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COVID-19 hand washing protocol: A nation dependent on unconventional water sources

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A woman fetching water from a stream. PHOTO: Google<br />

The rising number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria calls for strict observance of all extant health and safety guidelines advised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), especially as the government continues to gradually reopen the economy.

One of the guidelines, regular washing of hands with clean, running water and soap, appears quite simple but is somewhat out of the reach of the common man. The reason is not far-fetched. The public water supply system in the country has been grossly inefficient for decades, despite the fact that Nigeria is a party to the United Nations Declaration of the Right to Water. The declaration entitles everyone living in Nigeria to sufficient, affordable, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses.

Nevertheless, according to the Evaluation of Nigeria’s Government and UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Programme (2014-2017) report released in May, this year, Nigeria ranks as one of the top three countries in the world in a number of people living without access to safe water and sanitation. The report though commended Nigeria for achieving 68 per cent coverage in access to basic drinking water services in 2018 as against 67 per cent in 2013 but noted that Nigeria did not achieve the WASH Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2000-2015. It also predicted that there was a high risk that Nigeria would not achieve the global agenda of the WASH Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 of universal access to safely managed services.

The report explained that WASH is a subcomponent of the child survival programme component of UNICEF Nigeria’s 2014-2017 country programme, which aimed to increase access to and use of water sources, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices, particularly among vulnerable communities.

“The purpose of the 2014-2017 WASH Programme was, amongst others, to increase access to and use of improved water sources, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices, particularly among vulnerable communities,” it said.

The four-year programme notwithstanding, Nigerians still lack access to clean, running water, with which to regularly wash their hands to prevent themselves from contracting COVID-19 as recommended. What obtains mostly is water vending, which has become a thriving business especially in major cities in the country.

In Lagos State, for instance, residents in certain areas now remember public water supply as a ‘once-upon-a-time’ public utility. Many of them said their only sources of water for domestic use are ‘shallow’ boreholes sunk by their landlords or underground wells. They remembered the good old days when ‘there was a country’ to borrow the title of Chinua Achebe’s book; when they were denied access to public water supply only when they failed to pay their water rate.
  
Mrs. Onyinyechi Anochie, a resident of Alhaji Ganiu Street, Ilamoshe, who was seen on the road sourcing for water with a 20-litre basin, told to The Guardian that there has been no such thing as public water supply in her 15 years of living in the area.

“For those of us who rented apartments that do not have borehole because the rent is cheaper, we go all out to source water around. Sometimes, when I don’t feel up to it, especially when my children are not around, I buy water from Hausa young men. Right now my children are not around and I don’t have N600 to pay the water vendors. So I have to source for free water from neigbouring houses around, as there is no drop of water at home for use,” she said.

Anochie said she washes her hands as often as possible to protect herself against COVID-19 infection but not with running water as advised by the WHO.

“We take water with a cup or bowl, place it down, get soap and scrub our hands and then take the water in the bowl to rinse. That is how we do the regular hand-washing directive in my home. And trust me; we try to minimise water as much as possible because for us, water could be likened to gold. It is an essential commodity and wastage is at our own peril, Coronavirus or not.”

Another resident of the area, Funmilayo Abidemi, said: “There is hardly any house that has a borehole within this vicinity that I have not entered to fetch water as there is no source of water supply in my house. What we have is an unclean well which is not hygienic, so all the tenants including the landlord’s family source water from other houses that have borehole. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as public water supply in the whole of Ilamoshe. I stand to be corrected; all the houses with running water are boreholes sunk by either the owners of the house or even tenants.

“So, long before the pandemic, residents who fall in the same category as ours have been going through severe difficulty sourcing water on a daily basis. It’s our daily routine; you carry water on your head multiple times from a long distance depending on whether you are granted access by landlords of the houses with borehole. We are not allowed to fetch water in nearby houses if there is no electricity since the borehole is powered by electricity. But I can’t blame them, as they have to reserve what they have for their own use pending when power is restored.”

She noted that the situation was more challenging now with the WHO regular hand washing directives. “My children make it worse as they waste the water every now and then in the name of washing hands to kill the virus, forcing me to fetch water twice a day as opposed to every morning,” she added.

Investigations showed that other parts of the state like Ago Okota, Ejigbo, Ikotu, Ilasamaja, Ojo, Ajegunle, Ijesha, Bariga, Ogba and even some parts of Ikeja, among many others, experience similar challenges.

This is also the situation in states like Enugu, Plateau, Imo, Rivers and Cross Rivers as the reports below indicate.

‘We Use Either Well Or Rain Water In Jos’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

Water supply has been a big problem in Plateau State before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has only come to worsen an already bad situation.

Water supply has never been regular especially in Jos/Bukuru metropolis. But it is not the fault of the Plateau State Water Board, which is statutorily saddled with the responsibility of supplying water to the metropolis. Many “untouchable” buildings were erected on water pipelines in the area thereby cutting off residents from enjoying water supply. But lately, the Water Board stood its ground and ensured that some of the buildings were pulled down.

But despite this, a graduate of Political Science at the University of Jos, Mallam Musa Abbas Adavize, who is waiting to be posted for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), said the public water supply system in the metropolis has been very pathetic.

Adavize, who lives at Ali Kazaure area in Jos, said that the Water Board withdrew supply without any explanations to residents.

“We don’t have water supply any longer. We just depend on rains and well water or we buy from commercial water vendors popularly known as ‘Mai Ruwa.’

He stated that if the government were concerned with the welfare of their citizens, it would have been on the toes of the Water Board to ensure that they supply water to residents.

“The government may claim that they are paying regularly those who are working at the Water Board. But there should be supervising agencies that will ensure that the water is being supplied regularly.

“Let me mention Ibrahim Dasuki Street where I am helping my father in his carpentry work; the water supply is zero. We are not enjoying the water at all. The issue of water supply now has been so bad in this area,” he said.

Adavize said he has been washing his hands as recommended by the WHO to curb the spread of coronavirus, stressing that the issue of hand washing depends on how much one moves about and how much contacts one has with others.

“As I don’t leave my environment often, I only wash my hands whenever I want to take something important, maybe to eat or so. But if I leave this environment and have to shake others, I will ensure that I wash my hands properly as recommended by the WHO. I don’t wash my hands regularly. I only wash my hands whenever I have contacts with people I am suspecting. I don’t wash my hands always, to be frank,” he admitted.
 
A fashion designer, Obiageli Nebo, also said that a public water supply system in her area has not been functioning for years now.

Nebo said she also depends on well water or rainwater. She lamented that drawing water from the well regularly was a difficult exercise, adding: “But there is nothing I can do. It is stressful. Who do I complain to?”

She, however, said she washes her hands regularly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 but not with running water.

 
Even Hospitals Rely On Unconventional Water Sources, Say Enugu Residents
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

One challenge Enugu State has had over the years is the absence of potable water for both domestic and commercial usages.  Constant supply of water is a major problem in the state. In some areas still being supplied from the public water supply network, residents there enjoy the water for a maximum of two hours twice a week.

The development, sources say, is largely due to derelict infrastructure and galloping erosion at its Ajalli Water Works in Ezeagu Local Government Area, which remains the major source of supply to the state.

The Ajalli Water Works was built in 1985. From the time, it was built till now, the population of the state has grown in leaps and bounds and has seriously overwhelmed the carrying capacity of the dilapidated scheme.

A study conducted recently showed that out of a population of over 3.9 million persons, only about 10,000 residents in Enugu have access to potable water while supply has become irregular to even areas that have access.

It stated that most inhabitants of Enugu State depend largely on water tankers, vendors, boreholes and well (underground tanks) for their water needs.

It added that areas like 9th Mile Corner in Udi LGA, Ituku in Enugu South LGA and some places in Nsukka are littered with boreholes patronised by water tankers to serve the state.

The ugly state of the roads the tanker drivers ply to get water, among others, adds to the cost of accessing the essential liquid.

The advise of the WHO that people should practice regular hand washing as a preventive measure has increased the demand for and usage of water in the state. This is because the state government made it compulsory for every business environment to have a functional handwashing point, where visitors/customers must wash their hands before accessing the facility.

Speaking on how residents can cope with the near absence of water amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Country Director of Global Society for Anti- Corruption (GSAC), Mrs Amaka Nweke, stated that the campaign her organisation collaborated with others to carry out early this year was to draw government’s attention to the need to ensure availability of water if the fight against the virus must be won.

She stated that the findings by her organisation showed that most health facilities in the state don’t have access to potable water, stressing that they rely on rainwater, boreholes, well water and tankers to meet their water needs.

Asked whether she has been washing her hands as advised by the WHO, she said: “I have been washing my hands regularly and I use hand sanitisers. Here in Transekulu, we buy tanker water. It is a serious issue in this fight. Government is not serious to tackle this problem, even when they claimed they got foreign loan two years ago to tackle water problems in the state.

“Now we are talking about fighting COVID-19 and we are asking people to wash their hands regularly using running water. I am afraid that this is not available here. Only a few residents can boast pipe-borne water in the state,” she added.

Also speaking, Country Director, Hope Spring Water Charity Foundation, Mr Temple Oraeki, stated that the outbreak of Coronavirus has brought to fore the issue of paucity of water in Enugu State.

“While we ponder on that, more children are losing their lives daily from preventable water-related diseases, and more health care workers are continuously being exposed to increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as coronavirus,” he stated.

He explained that in the quest to find a lasting solution to the problem of perennial water scarcity, his organisation had embarked on a campaign aimed at adopting a human rights approach to the problem.
 
“The campaign tagged #ClaimYourWaterRights# is also aimed at sensitising Enugu residents on human rights to water. How long can you stay in a hospital without access to water? Most of the health workers we interviewed reiterated the ordeals they face to get clean water in carrying out their daily activities. Most of the hospitals visited rely on unconventional rainwater harvesting systems that are unsustainable. During dry seasons, some health worker confirmed that they use their personal funds to buy water from water vendors. This is the sad reality faced by many patients and hospital workers in Enugu; a situation that has made the health care facilities more of a deathtrap than a place of relief and recovery,” he added.
 
Oraeki stated that there was a need for government to pay full attention to water supply in the state especially with the ravaging COVID-19, stressing that “residents are not finding it funny and we fear what could happen during the dry season.”

Special Adviser to Enugu State Governor on Water Resources, Dubem Onyia, told The Guardian that the government was aware of the water gaps in the state. 

He said that the state government was in the process of expanding the water network in the state with the receipt of $50million from the French Development Agency.

According to him, the target was that by December this year, more areas in Enugu would have benefitted from the portable water supply.

Onyia added that an 18-man inter-ministerial committee that comprises experienced directors from the ministries of Health, Justice, Water Resources and Environment would pilot the initiative, saying residents should continue to make use of available water for their daily needs.

‘Water Supply Fair In Cross River But Improvements Needed’
From Anietie Akpan, Calabar 

Water supply to Calabar and other parts of Cross River State was poor in the past four years but the situation has improved tremendously with the coming of new management to the Water Board.

The state Governor, Ben Ayade, at the beginning of his second term in office launched an aggressive water rehabilitation scheme, which started with the appointment of a new Managing Director for the Cross River State Water Board Limited (CRSWBL), Chief Victor Effiom Ekpo. Under Ekpo’s watch, the Water Board recently took delivery of N52 million worth of water pipes, which have been distributed to the eight substations in the state towards ensuring that clean and hygienic water gets to the people of the state.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ayade ordered free water supply to all households in the state for one month, which has however elapsed.
 
According to Ekpo, who thanked the governor immensely for his benevolence, the gesture was part of efforts to encourage people to wash their hands regularly so as to ward off COVID-19 infection.

Some residents in Calabar Municipal and Calabar South, however, told The Guardian that water supply in their area was not regular while others poured encomiums of the headship of the Water Board for the improved supply.
 
