By Abdulwaheed Sofiullahi
Abdullahi Muhammad, 52, ekes a living as a motorcycle operator and often heads out early to make some money during the early morning rush hour when passengers are in a haste to arrive their destination early. However, before he goes out with his noisy automobile, he yells out his children’s names to join other children in the community toiling for water at a time they should be preparing for school.
Mr Muhammad, who lives in Kanwa Community, Warawa Local Government Area (LGA) in Kano State, Northwest Nigeria, laments on the poor access to potable water in his community and its multiple impact on their livelihoods. Residents of the community trek long distances in search of clean water.
“Lack of water has caused us untold hardship. Government is yet to provide us with pipe-borne water despite our repeated calls for help in this regard,” he told DAILY NIGERIAN, calling some of his colleagues to come closer and narrate their experiences.
Mr Muhammad said his children wake up as early as 4am and sometimes trek about 20-kilometers to neighboring villages such as Makoli and Zogarawa to fetch water from a borehole, adding that without this, he and his family have to rely on an unclean stream water for drinking and other domestic uses.
Access to potable water has become a perennial nagging issue in rural development in Nigeria. According to UNICEF, access to safe drinking water remains a huge challenge to the majority of Nigerians, especially those living in rural areas. It is estimated that about 69 million people do not have access to clean water sources and 19 million rural dwellers walk long distances to collect unsafe water from lakes, streams and rivers.
“Children are no more attending school” – The headmaster of Kanwa Primary School
Poor access to water, especially in rural areas is usually a signpost of other problems in the offing. One of the first casualties is the education of children and wards. Mr Muhammad’s children have long stopped attending school.
“Four of my children are no longer in school. One of them has spent 2 years, the other one, 4 years and they could not cope because of their responsibilities. They don’t have any work except fetching water, starting from 4 am and they sometimes return only in the evening. I have a large family and we use a lot of water daily.”
A visit to Kanwa Primary School in Mr Muhammad’s neighborhood on Friday, June 10, paints an appalling scenario. All of the school’s student population could fit into a classroom. The school has only four classrooms. According to the headmaster, Sunusi Jafar, attendance has been irregular with dropouts also on the increase.
“Most of the children in this community are no longer coming to school. That’s why you can see some classes are empty. When I asked some of their parents, they said that the children are helping them to source water. It’s very disheartening. This moment, you see a pupil in the school and the next moment, he is no longer attending classes all because of water.”
Despite the country’s law granting free and compulsory primary education, about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years, like those in Kanwa community are school dropouts. Getting out-of-school children back into education poses a massive challenge. UNICEF’s Education Specialist, Mutaka Muktarthat, in a fact sheet presented at a virtual meeting in August 2020 on alternate pathways and future of Almajiri children, said Kano state ranked highest in the population of out-of-school children in the country.
The National Bureau of Statistics ,NBS, in a 2020 report revealed that a quarter of Nigeria’s 40.8 million school-age children was not attending primary education. The 10 states at the top of the chart had about 5.2 million of the country’s 10.2 million out-of-school children. Kano State ranked highest with 989,234, while Akwa-Ibom (581,800), Katsina (536,122), and Kaduna (524,670) followed closely.
“We fall sick occasionally because we drink water from the same source with animals” – community members
Poor access to water is also taking its toll on the health of residents of the community. Salmanu Isah, 33, rears cattle and his daily routine does not fall short of trekking over 20 kilometers from Kanwa to Zogarawa community in search of water. Alongside his cows, jerry cans and one of his children, Mr Isah’s day is rarely complete without finding water for himself and his animals.
“I am disturbed whenever I see my children fetching water and not going to school for about 4 months, but I am helpless. We need water whether clean or dirty. Due to the dirty water we consume, we have contracted different kinds of diseases especially cholera, and typhoid,” Mr Isah said.
Nura Yakubu, another community resident noted that the lack of clean water is one of the reasons why the community is facing untold hardship. “We have been facing a water crisis for a long period of time. A major problem is the long distance. It costs N150 to ride a bike before we can access clean water from a far distance. We drink, cook and perform ablution from the available water source,” he said.
