The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Coca-Cola Foundation have come into partnership to end the plight of those who are daily confronted with the harrowing challenges of access to clean water and sanitation, particularly with recent interventions in Abia and Cross River states.
Water and hygiene are twin major problems affecting the world. But the reality is that there is a prevalence of these twin challenges in developing countries with dire consequences of avoidable deaths and diseases than other parts of the globe. From available statistics and research conducted by experts, no fewer than one billion people lack access to drinkable or treated water while 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation.
In Nigeria, lack of access to portable water has always been a major source of concern in rural communities. In actual fact, it is a long standing problem both past and present governments have been unable to deal with. Although there have been several efforts on the part of government at all levels to address the issue, many communities still cannot get water for domestic use. The issue of water supply, sanitation and hygiene, otherwise known as the WASH sector, especially in the country, is something the Federal Government has been seriously making efforts to resolve since many people still have limited access.
As a matter of fact, the Federal Government recently declared a state of emergency in the sector. While inaugurating the national action plan for the revitalisation of the WASH sector, President Muhammadu Buhari directed governments at all levels to redouble their efforts in the WASH sector, to meet the country's water supply and sanitation needs.
With Nigeria currently ranked number two in the global rating on open defecation and an estimated 25 per cent of the population 25 per cent practicing open defecation, there is no doubt that every Nigerian, particularly those in the rural communities, stands a great risk of contracting transmittable diseases. Records so far show that several thousands of rural dwellers still suffer water borne diseases due to lack of access to portable water.
Concerned with the need to solve these societal challenges, some non-governmental organizations, including the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as The Coca-Cola Foundation (TCCF), through the Water And Development Alliance (WADA), are already in the forefront of bringing lasting solutions to these perennial problems by providing water sanitation and hygiene for rural communities in Nigeria. The WADA initiative is being implemented at the global level by the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF), while Partners For Development (PAFD) is the local implementing partner in Nigeria for the 24-month rural WASH sector support project in Cross River and Abia States, which kicked off in 2016.
Recently, the partnership led to the commissioning and handing over of two WASH projects in Abia and Cross River States. The water and sanitation facilities were installed at Isuikwuato and Ohafia LGA in Abia State and in the Odukpani and Obubra LGA in Abia and Cross River States respectively.
In accomplishing these projects, the PFD has been collaborating with the two state governments through the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASA) with the aim of improving and expanding access to safe, affordable, sustainable and reliable water and sanitation services in the 26 rural communities of Isuikwuato and Ohafia LGA in Abia as well as the 30 rural communities in Odukpani and Obubra LGA of Cross River State.
While giving account of the success of the projects, the Programme Country Director, Partners For Development, Mr. Ediri Iruaga, stated that a total of 39 Solar Powered Conventional Boreholes have been constructed to provide clean water to over 35,000 men, women and children living in these communities.
According to him, the intervention has also succeeded in the construction and rehabilitation of 31 improved sanitation facilities in health centers and schools within the communities, which have been extended to serve about 8,840 beneficiaries. To ensure sustainability, he noted that the project took into consideration the formation, training and establishment of 58 committees with 756 hygiene promoters, 36 Environmental Health Clubs in all project communities.
These were done, Iruaga said, in order to ensure adequate maintenance of the installed materials and equipment, as well as the training of local mechanics and water caretakers for basic operation, repairs and maintenance of the installed water facilities.
In his remarks at the occasion, the Governor of Abia State, who was represented by his deputy, Rt. Hon. Ude Okochukwu, explained that the administration remained grateful to the funding partners for supporting government in solving major problems affecting communities in the state.
According to him, "We are delighted with Coca-Cola, USAID and other partner organisations for these wonderful works that have been done in Abia State. We are delighted to have organisations that are interested in providing water to our people especially in areas within the state where there are water challenges. We are glad that this gesture of yours is helping us as a government to ensure that everyone in Abia State has access to good water consumption".
Okochukwu, therefore, urged the communities to take ownership of the projects by ensuring that they are maintained in a way that would last for a long time, adding, "If you don't take ownership, you don't use them well or you allow it to break down, we would suffer the consequence. So, let us help to ensure that our kids no longer suffer from either cholera or some of these outbreaks as a result of poor sanitation. With the water that is in place, let us maintain them and have effective good use of it".
