INVESTIGATION… N.3bn down the drain, as Enugu communities suffer from dry taps
In November 2020, three organizations and the Enugu State government celebrated the completion of N300 million worth of projects that were expected to improve the lives of poor people in under-resourced communities in the state. The projects were supposed to expand the access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services in the affected communities. In the first of this two part series, ARINZE CHIJIOKE, who toured various communities where the projects are cited reports that several of them did not work beyond two months after they were commissioned.’
At Umuegwu, one of the villages in Isi Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State, it is common to see adult males having their bath in the middle of the only stream, where adult females also wash their clothes. On this particular occasion when the reporter visited, children were on one far end, swimming and frolicking in the Amanyi Stream. The sun was gradually retiring. This was in February at about 5:30pm.
Apart from swimming and washing of clothes, both children and youths defecate around the banks of the stream, making its water totally unhealthy for drinking. But Esther Nnaji, a mother of four, has no other source of water apart from the stream.
When this reporter visited the village, Nnaji was seen wheeling two 25-litre gallons of water with her barrow and walking towards Amanyi. To get to the stream, she has to walk for 30 minutes from her home. She grew up drinking, cooking and washing with polluted water from the stream.
Nnaji told this reporter that she has had to visit the hospital many times with her children due to the effect of the stream water they have been drinking. Sometimes, she said, they had scratchy throats and breathing problems. To deal with this, she had to resort to boiling the water before drinking or cooking with it.
“It was usually typhoid fever whenever we got to the hospital. And it takes us 10-15 minutes to boil the water we use. That is after we must have added Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), to purify it,” she said.
However, in November 2020, three organisations – WaterAid Nigeria, the South Saharan Development Organisation (SSDO), and the Coca-Cola Foundation, together with the Enugu State government, celebrated the completion of N300 million water projects in many of the local government areas of the state. It was meant to ease the pains of Nnaji and the others in the communities affected by acute scarcity of potable water.
While the projects were funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation through its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), launched in 2009, as a response to the water crises communities across Africa are facing, they were implemented by WaterAid Nigeria.
Country Director of WaterAid, Evelyn Mere, had said she was happy that the 19 month project had brought sustainable clean water and sanitation to over 10,000 residents in and around Nsukka, Ezeagu, Uzo-Uwani, Isiuzo and Enugu South Local Government Areas in Enugu State.
While a total of five new boreholes equipped with hand pumps were constructed in Ugwuaji, one motorised water scheme was built in Umuabor in Nsukka LGA. Two other boreholes with hand pumps were rehabilitated in Uzo-Uwani LGA and a solar powered motorised borehole was also rehabilitated in Ezeagu LGA.
In Neke, Nnaji’s community, and other communities across Isi Uzo Local Government Area, the Coca-Cola Foundation and WaterAid rehabilitated a total of nine boreholes with hand pumps. For families like the Nnajis, who could not afford to buy water from tanks, it was thought that years of dependence on Amanyi Stream had come to an end.
Sadly, that has not been the case, as some of the water projects only worked for two months after inauguration. As at January, none of the boreholes rehabilitated in Neke, Ikem and other communities in Isi Uzo, were working. Nnaji said the water coming out from the boreholes that were rehabilitated in her community was worse than the one from the Amanyi Stream.
It is not clean enough and so people could only use it to wash their clothes, Nnaji said.
Like in Neke, the borehole in Nkwo, another village in the local government, worked only between November and December 2020. Even at that, it could only fill three 25 – litre gallons daily. Usually, people would come with small buckets to fetch water they could only use for their laundry.
In early January, It began to slow down, taking 30 minutes before water could come out from the pipe. Now, it has completely stopped working. Dennis Friday, who owns a provision store just behind the borehole at Umuegwu Town Square, Neke, said it could only fill one bucket of water when it worked in January.
Friday said: “After each bucket, it takes one hour for water to come out again. So, for the whole day, we could get only 10 buckets of water. But now, no water is coming out again. We have complained but nothing has been done.”
Five constructed, one fully functional
At Ugwuaji, a community in Enugu South Local Government Area, Ilo Ijeoma walked aimlessly looking for water for drinking and to do her daily chores. It was quite early on that fateful day. She carried an empty 25 litres gallon as she walked towards Ochufu Hall Obeagu, the location for one of the boreholes in her community.
Soon, she got to the spot, fixed her empty gallon and began to push the pump. As she pumped, little droplets of water dropped into her gallon. After 10 minutes, she became tired of pumping. But her gallon was far from filled.
“It took me about 20 minutes to get my gallon filled and so, the best thing for me at that time was to sit down awhile and gather strength to push again”, she narrated to this reporter, her voice filled with anger.
She added: “The borehole only fills a total of 15 gallons per day. After that, water would stop gushing out. Most times when I come to fetch water, I push for 10 minutes to fill a small bucket. Its slow and not even clean as water should be.”
In Ugwuaji, Ilo’s community, a total of five new boreholes equipped with hand pumps were constructed. The community, like others, had been plagued by perennial water scarcity. The traditional ruler of Ibeagu, Ugwuaji, Ikenga Nyia, said the people were very happy when the projects were inaugurated and had hoped that their suffering and dependence on the stream water had come to an end.
“Our streams are very dirty and the water there is not good for drinking. But most of our people who could not afford to buy water from tanks have had to depend on it for survival”, he explained.
Sadly, out of a total of five boreholes installed in November and located at Ochufu Hall Obeagu, Health Centre Obeagu, Last Bus Stop Obeagu, Egbonwigwe Obeagu, and Nwigwe Square Obeagu, only one is serving its purpose – the one located at Last Bus Stop.
