Makurdi — The Benue State Government has re-launched a strategic water supply and sanitation policy.
The need for the policy stemmed from the fact that over the years, the state has remained without a well articulated programme on water supply and sanitation. It was either that too many projects were lined up for execution within a period that was too short or that there was no money for such projects.
The state's first elaborate water supply scheme was enunciated by late Governor Aper Aku who engaged the services of Patterson Candy International for the supply of water to urban and rural areas.
The plan was robust but funding later became a problem, even maintenance of the few installed schemes was not shouldered by any one as there was no community participation.
When Governor George Akume ascended the throne as the third civilian chief executive of the state, his focus was the Greater Makurdi Water Works. His area of emphasis as far as rural water supply was concerned was the sinking of boreholes.
Akume had pursued the new Makurdi water scheme with vigour until he saw that the federal government which promised to contribute half of the N2 billion cost was not forthcoming.
He tried to improve the old Makurdi water works but poor reticulation jeopardized his plans. The water problem in Makurdi has persisted even with the presence of River Benue which sometimes overflows its banks.
Makurdi used to record deaths arising from Cholera epidemic especially in the Wadata and North-bank areas where water hawkers sold untreated water to consumers. The state's water board was in a state of coma as it lacked money to procure enough water treatment chemicals.
In Gboko, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala, the water works had collapsed with water supply problem causing the outbreak of diseases that made the state government to spend millions of naira on emergency situation management.
In the area of sanitation, past civilian administrations did not do much. From late Aper Aku to late Moses Adasu and George Akume, who is now a Senator, only very few refuse disposal vehicles were acquired with the result that heaps of refuse continued to dot the streets of Makurdi, Otukpo, Gboko and Katsina-Ala towns.
Governor Akume's major achievement was in the area of provision of drainages. The judicious utilization of ecological funds during Akume's administration made the then Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Engr Benson Abounu, popular.
There are no records of efforts made by military administrations on the improvement of water supply, but it is on record that General Atom Kpera, General Ishaya Bakut, Air Commodore Jonah Jang, General Idris Garuba, General Fidelis Makka and late Col Yohanna Madaki, coerced the people to clean their environment under the supervision of soldiers.
It was such a policy that brought about the monthly environmental sanitation exercises which later became a routine.
Under Mr George Akume who became the first democratically elected governor after many years of military interregnum, monthly environmental sanitation exercises became optional.
When Governor Gabriel Suswam assumed office in May 2007, he was faced with the challenge of improving the water supply situation in Makurdi and other towns. Similarly, he was confronted with the filthy environment in the urban areas.
For the first time, the people of Benue were told how much was coming into the coffers of the state government on monthly basis and how the money was being be spent.
Apart from using the resources to award several road contracts within the first six months of his administration, Suswam broke the jinx by kick-starting the new Makurdi water works by awarding a contract of N4.99billion to Gilmor Nigeria Limited, a renowned Israeli water engineering company.
Since the contract was awarded about a year ago, work has progressed steadily. In Otukpo, and Katsin-Ala, contracts were also awarded for new water works at the costs of N1.5billion and N2.5 billion respectively.
The new Makurdi water works expected to be completed next year, would have the capacity of 100,000 cubic liters per day against the 18,000 being managed at the old water works while the Katsina-Ala and Otukpo/Otobi water works would each have 15,000 cubic liters capacity.
Perhaps, what makes Suswam different from his predecessors is the courage and determination with which he embarks on projects in line with his administration's blue print, 'Our Benue, Our Future'.
Aware of the hazards people face by directly handling refuse which used to stay for months without being cleared, Governor Suswam ordered for the procurement of refuse disposal vehicles to the tune of over N1 billion.
From December 2007 to now, the governor has commissioned several types of refuse disposal vehicles.
The Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Mr John Ngbede, who has the cabinet responsibility of coordinating and supervising water supply and sanitation activities in Benue state, disclosed recently that soon, vehicles specifically designed for sweeping the streets would arrive Makurdi.
Even as government is considering the upward review of their take-home pay, what has remained largely unattended to by the present administration is the issue of water supply in the rural areas in spite of the efforts of the state's water and sanitation agency.
Moreover, Benue has many semi urban areas suffering from lack of potable water.
The need for the people to participate in the process of evolving a comprehensive water supply and sanitation programme made the enactment of a state water and sanitation policy more imperative.
Like the governor said while flagging off the construction of the new Makurdi water works, projects executed by his administration should outlive it.
While the new water works would serve Makurdi and its environs for over 30 years, the water supply and sanitation policy recently launched by the deputy governor, Chief Steven Lawani, on behalf of Governor Suswam, provides that by 2015, 80 percent of the 4.2 million people in Benue state should be enjoying clean water and clean environment.
By his calculation, the water supply and sanitation policy would terminate, in the first instance, in 2015 when his second term ends if he happens to win in 2011.
If he does not win, then, the question of whether his successor would continue with the policy or not would arise.
Records also show that 49 percent of Benue people particularly women and children suffer from water related diseases.
The Benue state government has assured that it would use integrated approach that would require a mix of strategies such as provision of physical facilities, sustained hygiene education, community empowerment for effective participation and the active involvement of all key players in the sector to ensure sustained access to safe and adequate clean water supply and sanitation to at least 80 percent of the population.
Prior to the time Governor Suswam assumed office, many of the donor agencies had threatened to withdraw support because of delay in the release of counterpart funds.
The situation however improved with the timely release of such funds for Water Aid, UNICEF, WHO and DFID projects. The implication of the adoption of a new policy for water and sanitation is that Benue would need more money to accomplish its target of providing about 500,000 pit latrines in the rural areas in collaboration with donor agencies.
If the state government is spending over N7 billion on the provision of water in Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala, it means that it would need about N30 billion to provide water in Gboko, Zaki-Biam, Adikpo, Okpoga, Aliade, Lessel, Ihugh, Vandeikya,wannune, Ugbokpo, Obagaji, Ugbokolo, Otukpa, Igumale,Tse-Agberagba, Obarike-Ito, Oju, Naka, Orokam, Ide4kpa and other semi urban areas between now and 2015.
A lot of expertise is required in the execution of water projects but sanitation is more of a behavioural thing. If the people of Benue agree that filth would be their enemy, they would be able to bury such in places far away from their houses because of the implications of the toxic nature of such refuse.
The water and sanitation policy calls for proper budgeting in the areas mentioned above as well as employment. This means that more staff of the Ministry for Water Resources and Environment have to be trained in order to manage the vehicles very well.
Apart from training, Governor Suswam must have in mind the problem of the dubious nature of some civil servants who had pilfered vital aspects of some machines at the premises of the state's sanitation agency.
As part of moves to secure funding facility for the over all infrastructural renewal, the administration has concluded plans to seek a N13 billion bond from the capital market.