Benue Communities Where Loose Soil, Absence Of Governance Spike Water Scarcity

By Simon Echewofun Sunday

For Martha Oduh, water from her reservoir trapped during the rainy season is the only source for drinking and cooking for her family in Okonu-Eke village of Orokam. Daily Trust on Sunday takes a look at how water issues affect Martha and other residents of the Benue community.

Martha’s situation is that of most residents of over 50 villages spread across Orokam, Otukpa and Owukpa districts in Ogbadibo Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State.

With a deep red sandy terrain, the communities lack access to potable water. In Orokam, which shares a boundary with Enugu State, the only stream is Enumabia, located far away from human settlement.

Mrs Oduh, a resident of Okonu-Eke in Ade-Igwu community in Orokam District echoed her pains about the water scarcity.

She said, “We don’t have water; we draw water from this reservoir and everything enters inside. We are asking for the government to help us. Before we drink the water, we have to filter it, but that does not mean it is completely clean.”

Another resident, Mr Sunday Ugwu, in Igwu Akor community, said digging a reservoir was an elitist thing because of the cost involved, hence that people who could not afford a reservoir would have to cope with storing water in clay pots, especially during the rainy season.

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Ugwu said, “It is a huge task for us to get water for our daily household routine. You have come and you can see there is no borehole across the over 10 communities here.”

The same thing goes for Ai Ifam community in Owukpa, the third district in Ogbadibo LGA. 

Ben Ameh, a farmer, said the situation was age-long.

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He said, “My reservoir can take over 1,000 liters of rain water from the rooftop. Some of my people who are financially buoyant have two reservoirs each so that they can have enough water for their families.”

Other residents of Owukpa said due to lack of potable water they spent more treating water-borne diseases such as typhoid, malaria, worm infections, among others.

Monday Owuno, a youth in Ugbugbu Akor Orokam town said, “We are calling on the government to help and drill boreholes here since there is no sign of pipe borne water anywhere outside the state capital.”

Mrs Monica Onjeh, a mother of three at Orido-Otukpa, said she often treated her children for malaria and waterborne diseases.

Also, for Egbi John of Adum Oko in Orokam, the girl child has to do more to maintain sanitary hygiene due to water scarcity. 

She said, “We hope the government should help to drill a borehole here so that we can have at least a ray of hope, especially for girls.”  

No wells as vendors thrive

According to residents, their woes of water scarcity are further worsened by the difficulty in digging wells because of the loose sandy nature of the red earth which makes it difficult to dig beyond three feet.

Mr John Agbo of Obu Otukpa said the water scarcity had created jobs for water vendors. Agbo has a 11,000-litre diesel-powered water truck supplying water for N1,500 to N3,000 per 150-litre container.

He said, “We have more business during the dry season as the rain is not there yet to cushion the water scarcity.”

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There are also water vendors of Northern extraction who were not there two years back but have now found a business in the community.

One of them, Musa Bashir, said he sold a truck for N1,000 (about 120 litres) and that he sold cleaner and cheaper private borehole water than the ones supplied by tankers from rivers afar.

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that the river water bought at a higher cost by residents is not fit for drinking as its color indicates. 

Test results show disease-causing bacteria in water   

Samples of water from a reservoir in Ade Igwu community in Orokam District and from a reservoir in Obu area of Otukpa District were taken for laboratory analysis.

The samples were tested in conformity with the Nigerian Standard for Drinking Water Quality (NSDWQ) approved by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in 2015 and a similar standard by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The tests for Sample A (Orokam reservoir) and Sample B (Otukpa reservoir) were conducted at the central laboratory of the Kaduna State Water Corporation, Kaduna.

According to the results, the reservoir in Ade Igwu (Orokam) had over 2,000 per cent turbidity of 214 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU) above NSDWQ’s 0.5NTU. 

WHO states that high turbidity in a source water can harbour microbial pathogens that can cause harm when not disinfected, hence both NSDWQ and WHO standards do not tolerate dissolved particles in water. 

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The Orokam reservoir Sample has 70.25 milligrammes (mg) of dissolved solid particles, considered to be unhealthy.

