The early morning search for water nearly made Abdul Adamu, a senior secondary school student, miss his terminal exams. Adamu woke up early on the day of the exams to prepare for school only to be instructed by his parents to go fetch water for their household use. He was reluctant because it was getting late to go to school but he couldn’t complain. He will have to travel 40minutes on foot to fetch water from the nearest pond.
He obliged his parents and fetched some water, wolved down his breakfast and rushed out to school. On arrival at the examination hall, his fears were confirmed. Exams had already started and Adamu was about 25 minutes late. Luckily, he was allowed to write the exams.
At another time, Adamu had just returned from school and had barely rested when his parents asked him to go fetch water.
Adamu lives in Shongo Sarkin Yaki, a community in Kwami local government area (LGA) of Gombe state that has been struggling with decade-long water scarcity and often has to rely on contaminated water sources for drinking, and other domestic purposes. This has caused residents of the community untold hardships and made them vulnerable to water-related and waterborne diseases including hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid.
ABANDONED PROJECT DASHES RESIDENTS’ HOPES
While residents of the community drink from contaminated water sources, a water project meant for the area was abandoned months after commencement.
In 2021, the federal government through the Upper Benue River Basin Development Agency (UBRBDA) awarded the contract for the “extension of water pipeline and reticulation at Shongo Sarkin Yaki, Gombe North Senatorial District” to Hapco Multihydro Systems.
The project which is under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) was awarded at the cost of N50 million. Findings showed that soon after the contractor was mobilized and heavy equipment moved to the site, the project was abandoned after one of the machines developed a fault. According to sources in the community, the contractor gave no cogent reason for abandoning the project site.
Details of the project captioned as “extension of water pipeline and reticulation at Shongo Sarkin Yaki, Gombe North Senatorial District” in the budget is basically to “drill and install motorized borehole with 50 cubic metre overhead tank as a constituency project meant for the area.
The community was hopeful when the project commenced with residents happy that it would put a stop to drinking contaminated water and contracting deadly diseases.
This situation has left many residents to fetch water from contaminated sources, especially during the dry season when water bodies in the area dry up, a practice that has been going on for decades of the community’s existence.
According to Sani Muhammad, a resident who lives and ownsa mechanic workshop at Shongo Sarkin Yaki, the contractor only worked on the site for a day and left on the second day to return after Christmas break in 2021.
“Even if it is because of politics, they should come and do this project for us. We will be happy. We were joyous when the contractor moved to site and now we see their abandoned equipment daily and get annoyed,” Muhammad said pointing to the driller truck.
He said members of the community often fall sick because of the unclean water source.
“My major concern is coming home after a tedious day to find out that there is no water. When I am tired, and cannot trek the long distance to the pond to fetch water, I will take a bike to and fro and it cost money.”
Hassan Adamu, is the chairman committee supervising the pond where residents source their water.
“We like to imagine that the water is not contaminated because we take it on a daily basis. If truth be told, this water is not safe for consumption and we sometimes see some impurities including aquatic animals in the water. Those aquatic animals look like tiny fish,” Adamu said.
Adamu said the community decided to set up a committee to reduce impurities found in the water and make it relatively safe for residents. Adamu, who heads the committee said that donkeys, cows and other animals reared by people in the community are not allowed to come close to the water body.
“To enforce this regulation, we make sure the right punishment is meted out to offenders.“
Adamu said he has once led youths in the community to protest before government officials and solicit the support of various NGOs across the state to help with the provision of clean water for the community. He said community-led efforts have yielded no results in ensuring that the contractor returns to the site.
‘WATER SCARCITY IS A DECADE-LONG PROBLEM’
Abubakar Sadiq, the head of the Shongo Sarkin Yaki community decries the water scarcity in the community, adding that the problem has been persistent for decades. According to him, the project came through Sen. Saidu Alkali, representing Gombe North at the 9th national assembly.
When asked whether the government is aware of their situation or if he has written to the authorities, Sadiq said: “Whenever it is the dry season, we usually inform the authorities about the difficulties faced in getting water even from the pond. At this period, we are often prone to diseases, especially cholera.
“One major contribution or advise they (officials) gave is that we should boil our water before use. Like last year and this year, they (government) vaccinated community members against some diseases.”
While pleading for quick intervention by government on the project, Sadiq said he advised that instead of drilling a borehole, they should extend pipes from a nearby government estate.
“The water level in the community is about 480 metres and this makes drilling boreholes in the community very difficult,” he said.
MORE LAMENTATIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY
A relatively new resident of the community, Ibrahim Yahaya said when he arrived at the community, five months ago, he was startled to see people drinking from such a dirty pond. He said he and some community members who could afford it resorted to sourcing water from water merchants who sell at exorbitant prices.
“When I first came into the community, I could not cook for some days due to lack of water and vendors didn’t bring water to the community. When they showed up, they sold a jerry-can for N70,” Yahaya said.
Another resident of the area who simply identified himself as Alhaji Hassan, lamented the poor access to clean and portable water in the community especially during the dry season when the pond dries up.
“In the entire community, we are faced with many challenges due to lack of water. Water vendors bring water worth N12,000 and it does not go round. It is even worse during dry seasons where we might go days without water from both the pond and the vendors,” he said.
He added: “If we want to drink good and clean water we have to travel as far as Tumfure, about 5km away. It also cost us about N300 to and fro plus additional fees for the water per jerry can. It is really pathetic that even our health facility doesn’t have water. The staff at the hospital often close early because of this.”
