Christmas holds special interest for me. It is that time of the year we travel to the village for holidays and festivities. Before the advent of public and private boreholes, one of the fun activities I used to enjoy was going to the river to fetch water with my cousins. The river was always teeming with young people swimming, playing in the water or simply sightseeing. The water was used for sanitary purposes like washing, cleaning, and sometimes bathing. My uncle used to go to a neighbouring village with gallons tied to his bike to fetch drinking and cooking water.

Now, this is the harsh reality a lot of communities face in Nigeria.

Water poverty refers to a situation where a nation or region cannot afford the cost of sustainable clean water to all people at all times.

A lot of communities don’t have access to water. Some communities, especially in the north, don’t have water bodies in their land, so they rely on rain and commercial sources to get water for their daily use. For those that do have a natural body of water like a river, stream or spring, it is usually coloured, contaminated and unsafe for consumption; this is especially the case for oil-rich communities in the South-South.

Daily, many communities are subjected to drinking and cooking with contaminated water because of water poverty. Some wake up very early in the morning to make long trips to neighbouring villages that have water on foot, except for those who have vehicles or bikes. Others spend heavily on buying water from water companies or simply buy sachet water for daily use.

One would think water poverty is only peculiar to rural communities, but surveys have proved that even urban settlements suffer water poverty. Access to water is distributed based on economic status and class. Those in the high class do not experience water poverty at all; they have a robust water infrastructure that supplies sufficient water for their daily use. The middle class also have water infrastructure in their compounds, but most times, they commercialise it. The struggling and low-class pay through their nose for access to water, or have to buy from neighbouring houses. Then, you have those living in slums; these ones depend on public boreholes and rain for access to water, and can barely afford to buy water.

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation should be basic human rights as recognized by the 2010 United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 64/292. However, 1.42 billion people in the world suffer from water poverty. Approximately 60 million Nigerians – including 26.5 million children – do not have access to basic drinking water. 39% of families in rural communities do not have access to the basic water supply.

The burden of water poverty

When communities do not have access to clean drinking water, they are forced to ingest water gotten from rivers and streams, most of which are unsafe and contaminated. Consequently, they become susceptible to water-borne diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, and diarrhoea.

In the wake of the Covid-19 virus ravaging the world, rural communities and urban slums are most vulnerable to the spread of the pandemic. They cannot practice regular handwashing and personal hygiene which are efficient measures against Covid-19. It is still a wonder that these communities survived the spread of the virus.

Women suffer disproportionately from inadequate access to clean and safe drinking water. Women are homemakers; they handle all the house chores at home, and that includes fetching water. So, they wake up early and trek long distances to fetch water for daily household use; sometimes making up to five trips a day. Consequently, women lose productive time they could have invested in their farm, work or business.

Water poverty has grievous implications for the menstrual hygiene management of women and girls in these communities. A woman’s period is a very sensitive time when they take extra hygiene measures to avoid infections. Lack of access to clean water makes them vulnerable to germs and bacteria, ultimately resulting in pelvic inflammatory diseases which causes discomfort, vaginal discharge, pain, vaginal discharge, tube blockages, and other fatal health complications.

Children are the most vulnerable group to water-borne diseases due to their developing immune systems. Reports from World Health Organization reveals that diarrhoea is the leading cause of death in children under five years old, with an estimation of 525,000 deaths every year; that means over 700 children under age 5 die every day. This confirms the incessant death of children in rural communities.

Water poverty also impacts children’s school attendance because they have to fetch water for their households before preparing for school. Sometimes, these children suffer stunted growth resulting from carrying gallons of water on their heads heavier than their age permits.

Inadequate access to water has overarching implications in agricultural production and food security. Water is needed to grow fruits and vegetables and raise livestock, which is the main part of our diet. Lack of access to clean water could result in lean agricultural produce, food insecurity and famine.

Inadequate access to clean also on businesses that depend on water to thrive, like restaurants. It will increase operational costs, affect the productivity of the business, and hike the prices of its finished product.

The solution

The only solution to water poverty is to make clean water accessible and affordable, especially in communities of high vulnerability.

Government at all levels, concerned INGOs and NGOs should launch initiatives to construct boreholes in strategic positions in affected communities.

Beyond constructing boreholes, the sustainability and maintenance of these boreholes should be taken seriously to ensure that water intervention projects remain functional and maintained. Some of the stringent measures to take include the following;

  • Sustainable technologies

Solar technology

Solar water pumps, a device that can convert solar power into mechanical work used to power a special type of water pump, should be used in setting up boreholes instead of traditional water pumps. This will reduce the operational cost of using a generator to pump water.

Remote sensors

Remote sensors can be installed to monitor water levels/depth, water temperature, and parameters such as pH, salinity and turbidity. It can also be used to monitor the status of the infrastructure and instantly alert the user of any breakdown. The sensors are solar-powered and transmit reports through satellite.

  • Involve the community

To ensure that the water intervention projects are maintained and their facilities preserved, the communities should be involved and engaged in the course of executing the projects. This will cause them to take ownership of the boreholes, protect the facilities from vandalism, and contribute money to maintain the infrastructures and fund repairs.

  • Track intervention projects

It is no news that many uncompleted water intervention projects are scattered across communities in Nigeria. Sometimes, the fund for the projects is squandered by dubious and greedy committees set up to oversee the project. Sometimes, contractors don’t deliver quality jobs. Therefore, benefactors – government, INGOs, NGOs, social institutions – should set up a check-and-balance system to track the execution of these projects from inception to finishing point.

  • Government policies

Government should enact effective policies that will guide project committees and contractors regarding the timely execution of projects, the quality of work done, and sustainability measures.

  • Revive water service corporations

Government should revive water service corporations at the state and local levels to increase water accessibility, especially in communities with contaminated or polluted water bodies. Water service corporations supply clean water, treat unsafe water, and recycle used water.

What we do at DO

Drill a borehole is a 3-months project designed to sensitize men and women in rural communities on the importance of having a good and safe water source in their communities. This project aims to enlighten communities on their responsibilities, rights and the collective power they have as members of the community (village leaders, stakeholders, etc.) to facilitate access to clean drinking water. The project also provides support to these communities by collaborating with concerned organisations to fund borehole drilling projects.

The purest form of clean and suitable water for consumption is groundwater.

Join us to make clean water accessible to impoverished rural communities and urban slums.

Collaborate with us through donations and partnership to sponsor a ‘Drill a borehole’ project.