By Luminous Jannamike
WITH faces that beamed a fine blend of joyfulness and pride, the rural dwellers of Ononaku Isioji Ezinifite, Aguata LGA of Anambra state, expressed gratitude over their improved living condition brought about by a Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project executed in their community.
Lack of access to safe drinking water and poor sanitation and hygiene practices had constituted serious problems for the community in key areas of existence, especially in health.
Waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, Cholera, Typhoid and others had posed serious health threat to many of the villagers, mainly because they had little access to safe water. Added to that, the community had no natural water body such as rivers and streams.
This situation is no different with other rural communities across Nigeria as a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report in 2014 estimates that about 70 million Nigerians, out of a population of 171 million, lacked access to safe drinking water, and over 110 million lacked access to improved sanitation the previous year.
According to the report, lack of adequate water and sanitation were major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition.
Similarly, a World Health Organisation (WHO) /UNICEF JMP 2015 report, ranks Nigeria among top 3 countries in the world with largest number of people practicing Open Defecation.
Ononaku Isioji Ezinifite had been a living epitome of these reports prior to a collaboration between EU/UNICEF and Anambra state government towards capturing the community in the efforts made to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water and sanitation by 2030.
The EU/UNICEF, through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) programme, has been assisting governments at various levels in improving the living conditions of millions of Nigerians in several communities across the country. Specifically, the programme aimed supporting rural water and sanitation institutions. Access to WaSH is a key public health issue within international development and is the focus of SDG 6.
Dwellers of Ononaku Isioji Ezinifite, as beneficiaries of a Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (RWSSP) II initiated in 2013 and completed recently under the EU/UNICEF WaSH programme, were delighted to overcome the menace of open defecation as accessibility of water has encouraged the use of toilet in the community.
Also, Anuli Community School within the village benefited from the interventions as it was provided with water-flush toilets and hand washing facilities leading to a reduction in the prevalence of diarrhoea among school children.
The interventions, according to the villagers, have also saved them the stress of having to travel to neighbouring communities on foot for an hour to fetch water.
WaSHCOM Secretary in the community, Mr Ike Christian, said: “Before these interventions, we use to wake up early in the morning to travel one hour or more to neighboring towns to get water. For children who must be in school by eight in the morning, they wake by 4am, not minding the risks they are exposed to at such a time, to fetch water for the household before they leave for school.
“We have about 2000 people in this community and the intervention has improved our living conditions.”
According to him, the water project is very dear to members of the community; stressing that as part of their own contribution, they have set up a trust fund to locally raise and manage funds for maintenance of the water and sanitation facilities and for the remuneration of security men hired to guard them against vandalism at night.
The Head Mistress of the School, Mrs Onyebuchi Francisca, stated that before the pupils use to bring water from their houses to the school for hand washing and since they go far to get the water, it made many of them to come to school late.
Expression her delight, Onyebuchi said: “We thank them for providing us with toilet facilities. Before now, the pupils use to defecate openly and come late to school but now, they make of the toilets and wadh their hands properly. enrolment has slso improved in the school.”
As a way of inculcating hygiene culture into the children and also sustaining the project in the school, some of the pupils have been made ‘sanitation ambassadors’ in the school.
One of them, ambassador Umeobi Ikedi, said they have been taught how to use locally made tippy tanks and soap to wash their hands especially after using the toilet and to ensure that the toilets are always clean.
He added that, as sanitation ambassadors, they were also expected to teach others including their friends and family members.
According to the programme manager, Anambra RUWASSA, Victor Ezekwo, the interventions were co-funded by EU/UNICEF and the Anambra State government; on a 70 per cent and 30 per cent basis respectively.
In a recent presentation titled: ‘Overview of Water Supply, Sanitation and Sector Reform Project (WSSSRP) – Phase 11’ made at a media dialogue, in Awka, the Anambra state capital, UNICEF Officer, Jonathan Ekhator, said the interventions were expected to deliver sustainable water supply and sanitation services under four strategic objectives. These, he said include increasing access to improved sanitation and hygiene promotion in rural communities, schools and health facilities as well as establish a state level monitoring and evaluation (M&E) that is integrated with the federal level M&E system.
Meanwhile, the minister of water resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, has said that the ministry in collaboration with UNICEF has developed a guideline for Water Safety Planning and Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance (RDWQMS).
He said the holistic management of the entire water chain has taken into cognizance, the contributions of other WASH interventions such as positive change in the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) and hygiene promotion as positive change in the community behavioral trend would certainly improve the quality of drinking water across the water chain.
Adamu expressed optimism that the implementation and enforcement of the National Standard for Drinking Water Quality (NSDWQ) will contribute greatly to reduce mortality from infectious diseases as there will be improvement in the quality of water consumed by the public