35, a Banigbe-community member.
Luckily, when the nonprofit posted the pictures on Facebook, the reaction was prompt.
“It caught the attention of the managing director, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Kwara State. That was how he picked interest and promised to facilitate a borehole to the Aroyehun community,” Abdulrazaq said.
A day after seeing the post on Facebook, Saheed Adeniyi Aremu, the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority’s director, sent a delegation to the ENetSUD. Together, the two teams moved to the communities to confirm ENetSUD’s report.
A week later, the drilling of a solar-powered borehole began and was completed and commissioned two months after commencement.
And for the Banigbe community, “A philanthropist reached out and donated to have a [hand-pump] borehole in the community. That was how we got a hand-pump borehole for the Banigbe community,” Abdulrazaq said.
Since 2019, using the same approach, the nonprofit, which has a team of nearly 300 volunteers and staff, has facilitated the construction of 21 boreholes in rural communities across Kwara.
“Since they brought this borehole, we have stopped drinking coloured water, and we have been enjoying good water,” Tijani of Aroyehun community said.
And their health has improved too. “No more complaints of stomach pains, and we are also relieved of stooling and vomiting by our kids,” Ganiyat Abdulakeem, another community member, said.
Abdullateef Isiaka Alagbonsi, a physiologist and ENetSUD’s founder, said people’s suffering in rural communities inspired him to start the nonprofit and its CEMP programme to interface between under-served communities and development actors and advocates.
Although members of Aroyehun and Banigbe communities can now access water through the boreholes, that access is partial and rotational.
In Aroyehun, for example, the community has about 15 small villages, residents say, and together, they have about 400 community members. Initially, people across the villages came to the borehole unrestricted whenever they wanted water. But that resulted in constant uncontrollable crowds and sometimes quarrels and fights as they struggled for the water.
To solve this, the community had to rotate access such that if today is the turn of people from one village to fetch, those from other villages are not allowed access. The implication is that it could take several days for a village to re-access it, so each village uses its turn to store as much water as possible for the days ahead. For full access to happen, more boreholes need to be sited in the community.
ENetSUD said it also faces distrust from people across communities who sometimes expect urgent intervention after ENetSUD visits and takes photos and posts but does not get a positive response from potential donors as quickly as hoped.
In that case, Alagbonsi, the founder, said: “We keep looking for philanthropists or a government agency [as long as it takes] that can help the community.”
But for Tijani of Aroyehun community, coming from the point where she and her kids drank contaminated water to her current experience with clean water, “The feeling is different,” she confessed.
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.