You could feel the excitement in the air, see the smiles on their faces and hear their laughter as the children of Ikot Nkpenne filled their buckets with clean water from the tap.
With both hands covering her shy face, Gift Bassey, a 16-year-old secondary schoolgirl, said, “I no longer have to wake up at 5 a.m. to fetch water from the stream because God has blessed us with a borehole.”
Well, God did; through the European Union, EU, and the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
Ikot Nkpenne in Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State has a population of about 1,500 people in about 140 households that make up the community.
Before the EU and UNICEF came to their rescue, the people had no access to safe drinking water. Their only source of water supply was a stream some distance to the community.
It takes about 30 minutes to get to the small river and this affected the school children mostly as they were constantly late to school because they ran the errand of fetching water for their families.
For the women, household chores like cooking was a huge problem due to water scarcity. Members of the community were also exposed to the risks of snake bites and attack by wild animals on their trips to the stream.
Nsit Atai is one of many local governments in Akwa Ibom State that lack pipe-borne or any other source of potable water supply. This is despite the state being one of the richest in Nigeria, earning more from the Federation Account monthly than almost all other 36 states in Nigeria.
Like Nsit Atai, many parts of Nigeria do not have access to potable water, with rural dwellers suffering the most. Many walk several kilometres in search of water while others depend on polluted water from ponds, stream, rainwater and floods for domestic use.
According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2013, only about 57.48 per cent of Nigeria’s estimated 190 million people have access to improved water supply.
Provision of potable water supply was one of the various interventions in Nsit Atai by UNICEF under its WASH programme.
The scheme is aimed at improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria – especially in the rural areas. It is also part of the rural component of the Niger Delta Support Project (NDSP), which seeks to mitigate conflict in the region by addressing the main causes of unrest and violence – unemployment and poor delivery of basic services.
“Since I was born, the only source of water I knew was the stream, which is very far from my house,” Miss Bassey, the Ikot-Nkpenne schoolgirl, said.
“Every day, I slept with the thought of waking up as early as possible, rushing down to the stream and doing other house chores.
“I fetched water from the stream four times before going to school. That means the best time to wake up was 5 a.m. considering the distance.
“After school, all I wanted were a shower and a nap, but how can I do these when there is no more water in the buckets? This only means that I had to go to the stream to fill all the buckets in the house.”
But since “the God of Ikot Nkpenne answered” their prayers, Miss Bassey and other residents no longer frequent the stream.
“It is now a thing of the past,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Joy Usoh, a 15-year-old girl, described the borehole as a great privilege to the community. She said it has saved her a lot of stress.
Uwemedimo Davis, the deputy village head of Onong Uwana in Nsit Atai, said the provision of a borehole for the community has reduced deaths and illnesses among children.
“We are so happy to have this project in this community. This is the first time we will have pipe-borne water in this community,” he said.
“We are very happy that WASH has come through EU and UNICEF to provide us with this water. And our children are also very happy, as they no longer visit the stream
“Before this water project came, we had many cases of diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera among other diseases. But now, we don’t even record any serious illnesses anymore. Our children are very healthy and happy,” he said.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is a programme organised by UNICEF in partnership with the Child Right Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Ministry of Information.
Speaking at a media dialogue on the programme in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, Moustapha Niang, a WASH specialist, said over 57 million Nigerians lack access to potable water. Out of this figure, 15 million drink water from rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and irrigation canal and most of them are in rural areas, he said.
In the world, about 663 million people do not have access to improved water sources and about 2.4 billion people do not use improved sanitation. In Nigeria alone, 130 million people use unimproved sanitation facilities, and as expected more than half of them live in rural areas.
This is a major concern for children under five, as water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of their death. In Nigeria, over 45,000 children under five die annually from diseases caused by poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene, according to WHO data.
From major research and findings, it is understood that most children who suffered the mortality lived in rural areas, as development failed to reach the families, especially children in these areas.
In her presentation at the event in Uyo, UNICEF WASH specialist, Martha Hokonya, called for more investment in water supply, noting that availability of safe drinking water contributes to increased health status.
She noted that poor water supply, sanitation and hygiene cause more than half of global diarrheal diseases, which remain the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children under the age of five.
In his opening remarks, UNICEF Communications Specialist in Nigeria, Geoffrey Njoku, pointed out that water is critical to children and human survival and therefore, must be accorded priority.