Tag Archives: Rain water harvesting in Nigeria

Importance of access to potable water for women in developing countries: The Case of Nigeria

This blogger attended a church service in Britain in early October 2016 where a video was shown about how the church’s Mission succeeded in improving access to potable water to the people of a rural community school in East Africa using a simple method of rain water harvesting. This simple, cheap method involves channeling rain water from roofs of school buildings into covered concrete cisterns.  Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater.

The video brought back childhood memories concerning the challenges we faced searching for water which are similar to the current challenges rural communities face in  some parts of Nigeria for example a rural community in Benue State.

In Osogbo (my home town) our challenges can be summarized by taking a walk down memory lane as regards what happened to women and kids fetching water for household use in the mid-fifties. At that time we did not have piped borne water and we depended on two spring sources – one yields drinkable water while the other can be referred to as non-drinkable.

The drinkable source was an unprotected (i.e. uncovered) but developed spring source. It consisted of metal drums about 30 inches in diameter and 36 inches high jammed into the bed of a small wetland (akuro in Yoruba or fadama in World Bank parlance). It is referred to as adun mu (good tasty water)! We need to remember that good quality water has no taste. This source provided drinking water to people within a radius of about 11/2 miles, an area of dense population. Fetching water at this source involved long periods of queuing, especially during the dry seasons. Tempers usually become frayed which more often than not ended in shouting matches and at times fistfights.

The king’s wives also fetch their water here.  Whenever they came to fetch water, traditionally they were not supposed to queue at the spring source. The locals and the uneducated respected this tradition which was challenged by non-indigenes and new educated elites. This happened to be one of the beginning trends in the erosion of the traditional customs of the Yorubas in my area.

The non-drinkable source was called okanla, also a spring source. Its water had an awful taste possibly because it contained large amounts of dissolved solids. It was used for laundry. Osun River water was also used for laundry but was far from the populated area of the town.

The challenges the rural community faced in Benue State is well illustrated in the words of an elderly borehole water pump operator at Eja community (Oju LGA) in 2005. He stated that pregnancy was a rarity during the dry seasons before the WaterAid  water supply intervention because of the arduous task of walking long distances, carrying 25 litres of water, over steep inclines which usually resulted in miscarriages. He further noted that because women spent most nights away from home looking for water threatened the stability of their marriages.  Furthermore, most men wanted to avoid getting into a situation that was not in the interest of their spouses’ health.

Generally, communities obtain water from two sources – surface water and ground water. Surface water sources include streams, lakes, springs, wet lands, rain and rain water harvesting. Ground water sources comprise hand-dug wells, water supply boreholes.  For the purpose of this essay we will concentrate on potable water derived from these sources. This blog will also wish to consider another grouping of sources of water: sustained and un-sustained/transient sources.

Data on access to potable water by donors, states and institutions are at times based on total number of water points constructed, customer enumeration surveys and certain analytical and statistical methods. Experiences have shown that once water points are constructed, several factors affect whether they are functional for a reasonable length of time or non-functional within a few months of their completion. Such water points are here referred to as transient or sustained.  Access to potable water data are therefore estimates instead of computed or measured. It is not possible to have accurate data on access to potable water because access data only measures the situation at a time like a snap shot.

Water Sources could be transient for the following reasons:

  • Water points constructed, e.g. by the Federal Government of Nigeria, which do not have community based institutions to manage them (such points usually fall into disrepair once any part of the physical facility fails);
  • Those constructed by contractors that did a poor job such that the water points fail as soon as they are handed over to the community. The picture below is that of a water supply borehole at Bembe in Aiyedaade Local Government area, Osun State.
FGN Rural Borehole at Bembe near Orile Owu Osun state

FGN Rural Borehole at Bembe village near Orile Owu, Osun State, Nigeria

At this community the blogger was surprised to see people drawing water from a hand-dug well right next to a motorized water supply borehole constructed by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The villagers told the blogger that the borehole was only functional for a few months. This kind of facility is considered transient or un-sustained.

Uncoordinated investment in Nigeria’s water sector which has resulted in huge numbers of water points constructed by the RBDAs, for example, which are not handed over to the states or the communities and which are thus not being used but are recorded as water points serving certain numbers of people in the access data.

Other water points fail shortly after completion because of poor monitoring and reporting as well as the attitude of communities towards government properties and over reliance of these communities on government to do everything for them. Once such points fail, repairs that may cost just pittance will be left while awaiting government assistance. Such points which may have been added to the access data will fall in the category of transient water supply source.

In order to have fairly reliable estimate the WHO and UNICEF jointly organized a Rapid Assessment of Drinking Water Quality (RADWQ) in Nigeria in 2010. It was reported that though the methodology used worked well in Nigeria, but that the methodology needed some improvement. One key improvement sought would require visit to water sampling sites after selecting them to physically locate the sites because some sites visited by the teams did not have the technology allocated to them in the initial design of the project. The above case of Bembe in Ayedaade LGA, Osun State buttresses this point.