Data released in 2017 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, disclosed that hazardous water sources, poor access to basic handwashing facilities, and unsafe sanitation are linked to 1.5 million deaths across the world yearly.
In Kanwa community, cholera is a popular nemesis. Ibrahim Zakariyyah, 53, has been consuming different herbal concoctions for weeks purportedly to cure cholera which is rife in his neighbourhood.
“As I am talking to you, I am not really strong. This cholera sickness started in 2020 and since then, I used to boil leaves and other traditional medicine. When I went to the hospital last year, they told me I had cholera because of the dirty water I am drinking. They gave me some drug prescriptions which I can’t avoid. Sometimes, I may feel fine for a week or more but later the thing (illness) would start affecting me again,” Mr Zakariyyah said.
Even more, there are reported cases of kidnapping, and sexual violence by community members whenever they go in search of water.
Sumayya Usmanu, 21, recalls an ugly experience that happened recently. She walked to a neighbouring community to look for water and had to join a long queue. It only got to her turn at dawn and was left with no choice than to trek back to her community at night.
“I was attacked by three unknown men who attempted to kidnap me before I was rescued by some hunters. I was injured in the process and made up my mind that I will never stay out late while searching for water. It was a scary and traumatic experience,” Ms Usmanu said.
Scary water test result
DAILY NIGERIAN subjected the water consumed by some residents of the community to a laboratory test. The tests conducted at MAMS Consultancy Services, Kano showed that the water consumed by the community is unsafe, and contaminated with harmful microorganisms.
According to the test result, Psedomonas aeruginosa, one of the most dangerous bacteria known to cause inward fever, vomiting and abdominal pain was present in high proportion. The water also contained in high proportion a group of microorganisms called coliform bacteria, indicating amongst other things, fecal contamination and the presence of harmful, disease-causing organisms.
A 2019 report by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and UNICEF, showed that one-third of Nigeria’s population drink contaminated water while 130,000 Nigerian children die annually as a result of water-related infections.
Coliform bacteria include Escherichia coli, and Salmonella species. When these species are present in high proportion in any drinking water they often cause life-threatening diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and hepatitis amongst others.
“I grew up with scarcity and lack of potable water” – Sabitu Hamza, Kanwa community head
Sabitu Hamza, sits at the front of his house with a chewing stick in his mouth. He casually takes a glance at some residents struggling to push a cart filled with jerry cans of water. The 56-year-old community head was born in Kanwa. He laments that he and his people are yet to feel government’s impact with water scarcity being a perennial problem since he was a child.
“I grew up and met this water problem. Our elders used to tell us that this era of water scarcity is better than theirs. Even when I was in primary school, I had to fetch water before going to school and failure to do that might lead to serious water problems in the house. I remember some years ago when I used to step out very early to look for water and return home late in the evening,” he said.
He highlighted poor school attendance and enrollment as part of the negative consequences caused by the lack of drinkable water in the community.
“The unsafe water we are consuming has caused many diseases but we have no other choice. We often record outbreaks of diseases, but it has reduced in recent times. Perhaps our body system has adapted well. Our children drop out of school due to this problem because every morning they have to fetch water for their families,” he stressed.
More saddened tales
Muhammad Khalid, 35, has been pushing a heavy cart filled with fifteen jerrycans from a very long distance. He draws up his colored shirt, cleans up the sweat, and moves closer to the bank of a popular stream in the area.
“Throughout today fetching water has been my work and this is my second round. Anytime I want my children to go to school, I have to come out very early in the morning to fetch water but that will imply that I won’t have any income for that day,” Mr Khalid said, pointing to his children.
He added that whenever he doesn’t fetch water, his children will have to skip school and go in search of water.
“Daily, my family uses an average of 8 Jerry cans of water,” he said while lamenting the high cost of purchase of borehole water in the area.
“They sell one 25 liters keg of borehole water for N25 to N30. We can barely afford it. Whenever there’s no money I have no choice but to turn to stream water even if it is not clean,” he added.
Multi-billion naira Kano water investments yet to make the desired impact
In 2018, the French Development Agency, AFD, supported the Kano Water project with the sum of N28.45 billion (€64.75 million). Years later, communities in the state still don’t have access to clean water.
On August 14, 2018, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources through the Honorable Minister, Suleiman Adamu, signed a partnership agreement for Expanded Water supply, Sanitation and Hygiene, PEWASH, with the Kano State Government. During the event, the Executive Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, expressed his delight at the agreement, adding that the N12.7 billion committed to the project would go a long way to improve access to water supply in the rural areas of the state.
“The total volume of the partnership is in the region of N12.7 billion which is a big amount of money, that clearly shows the concern Mr. President has for the rural common people who largely depend on hand pumps and motorized boreholes,” he said.
In October 2021, the Kano State government also approved the sum of N137 billion for the provision of portable water to combat cholera and address other challenges. This year, the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, through Partners for Development launched a three-year $3.5 million Water Improvement and Sanitation Enhancement, WISE programme to improve water safety in Jigawa and Kano states.
Curiously, despite being a water-poor community, Kanwa is not a beneficiary of any viable rural water supply project in the state. The borehole project sited in Kanwa to cushion the impact of water scarcity only worked a few times before packing up. According to a resident of the community, Suaibu Musa, the project was executed a few years ago under the Federal Government’s Zonal Intervention Project, ZIP.
Mr Musa told this newspaper that the project which was the first of its kind in the community, didn’t last long because the contractor made use of sub-standard products.
“When it came, we thought it was something that will end our hardship but unfortunately, it stopped working after a short period,” Mr Musa added.
Kano Ministry of Education Reacts
In an interview with this reporter, the Permanent Secretary, Kano State Ministry of Education, Lauratu Ado-Diso, confirmed that Warawa Local Government Area has one of the highest number of out-of-school children in Kano adding that the LGA was not abandoned by the government and have also benefitted from some intervention projects in the past.
“It is true Warawa is one of the Local Government Areas in Kano with low education indicators including high school dropout and low enrollment. Taking this into account, the LGA was considered to benefit from some of the state government’s interventions. And some of them (residents) were selected to benefit from the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office, FCDO.
“The program implementation activities commenced with advocacy to the Emir of Gaya and town hall meetings with key stakeholders in Warawa communities. The program supports teaching and learning at a foundational level working with communities to ensure all needs in schools are supported from FCDO.
“Under the School–Based Management Committee, SBMC Improvement Plan, the state and federal government under UBEC/SUBEB joint matching grants, disbursed school grants to 5 wards to enable them make minor repairs with the highest amount of ₦7m disbursed to Garin Dau through SBMC school account in Warawa and another ₦2million to Yandalla and 3 others,” she added.
The permanent secretary said providing support to communities is a gradual process because the state government cannot do everything.
“One key thing we are doing to address the issue of school dropout, is sensitization and awareness campaigns for parents and guardians to also do the needful and support the government. As I have mentioned earlier, Kanwa is one of the communities in Kano and there are others and government is working in phases to address these issues.”
“The MOE is synergizing with relevant agencies such as the Ministry for Community and Rural Development whose mandate is to provide such social amenities to communities. With limited funds and unlimited wants and needs, the government is left with providing such services in phases,” she said.
Meanwhile, an expert in non-formal education at the Department of Adult Education and Community Services, Bayero University, Kano, Dr. Auwal Aliyu has reacted to the findings of this report.
Mr Aliyu said out of school children pose a huge danger to the country’s security, adding that communities like Kanwa and its neighborhoods are at risk of rising insecurity if the situation is not arrested. He added that trekking long distances makes children, especially the girl child vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.
“Out of school children, particularly the girls, are easily influenced and introduced to bad habits. In a research by the Girls Education Partnership, which I am part of, part of the most critical problem we have found out is that, high school dropout statistics is mainly caused by poor access to clean and potable water.”
Calling on the government and other stakeholders to come to the aid of water poor communities like Kanwa, Mr Aliyu said there is need for a complete overhaul of water supply architecture in the state, with poor rural communities struggling with school attendance given the utmost priority.
“Government must urgently rethink water supply and delivery across the state. Attention should be paid to places like Kanwa and other communities whose livelihoods including education is impacted negatively by lack of water,” he added.