Oke Idunn, 34, resident of Asaa, Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, would wake as early as 3.AM daily searching for water for her family use.
The mother of two often scrambles all the trenches dug by the men in the community to see if any would have sprung out water during the night. But most times, Idunn returns home without water, and when she is lucky to scoop a small amount, it is usually unclean.
Getting water at those odd hours is usually not without a struggle with other women who also left behind the safety of their homes in the wee hours of the day, searching for this crucial human need.
Water fetched from the ditches is little and dirty, but Idunn, as others, contents herself with her lot. Even when she attempts to purify the brown coloured water with potassium alum, the colour always remains the same, which runs contrary to the World Health Organisation’s water standard, which states that water should be colourless.
“We will go back to the ditches in the afternoon, by 1 pm, we nose across all ditches like snakes to see if there is enough water to scoop,” Idunn says.
She says it usually takes hours for women in the community to fill their buckets with such coloured water. “We will sit there and wait. We will dig it deeper at times.
“If we notice the water is coming out from one source, we scoop it into our buckets and take it home, then we can take our bath, wash our dirty clothes and make pap.”
This struggle to get water for cooking and house chores makes bathing optional in most households in Asaa.
During a visit by this reporter, Idunn and her two children had not had their baths for the past five days, and they were not sure that would happen any time soon.
She explains that, due to the difficulty of getting water to drink in the community, the members can stay days without taking their baths. According to her, the daily competition for water among women in the community has degenerated into an unhealthy rivalry.
At a time when personal hygiene ought to be intensified, due to the Covid-19 contagion, Idunn said she and her family are more concerned about what to eat and drink than the washing of hands. This is despite getting messages by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) on the radio advising the public about hygiene, including regular washing of hands with soap and water as one of the essential measures against the spread of Covid-19.
“We used to hear it on the radio that we should wash our hands. Just imagine that, we have no water to drink, no water to take our bath, Mr reporter, which one would you also prioritize? God is protecting us here,” Idunn asked looking straight into the eyes of this reporter.
A water full of impurities
What Idunn did not know is that the water she and her family members are consuming is full of impurities. According to Dataphyte’s investigation of the water sample being consumed in Asaa, there is 5.5% of acid, using Formazin Turbidity Unit (FTU), 10.0% of Turbidity, 92.5% of Total Solids (ppm), 90.0 % of Dissolved Solids (ppm), among other physical characteristics in the water the women scramble to get daily.
Over the years, the Asaa community members have devised a means of digging trenches, leave it for hours to spring then scoop it and use it for their day-to-day activities. But at times, they can spend days without getting anything.
Total solids are a measure of the suspended and dissolved solids in water. Dissolved solids are those that pass through a water filter. They include some organic materials, as well as salts, inorganic nutrients, and toxins.
Though the water is soft (ppm CaCO3 at 32.0% as against the WHO’s minimum of 30%), the Microbiology characteristics test of the Asaa water sample also revealed that there is Total Bacteria counts (cfu/ml) of 10.0 X 101 while Total Faecal Coliform (cfu/ml) stands at 1.1 X 102 .
The result stated that the health implication of the water may include corrosive tendencies, faecal contamination, urinary tract infections, bacteraemia, meningitis, diarrhoea, acute renal failure, and haemolytic anaemia.
According to Damilare Ajagbe, a microbiologist and Ph.D. student at Oklahoma State University, USA, the presence of “bacteria coliform in the drinking water is an indication that the water could contain disease-causing organisms.
The further detection of faecal coliform in this drinking water shows that it is contaminated by faeces and the risk of having disease-causing organisms (pathogen) in the water is high.
He added that the present situation in the community is a critical public health issue, and it poses a critical health risk to people drinking this water.
We were all scared during the early days of Covid-19 – the Baale of Asaa community
On the afternoon of Sunday, March 8, 2020, Kosolu Olajide, the Adele Baale of the Asaa community was lying calmly on a Chaise Lounges under a bamboo-made shade in front of his palace with his transistor radio as his companion.
Olajide was enjoying the local radio contents when the news broke that Ogun State had recorded a Covid-19 index case.
Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Nigerian Minister of Health had confirmed the development at a Ministerial press briefing on covid-19 at the University Teaching Hospital, (UBTH), Benin, Edo State.
He, however, advised the public to stay alert and prioritise hand washing habits and use of hand sanitizer, among other preventive measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Dataphyte understood that the Ogun State index case-patient had had contact with the Italian-index case in Lagos, but had no significant clinical symptoms.
While the Minister’s advice on COVID-19 precautions should have brought some relief, Olajide, the head of an over 3,000-population Asaa community, was worried about the water scarcity in his community, since an abundant supply of water was needed for the regular hand washing that the Health Minister just proffered.
The 87-year-old community head was born in Asaa. He laments that he and his people are not enjoying anything that could be described as dividends of democracy even when they often turn out en-mass during elections.
