Tag Archives: Women searching for water

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.
    • 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 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.