On a Thursday morning, a dark-skinned young lady, Torkwase Andrew, 16, was scooping water from a well; nearby stood a tall man spraying herbicide on his maize farm.
They represent the first sight the reporter sees when he arrives in Mbazemba Adaka, a village not far from the Benue State capital, Makurdi.
Mbazemba is a village whose livelihood is predominantly farming. The government’s presence is felt in the area with electric poles and cables spread in the community.
Accessing potable water in the community has been a great challenge for the people, with a major source of water for the past years being stream and well water, which has been affected by climate change and drought.
Janet Aonduwase, 45, a mother of three, has had a tough time coping with getting water and catering for her children, who are still teens and primary school pupils.
“It has been a tough time for us in this community for the past years. Getting water for my children’s needs has been the most difficult task I have coped with in my over 15 years of marriage. My children now attend the government school in my village. It is common for a child to ‘rough’ their clothes before they return from school. The little water I always look for needs to be sufficient to keep them neat.”
Janet’s most profound concern has been the quality of water she and her family have been drinking in the past few years. She explained that sudden illnesses have been something she has been dealing with. She further narrated that her little children have had bad times.
“The water we use in this community is what I can’t be proud and speak about, In this community, I fetch water from the stream, and most times, especially during the dry season, I and my household use it for everything you can think of. Sometimes you see my children, who appear to be healthy, start stooling, which is most often connected to the bad water we use.”
The situation worsens when the dry season sets in. She explained that lack of water has often cost her children classes as there was no water to take their baths or make meals.
“The 2018 dry season was the worst we have experienced. The well we usually fetch got dried, and the only hope was the stream, which eventually got dried, On a fateful day when my children ought to go to school, they stopped because we had no water to make food or bathe them to go to school.”
For Ternege Adom, 65, a father of two who has tried his best to dig a well for his children, ”the effect of climate change keeps affecting the well as it dries up when the rains stop coming”.
“It has been a challenge for me as the head of the house. I’m in pain whenever I see my wife struggling to get water for her daily use. I have not been able to do enough, which is not the case. I spent over N50,000 to dig the well I have, but unfortunately, as soon as the rains stop coming, we still look for where to get water.”
He emphasized the need for a better government presence in the community through the execution of projects.
‘THE PHANTOM EARTH DAM’
For Jude Iorpu, 22, since he was born, there has been a conversation about the presence of a publicised earth dam in the community, but unfortunately, he has seen just the site but not the dam.
“When I was younger, my father always mentioned the name dam to my ears, but unfortunately, the one in our community is just abstract. The dam would have helped us satisfy the need for water, but unfortunately, that is not the case. I have only heard of clean and potable water in the class. I wish the dam is constructed for us in the shortest time.”
He explains how, most times, he has to contend with searching for water, which sometimes contributes to his lateness to school.
“When the dry season sets in, I wake up from sleep as early as 4 a.m. to look for water from the stream. Sometimes, if you are unlucky, you won’t see the water. This would have been a situation that the earth dam would have solved.”
Andrew Orseer, 47, who is a farmer in the community, hinted at the agricultural benefit of the earth dam; he mentioned the practice of irrigational farming to top the list.
“What I do as a farmer is wet season planting, We have fertile land that, if well utilised, can help us generate a lot of income. Currently, I have planted rice and maize. If we have an earth dam here during the dry season, I can comfortably plant vegetables, which will, in turn, help me generate money.”
Mbazemba, like other communities in the Northern part of Nigeria, has experienced a temperature rise that has led to drought, which has led to the loss of some of the crops planted by Andrew.
“I have done most of my planting close to the proposed site of the dam in the past months. In April, I planted maize, but unfortunately, we expected rain, but it didn’t, which led to the loss of most of the plants. If the dam were functional, I would have used the water to wet the crops, which would have cut my loss, but today, we are still here, and nothing has been done. I hope the project commences anytime soon.”
According to the 2022 approved budget of the Benue State government, N50 million was approved for the construction of an earth dam and water treatment plant at Mabazemba Adaka, Makurdi Local Government Area of Benue State.
When UDEME first visited the community in June, it was discovered that the project had yet to start. In an interaction with Mr Orseer, he explained that contractors and government officials had not visited the site.
On a second visit in August 2023, the proposed site of the earth, which has been dug for several years, was covered with grasses.
GOVERNMENT FAILS TO RESPOND
In July 2023, UDEME, in a bid to get the details of the contractors and the amount released for the project, sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) Letter to the Ministry of Water Resources and Environment in Makurdi. A response was not provided.
During a visit to the local government headquarters in Makurdi to interact with the authorities on the challenges of the people of Mbazamba, the Director-General, of Services and Administration (DGSA), who is in charge of the local government administration, was not available.
The spokesperson for the state governor, Tersoo Kula, was not available for comments as he said he was on an assignment with the governor.
This report was produced under the Udeme project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)