Like Idunn and many other residents, Olajide had not had his bath for about five days.
“As you are seeing me seated, this is the 5th day I have taken my bath since I can’t find water to use. Many have died because of this lack of water,” he reveals.
Global data released in 2017 revealed that unsafe water sources, poor access to basic hand washing facilities, and unsafe sanitation are linked to 1.5 million deaths across the world yearly.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), proper washing of hands can reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases like Covid-19.
However, Olajide explained that while the whole world was looking for ways to defeat the coronavirus pandemic by washing their hands, people of his community were concerned about sourcing water to drink, take their bath and prepare food.
“It was a challenging moment for us. We were not even talking about handwashing. Our challenge was getting water to live and we are still on it till the moment you are seeing me. We were not that disturbed about the washing of hands and we are hardly doing that right now.”
The community head revealed that if they were to get pipe-borne water, they go as far as 4km to buy from Agbon Ojodu, a sister community that also suffers the same water dilemma.
“There is no water at all. We go to the Agbon community to buy water. And now that Coronavirus is disturbing the whole world, we have no water to wash our hands nor to take our bath.”
Challenging times for menstruating women and schoolgirls
Over 12 young ladies between the ages of 12 to 16 say they often spend days without washing up while on their monthly menstruation cycle due to the water scarcity in the community.
Adenike* said she uses paper to clean up or buy a sachet of water to wash the piece of cloth she uses in place of sanitary pads, which costs some money.
According to UNICEF, poor menstrual hygiene can pose physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections.
On September 7, 2020, the State Government, through Kunle Somorin, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of the State, emphasised in a press statement that provision of Sick bays / Isolation rooms in schools, provision of face masks, infrared thermometers, adequate hand washing facilities and alcohol-based sanitisers for students and teachers in all schools; disinfection of the schools as well as suspension of the general assembly.
But for students of the only elementary school in the community must bring a small quantity of water from their respective homes to contribute to the hand washing project against Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.
One of the school teachers who spoke to Dataphyte under anonymity, due to the unavailability of the school headmaster, confirmed that students of the Community Primary School, Asaa bring water from their home to pour into the school’s handwashing basin.
The male teacher also added that students and teachers of the school opt for open defecation in the bush whenever they want to ease themselves.
Meanwhile, the only primary health care centre servicing the community is dilapidated due to years of neglect.
Even when it was nearly opened, residents say it was also faced with the challenge of water scarcity which made it as every other household relied on unclean water for its daily activities.
Oja-Odan, another community that is several kilometres away from Asaa is where residents go for health care services or find their way to Eegelu, a sister community in Benin Republic.
Multimillion Naira uncompleted water projects littered across the community
While the people of Asaa suffer daily searching for clean water, the community is littered with uncompleted water projects that could have alleviated their suffering if they were functional.
Bolarinwa Joseph, the secretary to the Adele Baale of the Asaa community, showed Dataphyte at least three uncompleted water projects across the community.
The 16-year old abandoned projects were said to have been sponsored by the United Nations’ United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2005 with a notion to provide water for the populace.
According to Bolarinnwa, one of the water projects was abandoned after the contractor handling it claimed the drilling machine encountered rock beneath the ground.
“They made many efforts to blast the rock. But it was impossible. That was how they left this project (pointing at the pipe) and the three others uncompleted.”.
“I myself, this is my third day without a bath. As I am standing here, I just took the cloth I am wearing from the hanger when I heard you are around to interview us. I should have washed this cloth but because of our inability to get water, I can not,” a distraught Bolarinwa said.
More communities where water is a gold
Asaa community is not the only one suffering from acute water scarcity in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, indeed, three more communities- Agbon-Ojodu, Ibeku, and Moro- are in that predicament.
In 2006, Job Olufemi Akintan, a lawmaker who represented Egbado North II at the Ogun State House of Assembly for eight years, nominated a water project which was commissioned by Gbenga Daniel, Governor of Ogun State at the time, on May 30, 2006.
Festus Oguntoshi, the Baale of Agbon-Ojodu, told Dataphyte that the project broke down days after it was commissioned and it never worked or served the community.
“It was the former government that did that for us. Not long after it was delivered, the borehole broke down,” he said.
On September 10, 2020, the Ogun State Government under Dapo Abiodun disclosed that it had released N78million as counterpart fund to rehabilitate and construct 51 water facilities in Ogun West Senatorial District.
Sola Ogunbo, the Programme Manager, Rural Water and Sanitation Agency (RUWATSAN), was quoted by local papers that out of the money, N30million was given out for the implementation of the Programme for Expanded Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene and water scheme in 13 locations in Yewa North Local Government Area where Agbon-Ojodu, Ibeku, and Moro are located.