While speaking during the commissioning of water and sanitation facilities in Abia State, Mission Director, USAID, Stephen Haykin, described the investment of the agency in water, hygiene and sanitation as significant especially in view of unavoidable deaths that occur as a result of the lack of it. He stressed that it was ready and willing to lend a helping hand to government in tackling problems associated with water needs and sanitation, noting that it would continue to do its best in promoting development of communities in Nigeria.
"For those who have means, we have a responsibility to lend a helping hand wherever they may be in the world," Haykin said. "I want to appreciate the work that Coca-Cola and USAID have done on this water and sanitation project. Much of Water, sanitation and hygiene issues attribute to as many as 500,000 death of infants each year. So, investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is extremely important".
In her remarks, representative of Coca-Cola Foundation, Mrs. Nwamaka Onyemelukwe, who represented the managing director of the company, stated that since a large population of Nigerians lack portable water, Coca-Cola, as a responsible corporate organisation, decided to come to the rescue by joining other philanthropic organisations around the world to solve the sanitation and hygiene challenges of the country
In expressing gratitude on behalf of the community, His Royal Majesty, Eze of Amiyu-Uhu community, Ifeanyi Udeagha, said the entire people of the community are gladdened by the laudable gesture of the partners, stressing that it would go a long way to ameliorate their sufferings.
He said, "We are delighted for having these kinds of projects in our community. We are grateful because we know that these facilities have come to ameliorate our sufferings. As you can see from the mood of the people, we are overjoyed at this kind gesture. Let me express our deep appreciation to USAID, Coca-Cola Foundation and other partners for counting us worthy to have these facilities. This kind gesture of yours would remain indelible in the hearts of the people of the community."
Also speaking on the intervention from the funding partners, Commissioner for Public Utilities and Water Resources, Mr. Chidebere Nwoke, expressed joy for the support extended to the community.
"As you can see, the people are really excited with the donation of these facilities as these would assist them a great deal to improve access to water and sanitation services," he said. "We are glad that foreign organisations such as yours are helping to complement government's effort to solve the problem of access to potable water and sanitation in our communities. With the kind gesture of USAID and Coca-Cola Foundation, we are confident that this will reduce the likelihood of water-borne diseases in this community".
Just like it was done in Abia, the residents of Ndon Nwong community in Cross River State are beginning to enjoy similar interventions. Commissioner for Water Resources, Cross River states, Hon. Gabe Odu-Orji, who represented Governor Ben Ayade, remarked that the government was grateful to USAID and Coca-Cola Foundation for donating the facilities to the community. He added that by this action, foreign agencies have demonstrated willingness to support the administration in solving challenges confronting the people.
"Let me state that as a government, we would be willing to provide the needed partnership to have such projects replicated in other parts of the state" he added.
While narrating the community's ordeal, Clan head of Ekim/Uyi, Ndon Nwong Community, Cross River State, His Royal Highness, Ekong Okong Nyong, noted that in the last five years, the people of the community had suffered untold hardship in accessing improved drinking water. According to him, this was because of existing non-functional Hand Pressured Borehole (HPBH) and Solar Powered Boreholes (SPBH) serving the community and its health centre, thus making community members to rely on using untreated drinking water from rivers and streams while those who could afford to pay spend between N10 - 50 ($0.01 - 0.05) for a 20 litre jerry can of improved drinking water and pay additional N100 ($0,1) for transportation over a distance not less than 2km every day to get water.
He expressed appreciation to the two non-governmental organizations - USAID, Coca-Cola Foundation - for the facilities, and promised that the community would maintain the facilities. He expressed confidence that with the facilities, water-related diseases affecting them would be a thing of the past.
According to him, "The entire community is joyful for having these facilities. Even from you the mood of our children, you can see that we really appreciate what USAID, Coca-Cola Foundation have done for us. Now, every household in the communities can heave a sigh of relief from the hardship they go through in fetching water from the streams. With these facilities, we know that our children would no longer suffer from any water-borne diseases".
Commenting on the advantages of sanitation facilities provided for the community, one of the leaders in Ndon Nwong community, Mr. Bassey Udeme, said residents were now fully aware of the health hazard of open defecation and as such appreciated the kind gestures of the partner organisations.
He said, "Before the coming of the WADA project and PFD, we do not know the harmful effect of open defecation practice. I see it as a necessity of everyday in my community to have toilet. Therefore, I took my time in constructing latrine for myself and for others in my community."
Edet Ekong, a middle aged man, who has been resident in the community for more than two decades, said that it was a big relief to the people as these would certainly ameliorate their long sufferings.