HOW POOR ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER IS CONTRIBUTING TO HIGH CHOLERA FIGURES IN GOMBE
Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks. Importantly, poor access to water amongst others fuels bad habits such as poor handwashing and open defecation which is estimated to be practiced by 25 per cent of Nigerians on a daily basis.
As elsewhere, poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) remains a major challenge in Gombe contributing to high levels of diarrhoea-related deaths. Poor and unclean water has also been increasingly linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio, thus causing victims severe pain and stress.
As of 2015, 57 million Nigerians were without access to improved water sources, while 130 million people were without access to improved sanitation. Across most rural communities in Gombe North senatorial district including Shongo Sarkin Yaki, there is an appalling deficit of water supply and sanitation facilities despite the allocation of resources to arrest the issue.
The state government budgeted N3.7bn and N2.6bn for the provision of water in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In 2021, N5.5bn was budgeted for the provision of WASH infrastructure. A major fallout of poor investment in the WASH sector is the increasing number of cholera-related deaths recorded in the state. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) cholera situation report, a total of 2,361 cases were recorded in Gombe state leaving 51 victims dead in the year 2021.
Among the challenges highlighted by the NCDC are “open defecation in affected communities, lack of potable drinking water in some rural areas and urban slums, inadequate vaccines to cover all LGAs, wards, and settlements with cholera outbreaks, and inadequate health facility infrastructures and other cholera commodities for the management of patients.”
Currently, cholera has been declared an outbreak in Gombe state with 10 deaths recorded out of 236 officially confirmed cases in 2022. Speaking to pressmen on the matter at the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre in Gombe, the state health commissioner, Dr. Habu Dahiru, said the state government is taking measures towards containing the outbreak.
Fatima Damagum, a medical doctor at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in an interview with this reporter, lamented the poor state of drinking water in Shongo Sarkin Yaki community adding that it is “not safe” for drinking.
“This source of water is definitely not safe. The stagnant body of water is most likely going to contain harmful microorganisms. Consumption of this water is often responsible for common water-related illnesses such as diarrhoea, giardiasis, dysentery, typhoid fever, Escherichia coli infection, and salmonellosis (typhoid),” she said.
Dr. Damagum noted that “some of the symptoms can include pain in the gastrointestinal, reproductive and neurological systems” adding that complications of these diseases can result in death.
“Government should ensure the availability of potable water. Clean drinking water is a fundamental human right. It is the responsibility of the federal and state governments to make sure tap water is not only clean but contains the right amount of minerals,” she stressed.
She further called on the government to “support water-related emergency preparedness and outbreak investigations both domestically and nationally, assess disinfection and treatment methods for drinking water and recreational water, provide tools for environmental microbiology laboratory capacity building and training on water sampling techniques and associated analytical methods and provide drainage and sanitation system.”
She also highlighted two possible solutions to waterborne diseases: systemic solutions and Individual solutions. According to her, apart from the government’s efforts, residents of the area can do something.
“If you do not have access to safe drinking water, please install a water purifier at home. If this is not possible, boil the water used for drinking and cooking.”
Umar Abdullahi, a resident doctor at State Specialist Hospital Gombe corroborates Damagum’s position. He stated that diseases such as Salmonella typhi and Salmonella Paratyphi (popularly known as typhoid), cholera, acute gastroenteritis, and Helicobacter Pylori can lead to fatality.
‘PROJECT NOT ABANDONED BUT RELOCATED’
When contacted to speak on the matter, the Information Officer, Upper Benue River Basin Development Agency (UBRBDA), Ahmed Isa Mbamba requested that an official letter be addressed to his Managing Director. A Freedom of Information (FOI) letter was sent to the agency, specifically requesting for the project’s status, details of percentage releases and amount expended since project inception at Shongo Sarkin Yaki.
In a response to the request, Mbamba who signed the letter on behalf of the Managing Director of the agency, denied that the project was abandoned, saying that it was merely relocated to another location. He said the project was relocated “due to difficulty of the formation of the area (Shongo Sarkin Yaki) which was not considered at the onset of the project.”
Mbamba stressed in the letter that “the drilling crew encountered geological challenges within the overburdened soil formation resulting into a breakdown of the drilling machine. The contractor replaced the damaged drilling machine with another one from Maiduguri which started drilling at an alternative point for more than two months without success.”
According to the UBRBDA, the project was relocated to Pantami near the Proper Water factory and re-awarded to QL Teknik Limited at the sum of N37.1million. The remaining balance of 12.8million out of the initial N50m budgeted for the Shongo Sarkin Yaki project was used for the “construction of 1no Solar power at Gandu, and Shamaki ward, Gombe LGA”.
QL Teknik Limited, formerly Quartz Solar Energy Systems Limited, a member of Multibase group limited, was registered to do business in diverse areas in Nigeria. The company changed its name and re-branded in May 2016 with a view to diversifying to other areas of business, especially engineering. The company, categorized by Corporate Affairs Commission as inactive, was registered on 27th May 1998.
Mbamba stressed in the letter that the solar power project was carried out by Alh. Musa Iliya and Co. Limited. According to the supporting documents attached to the letter, the agency approved the relocation following a request by the lawmaker representing Gombe North Senatorial District, Saidu Alkali.
Meanwhile, efforts to reach Sen. Alkali were not successful. At the time of filing this report, he did not respond to messages and phone calls to his known phone number.
An FOI request was sent to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), the parent ministry of UBRBDA, on September 19, 2022, to comment on the issue was ignored even after the expiration of the 7 days stipulated by the FOI Act.
This report is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR