1 November 2012

Nigeria: Cross River - Boosting Rural Water Provision

Jude Okwe writes on the provision of mini water schemes in rural Cross River State and re-activation of water projects in urban centres, to address the water needs of the people

Except for the road under construction that runs through, the forest is broken only by cocoa farms, and narrow, swift clean stream silently flowing under the roots of pines, or shady labyrinths of Iroko and other tropical trees toward the west.

This spring is pure, clean and cool all year round. It is in Abia Small Town, Etung Local Government Area of Cross River State. With the help of modern technology, the natural spring supplies water direct to the overhead tank erected besides the road. From this tank, water is reticulated to the entire community.

The Abia Small Town water project constitutes one of the mini water schemes that dot the rural landscape of Cross River State. The scheme is funded by the European Union (EU) under its Water Supply Sector Sanitation Reform Project (WSSSRP).

Water Source

Of all the mini water schemes provided across the state, only that of Abia Small Town gets its source from living spring. Others get water from boreholes drilled within. The uniqueness of the Abia project is that pipes are connected direct from the water point to the overhead tank after undergoing some purification processes. Its construction, according to the EU, was less expensive than others.

The Abia water spring is serving a population of 8,400. It has the capacity of supplying 336 cubic metres of water per day. This project cost N67 million. According to EU officials, water spring technology is used to supply water to the treatment plant for treatment.

Water is drawn from the stream and supplied to the intake place that is completely purified. The spring does not dry up even during the dry season. A token is however paid by the consumers so that the project remains functional through regular maintenance.

Odukpani, Yakurr, Obubra, Akamkpa, Etung, Bekwarra and Obanliku are some of the Local Government Areas enjoying mini water schemes in the state. Others are billed to benefit from the second phase of the project.

Under the first phase, the Ohana Elevated Reservoir in Obubra, according to Mr. Godwin Akwagiobe, an engineer with the state Water Board, is 500 cubic metres and meant to serve Ohana, Iyamoyong and adjoining communities along the Calabar-Ikom highway.

Water Priority

Provision of potable water has been one of the priority projects of the Liyel Imoke administration. But in a state bedeviled by financial challenges occasioned by a drop in earnings, a resort to donor agencies for support in this direction became inevitable. The EU came to the rescue after being convinced of the transparency in the utilisation of donor funds by the state government.

A greater part of Cross River State is yet to have access to potable water. It may take more time for such places to be linked to the water grid of the state or for faucet to pour out water. In most rural communities of the state, it is common especially during the dry season for women and children to trek long distances in search of water. Five or more hours could be spent daily searching for water when the rains go up.

The consequence is that over a half of the state's population is facing water and sanitation crisis. Given this unfortunate scenario, the attendant health risks cannot be ruled out. Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other water borne diseases easily contaminate water resources including soil and food. Impure water causes diarrheoa, cholera, guinea worm, schistosomiasis and traucoma.

Cause of Scarcity

Many variables account for the vanishing sources of water in the state. Deforestation is one of them. Rivulets that before now were protected by a canopy of trees are now exposed to sun that quicken their dryness between winter and early spring.

Despite the ban on logging, trees are still being cut down indiscriminately in the rainforest belts of the state for economic reasons. In the arid region of the state, water is easily lost through evaporation. The state equally lacks dams and reservoirs.

Timely Intervention

The EU intervention is one singular action that has brought succor to some rural areas of the state. Luckily, the political will of the state government is there and the ability to pay its counterpart fund has helped to ensure the availability of this liquid gold, the oil of the current century. The state government is understudying EU and hope to continue with the project whenever the international agency ends the programmes.

Besides the development of mini water schemes, the state government is also reactivating urban water projects that had become moribund. Here, Ogoja, Ikom and Obudu Urban Water schemes managed by the Cross River State Water Board Limited come handy as they have been given a complete turnaround and now supplying water to residents. Equally, boreholes that had been out of use for some years have undergone repairs pumping out water for those in need.

Cost Implication

So far the state government has spent over N5 billion in the reactivation of water projects and mini water schemes across the state. The EU example in the state has attracted the attention of the World Bank which the state government revealed, has accepted to bankroll the second phase of water expansion programme in Local Government Areas yet to benefit or whose projects are still outstanding.

Calabar South and Calabar Municipal Councils are supplied water courtesy of the $116 million loan secured from the African Development Bank (ADB). The project initiated by the administration of Chief Clement Ebri actually commenced under that of Donald Duke.

The project was completed and inaugurated by it with the water reticulated to all houses in the two Local Government Areas to ease fetching by users. Users pay into designated bank accounts the bills charged by the board for water consumption.

Touching the Hinterland

Rural communities of Cross River experience water scarcity mostly in the dry season when the rains stops and the streams become dry. In Yala Local Government Area especially, rural dwellers there wake up as early as 2 am to trek 10 or more kilometres in search of a pond to fetch from.

Long queues do form at such ponds where impure water is fetched and later filtered to be fit for human consumption. Children of school age who accompany their mothers in search of water end up missing school some days.

The story is the same in other Local Government Areas of the Central and Northern Senatorial Districts of the state. This explains why Guinea infection is common in Yala and other communities of the two senatorial districts. Government, aware of this, is tackling the problem with the provision of mini water scheme in rural areas. A reasonable allocation has been provided in this year's budget for water provision in the state.

Fact-finding Mission

At a recent media tour undertaken by some journalists across the state, it was discovered that every community without potable water is craving for the provision of this precious commodity. Besides water, access roads and electricity are top on the agenda of these rural communities.

They are yearning for the good things of life like their counterparts in cities after all they too pay taxes to government. Every day, requisition for water supply keep pouring into the offices of the State's Ministry of Water Resources, EU and WSSSRP from communities for the provision of potable water.

The Cross River State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Akin Ricketts who flagged off the tour said the Liyel Imoke administration was into integrated rural development as it is eager to fast track development across the state.

The tour, he maintained, was meant to acquaint media men with the projects the government has executed in the last five years. These projects, according to him, have not so much been brought to the knowledge of the public.

The Commissioner said the dip in earnings occasioned by the non-oil producing status now conveyed on Cross River has not deterred the administration from its developmental course. Government, he added, has been frugal with its resources, more so as the projects being executed are those that they have direct impact on the people. He promised that more projects would be implemented in different parts of the state before the curtain falls on the administration.

The shortage of potable water in Cross River is responsible for the sinking of boreholes by business men for sale and property developers for use in their houses. There is no ultra-modern house in the state that has no borehole to supply water within.

Others drilled to sell water to those in the neighbourhood. This is common in urban centres and some rural communities where those with the means have taken to sinking boreholes. Though these private boreholes have come to the rescue, they are however a drop in the ocean.

One of nature's gift to man is water. This precious resource appears common but difficult to find the right quality for drinking. In Cross River State, the government has taken the right step by collaborating with the EU in providing mini water scheme.

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