Table 2.2 of RADWQ report is on “Household access to water supplies” for each state. The table provides information on whether the households have improved or unimproved technology access. Improved technologies access comprise piped water, borehole, tubewells, protected dug wells, tankers and vendors. Unimproved technologies access comprise ponds, streams, rainwater and unprotected dug wells. The table noted that 51.5% of households have access to water from improved technology sources and that this estimate will go down to 47.1 % if water supplied by tanker truck or animal-drawn tankers is excluded from the analysis.

Charitywater.org/whywater/ summarizes how lack of access impacts the lives of women in the third world in four major ways.  The narrative above about the impacts of the activities of that Christian Mission in East Africa, mentioned above and that of the WaterAid in Nigeria  are suitably captured in these four major ways below:

  • Health
    • Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.
    • 43% of those deaths are children under five years old. Access to clean water and basic sanitation can save around 16,000 lives every week.
  • TIME
    • In Africa alone, women spend 40 billion hours a year walking for water.
    • Access to clean water gives communities more time to grow food, earn an income, and go to school — all of which fight poverty.
  • EDUCATION
    • Clean water helps keep kids in school, especially girls.
    • Less time collecting water means more time in class. Clean water and proper toilets at school means teenage girls don’t have to stay home for a week out of every month.
  • WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
    • Women are responsible for 72% of the water collected in Sub-Saharan Africa.
    • When a community gets water, women and girls get their lives back. They start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.
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Rain Water Harvesting and Life skills Development: Acton Students Show the Way

The article below was sent to me by one of the readers of this blog. It is a short article but contains several lessons which include water conservation, better use of students’ time, life skills development, and last but not the least, how our young ones can acquire tools of good citizenship.

The term rain water butt used in the article means “a water tank used to collect and store rain water runoff.”  M. K. C. Sridhar, A. O. Coker and S. A. Adegbuyi (2001) note that rain water harvesting has become a world-wide practice to meet the increasing demand for fresh water. According to them, in Nigeria it is widely practiced mostly in the southern part as the rainfall is widespread for over 8 months a year with mean intensity of 180 to 225 cm. Rain water harvesting is practised at individual level, household level, community level and occasionally at Local or State government level to augment the dwindling water supplies to urban centers. Their study describes the magnitude of rain water harvesting in selected communities in peri-urban areas obtained from a house to house survey, their behavioural practices in harvesting, storage and usage of the rain water, the quality of such waters and design of a sustainable system in one of the study areas.

It would be interesting to find out where rain water harvesting has been practiced at state level in Nigeria. In a study carried out by this blogger in March 2005 for WaterAid, it was discovered that at Obijago, a community of 1,371 people in Obi Local Government Area of Benue State, rain water harvesting was practiced using 8 concrete tanks. Considering the population of this community this blogger noted at the time that household rain water harvesting is also necessary in this community to supplement the effort of the local government.

Acton students’ novel way to harness the rain

Jul 25 2012 By Jane Harrison

WEEKS of rain may have got us down, but pupils at Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls have launched a project to conserve some of that water.

Girls at the school in Queens Drive, Acton, built a rain capture system, a large underground tank and a channel to run off the water from the geodesic dome they built earlier this year as an outdoor extension for the school.

They dug a channel, laid bricks and made concrete so they could pump the water, powered by a solar panel, to the nearby plants. The project, which uses maths, plumbing and steel-cutting skills, to name a few, is designed to help them work together and build life skills.

Teacher and specialist co-ordinator Mike Heyes said the girls were helped with the project by Darcy illiamson, who works on water management projects in India. He said the summer’s regular downpours would help the project, but had hindered their work to set it up.

He said: “We first planned this during the winter but hadn’t a clue the summer would be this bad so it is very muddy, but when it’s finished we can harness all this rain.

“At the time ground water levels were dropping across the country so we decided to do this to address the water loss. It’s really a grand version of a water butt at the end of your drainpipe.

“The girls have needed maths for things like working out the volume of the soil, they have learned how to how to mix cement and concrete, brick-laying and how to use silicone to make it water-tight, even
cutting steel.”

Fifteen girls are working on the project, which according to their maths teacher Hetal Patel, they are thoroughly enjoying.

She said: “They have been really keen and matured working as a team. If they want to go into engineering they now know what is involved. They have also surprised themselves becoming more confident about what they can do. It has been especially good for the quieter ones.”

Two of the pupils, Danielle Barbosa and Sivatharsini Sennappan, both 15, said they are revelling the challenge. Danielle, from West Acton, said: “I thought it was more of a man’s job and thought I couldn’t do it, but it’s fun. Some things have been useful like applying the maths.”

Sivatharsini, from Perivale, said: “I like this kind of thing, so I was really up for it, although my arms ache now. It has been good experience.”

Postscript: Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls is  in the U.K.