Checks by Dataphyte revealed that one of these water facilities is situated in Agbon Ojodu. But it was sited on the same location where the failed water project sponsored by the former lawmaker Akintan was located.
According to the description on the site, the project is for “rehabilitation/ upgrading of Hand Pump Borehole into Simple powered System”. But the rehabilitated water project did not last- it was pulled down by the first rain that fell in 2021, suggesting that the quality of the work done left much to be desired.
“Imagine how many lives this project would have impacted, but here we are today,” Festus Oguntoshi, the Baale, Agbon-Ojodu, told Dataphyte angrily.
Though the community informed the contractor of the havoc wreaked by the rainstorm, he never came back to repair the water project, the Baale lamented.
“The project there now useless. And we have nothing to drink or use.”
The only water source available to the community’s people is a commercial borehole provided by a popular personality in Agbon-Ojodu, known as ‘Oluyomi’.
Residents pay N20 to get a bucket of water from Oluyomi’s water points.
Iya Alate, as fondly called, the attendant in charge of the water told Dataphyte that “due to the uncompleted electrification of the community, we need to buy petrol ‘ every hour’ to power the generating plant to pump water”.
‘I just met the project but didn’t see the contract awardee’
Olaleye Jacob Adigun, the Baale of Ibeku community says he didn’t know who initiated a failed water project in his community. According to him, he was not in Ibeku when they started the project’,
But lying fallow directly opposite his home is the abandoned borehole project alleged to have been initiated in 2018 by Oduntan Atanda Rasak, also a lawmaker who represented Egbado North II in the state’s 8th assembly (2015-2019).
The Baale, who claimed he has never set his eyes on Oduntan said the contractor behind the project keeps assuring the community since 2018 of coming back to fix the project.
As of the time of filing this report, the situation remained the same while the community members, just like in Asaa, go far distances to get water from dug trenches. Oduntan was not immediately available for comments. When contacted through his telephone, calls, and messages sent did not go through.
The Baale also showed this reporter four different locations of abandoned water projects facilitated by Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority, scattered across the community.
Hence, Abideen Olasupo, an MDG and SDG goals advocate, decried the worrisome situation and called for more government intervention in the communities.
“It is embarrassing to see that in Nigeria today we still have things like this that are happening,” Olasupo said.
“The governments need to wake up from their slumber, take the bull by the horn and look for partners and collaborators that could really help them in changing the side of things.”
Several calls placed to Kunle Otun, the special adviser to the governor of Ogun State on Special Duties (Water) between April 12 to 21 were not picked nor returned, while an email sent to his official email was not returned.
But, the narrative is changing in Moro
In all the four visited communities, only Moro has a running water project provided through the Zonal Intervention Fund (ZIP).
The ZIP project which was nominated by Tolu Odebiyi, the senator representing Ogun West senatorial district at the Nigerian Senate was executed under Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) 2020 project.
A.O Abodunrin, a pastor in a church in the community revealed to Dataphyte that it was some evangelists that came to the community in 2019 that helped out in reaching out to the senator for help.
“The evangelists came to the community to preach and they noticed the nature of the water we offered them to drink and take their bath with,” Abodunrin recalled.
“Later, they took the water to a lab in Lagos for a test and the result revealed that the water has high faecal contents. They promised to help and there (pointing to the direction of the project) we have this project by Tolu Odebiyi.”
Just like other sister communities, the pastor reported that it was a bunch of gruesome experiences before the two-tank borehole project was executed and yet, due to the non-availability of electricity in the community, they contribute money to power the generator, to pump water all the time.
While the communities have not confirmed any case, as of the time of filing this report, NCDC data shows that Ogun State has a total of 4,679 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 30 on admission, 4,600 discharged, and 49 deaths. The state also ranks 8th out of the 36 states of the country.
However, across the community, Dataphyte’s checks revealed that these communities do not have much problem accessing water during the rainy season, leading to how climate is a factor.
According to WaterAid, an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) focused on water, sanitation and hygiene, a fact-sheet stated that more than 60 million people in Nigeria do not have access to basic clean water supply, 12 million lack decent toilets and 167 million lack handwashing facilities with soap and water.
It added that access to WASH services in rural communities is even more problematic, making this segment of the population far more vulnerable.
It predicted that with the current climate scenario, water scarcity will displace between 24 million and 700 million people, by 2030. Thus, by 2040, according to the UN, one in four children may be living in areas of extremely high water stress.
Data got from Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2018 also shows that between 2013 to 2018, the percentage of rural households where a place for washing hands was observed decreased from 37.1 per cent to 22.5 per cent, respectively.
The data also shows an increase in the percentage of the rural population with limited hand washing facilities from 56.3 per cent in 2013 to 62.7 per cent in 2018. Also, the percentage of cleansing agents other than soap available in rural communities decreased from 8.2 percent to 1 percent.
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Free to share project. This Report was first published by DATAPHYTE.