Also, in the Orokam sample, there was 280mg Most Probable Number (MPN) of coliform per millilitre in it. These are bacteria found in the soil and in water due to interference of surface water by human or animal waste.

The Orokam water is largely unfit for drinking. 

“Turbidity is high; improvement in coagulation. Harmful bacteria were detected; disinfect and clean storage facilities regularly,” the result read.

Analysis of the Obu-Otukpa water test showed similar results with turbidity at 32.40NTU, higher than the NSDWQ 0.5NTU standard; 74mg of dissolved solid particles, also considered to be unhealthy.

With 285mg of coliforms, the Otukpa water shows presence of disease-causing bacteria that are dangerous to human health. 

“The turbidity is high, harmful bacteria were detected, disinfect and clean storage facilities regularly,” was the lab remarks.

Nigeria is a key subscriber to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Goal 6 harping on improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) declared to be in a state of emergency by the World Bank in 2018. 

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These findings have shown that the Benue State Government has more to do on providing potable water.

When contacted with the findings, the Executive Director of Community Links and Human Empowerment Initiative (CLHEI) in Makurdi, Dr Helen Teghtegh, said, “There are health, social and economic implications. Health wise, the people are prone to diseases and could experience outbreaks of diseases like cholera and diarrhea.”  

We don’t handle water projects – LGA officials  

A visit to the Ogbadibo LGA secretariat revealed much. The Chairman, Prince Samuel Onuh, referred our reporter to the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, noting that infrastructure programmes were centrally coordinated.

An official at the LGA secretariat, who spoke anonymously, said until LGAs got autonomy grassroots development would be slow.

He said, “What we do here is to survey areas where there is need for water or other environmental infrastructure and recommend to the relevant ministry to handle.”  

Drilling loose soil costly                – Geologists

Speaking about the sandy terrain of Ogbadibo LGA, geologists said it was expensive for drilling on such soil.

Mr Henry Ikaa, a senior geologist at Rockdrill Engineering Services Ltd, Abuja, said, “Water sounding takes a lot of process to locate the drill point because of the vast sand. We also have to use a special drilling machine called Prairie Dog which does not require drilling fluids to bore the hole until we locate water.”

Mr Ikaa noted that when drilling at such points, both the driller and the owner must be ready for a re-drill if water is not found in a particular spot after an 80 to 100-metre drill.

He explained that, “This is the main reason people say it is expensive, because when a drill reaches such length and there is no water; a survey has to be done at another point and drilling restarted.”

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John Ofikwu, an analyst at the Science Laboratory Technology Department of the Benue State Polytechnic, Ugbokolor, noted that the loose nature of the soil meant that drilling was slow.

He said, “We have done some tests in Orokam and Otukpa communities and I can tell you that boreholes are being drilled there by private individuals. 

“However, it is expensive and at times more than twice the rate for other places.” 

Water ministry, senator recount efforts

When contacted, the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Dr Godwin Oyiwona, confirmed receiving complaints from the residents.

Oyiwona said, “They wrote a complaint to us, and I don’t even know the community that wrote it. But in Ogbadibo, there are so many spots that boreholes have been drilled by the ministry in conjunction with UNICEF, particularly in Owukpa, we have almost eight locations.”

The commissioner said some of the boreholes had broken down but that they would be fixed across Owukpa, Orokam and Otukpa. 

He said, “We have not gone round the entire Ogbadibo LGA quite alright, but we have gone to so many places that motorised boreholes have been drilled.

“In my own place, Owukpa, I know about four or five places where boreholes have been drilled, even in Itabono where I come from.” When contacted, the Senator Benue South, Abba Moro, said he had made efforts to provide water for the Southern communities. However, for Ogbadibo LGA where the water scarcity is toughest, the senator restated the difficulty in drilling boreholes in the communities.

He said, “In Epeilo-Otukpa in Ogbadibo LGA, a borehole was to be drilled but put on hold because of the deep water level.” 

This report was first published by Daily Trust.

This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusion and Accountability (CMEDIA).


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