In Ekorinim, Mr. John Ogar said, “the water supply has not been regular but we are happy it is better than what it used to be a few years back. But my brother I must say the truth; I do not wash my hands regularly. I am not used to it. It is only when I want to eat or I am taking my bath that I wash my hands.”

Another resident, Mr. Joe Ewak said: “Water has been very regular in the state since this new management came on board and with this COVID-19. I wash my hands regularly and use sanitisers. When in the office I do the same thing. Although most offices may not have steady water flow provisions are made for handwashing.”
 
For Madam Atim Offiong, “there is water in Calabar but people are not used to this culture of regular hand washing except after using the toilet, preparing to eat and when bathing.

“For me, I am trying. I try not to take my hands to the mouth, nose and eyes until when I get home and wash them. The government is trying now in terms of water unlike the first term,” she said.

 
Speaking with The Guardian, Ekpo said the improvement noticed by the people was made possible by the governor.

“The Calabar main station and treatment plant is running very well. In Akamkpa we had the issue of two broken transformers and amoured cables vandalised but we have fixed them. Ugep/Ediba is running; Obubra is also running and in Ogoja we fixed the vandalised generators and many other things but low voltage there is affecting us. We solely rely on our generators to run 24 hours. In Obudu we are fixing our pipes destroyed by road construction; one part of Obudu now has water. By the end of the month, the entire Obudu will work very well. It is only in Ikom that we are having issues. But we are going to fix it after Obudu,” Ekpo explained.
 
He said it would cost about N500 million to do total rehabilitation of all the stations and ensure 24 hours water supply in the state, stating that about N250 million has been expended on the project so far.

He added: “It is too expensive to run the water sector. Our water is well treated and it is not borehole water but surface water.”
 
He said the board intends to employ younger professionals to sustain what has been achieved and further improve on it.

“We need manpower as some of our staff are old and we need to recruit and train younger ones. We intend to train them in Germany and other parts of the world.

“Now that we have water in all our stations, we intend to set up an enforcement team that will go round to ensure that people pay their bills. We charge N150 only for five drums of water,” Ekpo added.
 
‘We Largely Depend On Borehole Water In Imo’
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

Despite the advise by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that people should regularly wash their hands as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID- 19, the Imo State government is yet to provide public water to residents.

However, the government has been grappling with the restoration of water supply in Owerri capital city. It has, in partnership with the United States International Development Agency (USAID) via the E-WASH programme, restored the Otamiri Water Scheme located on Egbu Road, Owerri, after being in comatose for many years.

When it eventually restored water supply to some parts of the capital city, several points of burst pipes made it difficult to run at homes. Only a handful of homes majorly around Aladinma Housing have public supply presently, making the majority of residents to rely heavily on borehole water.

The Commissioner for Public Utilities, Chief Tony Umezurike, said the state government was working vigorously to ensure supply of public water to every home in the state.

Similarly, the Commissioner for Education, Prof. Bernard Ikegwuoha, disclosed that the government had budgeted N120 million for the provision of bucket water, infrared thermometer and other necessary safety materials to schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when the exit classes resume next Tuesday.

Some residents, who spoke with The Guardian, lamented the paucity of water in the state. Many of them disclosed that they were not washing their hands regularly as advised by the health agencies.

A health worker, Alex Manu, said: “We want to see the Imo State government being serious by providing public water everywhere in the state if they actually want us to be washing hands regularly. As it stands now, many people are depending on boreholes. Those who do not have to go and beg those who have sunk such facility to fetch some water.”

A trader, Helen Onyeze, said: “I am told that Otamiri public water has started supplying water in some areas in Imo, but I am yet to enjoy such at our home near Aladinma area in this Owerri. If COVID-19 really exists, is it under this lack of water to wash hands that we are going to stop it from spreading?”

On his part, an artisan, Geo Okubi, said he was yet to see any public water running in the state. “I see only burst pipes. I depend on boreholes to drink and wash my hands,” he added.

