By Onche Odeh
Head Education & Science
Water to any resident of Ogbadibo, one of the nine Local Government Areas in the southern senatorial Zone (C) of Benue state, is almost gold.
Water, be it for cooking, bathing or any kind of use, is so hard to getfor the residents, who are mostly of the Idoma ethnicity (except for traders and settlers) that the place has been sarcastically described as one where ‘it is easier to get a keg of palm wine than a cup of water.’
It is also said that in the past the people would use palm wine to shower as a way of describing how hard it was for them to get water.
These light descriptions of Ogbadibo are in apparent appreciation of the fact that some of the best locally produced palm wines in Nigeria are produced in Otukpa, the headquarters of Ogbadibo LGA. At least every household has a palm tree located within reach, highlighting the economic importance they attached to it. With this, a jar of palm wine might just be a few metres away. This is, however, not the case with water.
Mr. Patrick Onyilofie, is over 60 years old and has lived in Okopi GRA, one of the district wards in Otukpa for decades.
He confirmed to Daily Independent during a recent visit to Ogbadibo that water was about one of the hardestto get of almost all necessities for the people.
Narrating how it was sourcing water for the people of Okopi and other communities, where he hails and currently resides,Onyilofie said, “My brother, we had to travel through long distances of bush paths to get water from streams and rivers.”
“Once the rain falls, we collect waters from the pond that forms in our compounds for bathing, while the one we get from the roof of the thatched houses are stored in earthen pots for drinking and cooking,” Onyilofe who now serves as chairman of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCom) in Okopi GRA disclosed during an interview in his home.
He said water for drinking is stored in the mud pots for up to three months or more pending when the next supply comes from either the rains or cleaner part of the streams and rivers.
“We also have the earth dams made from mud that you may have seen in almost every home,” Onyilofie said.
“The ones that are covered (pointing to one in his compound) contain waters that are mostly used for bathing and cooking, while the open ones have waters meant for other uses,” he continued.
Onyilofie said that in the past they would trek up to 15 to 20 kilometres in search of water from the natural sources like dug-up pits, rivers and streams.
“Because of water scarcity, we are made to go about for three days or more without bathing,” Onyilofiedisclosed.
The story has dramatically changed for these people. This is courtesy of the intervention support by UNICEF/DFID tagged Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) project.
Now households in Okopi GRA, Odoba Centre and 347 other communities within the LGA now have clean water sources within few metres of reach.
Sizeable volumes of good quality water stored in over-head tanks and delivered through dispensing points have made life easier for the people.
Mr. Umaru Emaikwu, an elder in Odoba, said, “The UNICEF/DFID water intervention has taken so much pains away from us.”
“In the past, our wives and children would go so far in search of water for cooking and other uses in the house only to return very tired. How can such a wife and child be happy or have enough time to do other important things,” Emaikwu said, stressing further that the closer proximity of good water to their homes now have also reduced household expenses on treatment of diseases.
“It was very common to see children and family members become sick because they had drank from bad water, but this has reduced so much, saving us the extra expenses,” he said.
External evaluation of the water supply, sanitation and hygiene programme in the LGA and three others in the state showed that a good level of achievements was recorded in the past three and a half years
The performance of the State in WASH has been good and there have been improvements in the counterpart funding to the project.
With the possibility of next phase of on-going SHAWN coming up in December2013, it is important that the government step up their contributions so that more people from Benue can benefit from the water and sanitation interventions.
UNICEF WASH Consultant in Ogbadibo, Mr. Uche Okpe, With the possibility of next phase of on-going SHAWN coming up in December2013 it is important that the government step up their contributions so that more people from Benue can benefit from the water and sanitation interventions.
UNICEF WASH Consultant in Ogbadibo, Mr. UcheOkpe, said the biggest challenge remains the timely release of operational funds by the LGA to the WASH Units that hinder implementation and monitoring of Water interventions.
The people may have found some respite, as Okpe said the communities have shown so much belief in the UNICEF/DFID intervention projects that they hardly default in the payment of their counterpart funds.
“It is so amazing that the communities, without any help from the government are paying their counterpart funds for the project, which is about N325, 000 representing five per cent of the total cost of the project,” the UNICEF consultant said.
“With a little more government commitment, almost every household in Ogbadibo will have no reason to worry about good water for drinking, cooking, bathing and other uses. They will also spend less on hospitals bills as diarrhea and other water borne diseases would be drastically reduced, leading to better economic power for the people and the place,” Okpe said.