The borehole located at Nwigwe Square, Obeagu has completely stopped working since January. Two others are working but supply dirty water. While the one located at Egbonwigwe is clean, it is not good for consumption because it is malodorous.
When contacted, the Chairman of the WASH committee in Ugwuaji, Ani Innocent, said the contractor, Morikem Global Investment, drilled shallow wells which were used for the boreholes.
“What was drilled was 70ft. because they said it was hard to get groundwater in our community. They went to other locations also and did their survey and found out that it would be difficult to get water”, he explained.
At Ine Stream, the last resort for poor families, a visibly angry Ijeoma Egbo was seen waiting to be helped with her bucket of water. That was her third trip to the stream on that day. When this reporter approached her, she confirmed that the water project in her community had failed to meet the expectations of the people.
She said: “The water gushes out very slowly. Instead of going there to waste my time, I would rather come here, fetch and buy Alum to purify it. Although not the best, that’s what we are now used to here.”
Allegations of extortion
At one of the few locations with functioning boreholes, community members were seen filling their gallons of water. But it is not for free. In January, for instance, Innocent allegedly pasted a notice on signboards for the boreholes. It reads: “For maintenance of the borehole, payment commences in February, as follows: Painter bucket- N20, and 25 litres gallon- N30. No butters or baths or big containers will be allowed.”
The decision by the committee to collect money for maintenance did not go down well with members of the communities, who wondered why they would have to pay to fetch water from the boreholes, which were handed over to the community to help deal with water scarcity.
Before this new turn of events, people would gather around the boreholes as early as 6am, waiting for their turns to fetch water. But now, they hardly come around since they have to pay for it.
Nyia explained that he asked the committee not to collect money from people to service the boreholes and that the community would provide the money since the government had dug it.
But Innocent insisted that the money is meant for maintenance, and that whoever refuses to pay will not be allowed to fetch, the Igwe alleged.
While reacting to the allegation, Innocent said that sometimes he had to add his money just to make sure that the boreholes are properly maintained.
“… and people think I want to eat their money. Most of them have stopped coming to fetch water from here because we said they have to pay. That’s fine”, he added.
Although climbing up and down the Ine Stream is stressful,Chinedu Obinna now prefers it to having to wait at the borehole located at Obeagu Health Centre. On this particular day, he had gone to the location and waited for several minutes. But Innocent did not show up with the key.
He had to come to the stream, with four empty 25 litres gallons and another 50 litres. Gradually, Obinna filled the gallons with water, and one at a time, he took them up to where his barrow was packed on his shoulder.
None is working in Uzo Uwani
Also, in Oguru, one of the communities in Uzo Uwani LGA, two hand pump boreholes were rehabilitated. When this reporter visited, however, it was discovered that the projects had become moribund almost immediately after they were refurbished as they have long stopped working.
Members of the community said the boreholes only worked between November when they were inaugurated and December. Even at that, they said the water was not clean enough and could not be used for anything.
The traditional ruler of Ogurugu, Emmanuel Egwuaba, said he was not consulted when the project commenced and when it was completed.
A visibly irked Egwuaba said: “Before you begin any project in a community that has a traditional ruler, you inform him. When you are done, you inform him too. But nobody came here to inform me about the water project.”
He said the government needs to hold the contractor who handled the project responsible because none of the boreholes in his community are working.
“It worked only on the day of inauguration and suddenly it stopped. Is that one a good project? I think they just came here to take us for a ride. Or how else can one explain this abracadabra?”
On how his people have been surviving since the projects did not live up to expectation, the traditional ruler said they have had to depend on their streams, Amambara and Isi. At the Isi Stream, this reporter noticed both women and some youths washing their clothes on one end while other children were swimming and having fun at the other end.
The stream is about 20 minutes’ walk from Ogurugu. Families, who cannot afford to dig wells in their homes, have to trek that distance to get water. And it is what they use for cooking and general house chores.
The people seem to be enjoying their potable water at another motorized borehole in Umabor- Ehalumona. Though it comes with a cost also; they are meant to pay N15 for each 25 litres gallon of water. The community is in Nsukka LGA.
Despite the payment, the people said that the water project marked the dawn of a new era for residents of the community. It was the first time the people were benefitting from a project of that nature.
Kelvin Mama, the traditional ruler of Agu Umabor, said the project has been serving his people well, especially families, who could not afford to construct underground tanks, which is commonplace in the community.
Mama said: “For these families, the only source of water was the Agu Stream; it’s located in a far distance. We don’t have them around here. So, they always had to trek for two hours to get there.”
One of the Kiosk managers, Rita Ugwuanyi, is saddled with the responsibility of making sure that the project is taken care of. She explained that the money collected from the community is used to pay salaries of the three kiosk managers and to also maintain the generator when the need arises.
“The organizations that brought the project told us that it was left to us to maintain it and that we needed to ask people to pay in case we have any problem. When we began, it was difficult to raise money for Diesel. But now, it’s easy and has become a way of life sort of. We only put on the generator when the water inside the tank finishes to enable us to pump it,” she said.
Ugwuanyi said they were formally collecting N10 but after some time, they discovered that it would not be enough to maintain the project and pay workers. To service the engine in January alone cost N30,000, she added. However, the salary for Ugwuanyi and her fellow kiosk managers is 30 percent of whatever amount that is realized monthly.
This investigative report was supported by MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).