COVID-19 Worsens Water Scarcity In Rivers
From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt

For over a decade, there has not been a functional public water system in Rivers State. Residents depend on boreholes, water vendors, streams and wells as sources of water supply. In some areas like Ogoni and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state, the situation is precarious because the water sources are polluted; yet residents use such water due to lack of access to potable water.

In a study carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011, it was discovered that the water in Ogoniland was highly contaminated. The UNEP report traced the contamination to several decades of the oil spill by multinational oil companies. In addition, underground water in some communities in Ogoni was contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, which was found to be over 800 to 900 times above the limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Nine years after UNEP’s report and four years after the Federal Government flagged off the Ogoni cleanup exercise, residents in Eleme, Bodo and other communities in Ogoni still do not have access to clean, drinking water. Many of them have been using contaminated water due to no option.

Given the present challenge of the ravaging coronavirus pandemic in the country and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) advise to Nigerians to regularly wash their hands with clean, running water, findings by The Guardian showed that most residents in the city comply with the directive but some rural dwellers, especially those in Ogoni, see the preventive measure as arduous.

The economic woes occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for some residents to buy the quantity of water required for their domestic use and adhere to the regular washing of hands. This is as poor electricity supply has worsened the situation. For instance, last month, several parts of the state suffered a power failure and people were seen hovering the streets with buckets and jerry cans searching for water because boreholes could not function.

Speaking with The Guardian, Mr. Emma Bright, who resides along Creek road in Port Harcourt Township, said: “We rely on water vendors for water supply and the situation is pathetic because following the current economic woes, it is difficult for a family to buy enough water that will be adequate for bathing, cooking, drinking and washing. You notice that the acute lack of public water is affecting our sanitary system.”

Another resident, Dr. Patience Osaroejiji, who lives in Eleme in Ogoniland, said the water challenges in Eleme became worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. She affirmed that the situation has forced residents to use contaminated water at home.

“Ogoni women requested that water should be given to them as palliatives during the lockdown but nobody listened to us. We started using contaminated water from wells, rivers and boreholes; sometimes after cooking, we can’t eat the food because the water affects the taste of the food,” she said.

Osaroejiji urged both the federal and state governments and the United Nations to look into their matter.

Chairman and Village Head, Bodo City, Chief Saint Emmah, also said the people use contaminated stream and river water to cook and bathe.

“People often fall sick. We have sunburn and we are not happy. The NCDC told us to wash hands regularly but nobody is asking, ‘where and what quality of water are you using to wash hands’,” he said.

A Consultant Physician and Dermatologist at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Dr. Dasetima Altraide, warned that it was unsafe for residents to use contaminated water to wash hands, cook or drink, noting that chemicals in such water could result in contact dermatitis and other serious health challenges.

The State Commissioner for Water Resources, Tamunosisi Gogo-Jaja, acknowledged that a lot of residents in the state were using contaminated water, stating that the ministry had opened a compulsory website to enable it to monitor the activities of borehole drillers.

“We have opened a website to monitor the activities of borehole drillers and detect quacks in the industry to ensure that the water served to the people of Rivers State is of high quality – standard, clean, fresh and safe for our people to drink.

“A lot of them serve our people contaminated water; all borehole drillers in the state are expected to register with the ministry through the website. The registration is free; anyone who fails to register would be sanctioned,” he stated.

‘90% Of Kebbi Residents Use Borehole Water’
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi
A retired civil servant in Kebbi State, Mallam Usman Hassan, has said that 90 per cent of people living in the state capital use borehole water in their homes.

According to him, people no longer depend on the public water supply.

“In my house, being a trained health worker, we use borehole water and I dare say that, that is the case with 90 per cent of Birnin Kebbi residents. I use to counsel my family to wash their hands before eating and make sure that they drink good water. So, we try to boil the water we use to avoid anything unhygienic,” he added.

The Commissioner for Water Resources, Nora Kangiwa, in his response, said that government was committed to providing potable water to the people.

He explained that the Dukku Dam had been rehabilitated, adding that the government has embarked on the rehabilitation of all water facilities across the state.

He urged federal establishments in the state, companies and industries to always pay their water rate in order to improve the state’s revenue.


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