Sunday, 10 May 2015

#Benue: Reeling In The Agony Of Inadequate Water Supply

Water supply still remains a major challenge in Makurdi, the Benue State capital and other major agrarian towns in the state, even with the presence of the River Benue and several inland rivers.

Madam Grace Nimba, a fifty year old grandmother bears the brunt of shuttling almost a kilometer, countless times, to fill the 200 litre barrel of water tank in her backyard to cook, do chores and keep the lavatory clean in her North Bank settlement in Makurdi.

The frequent movement, to and from her source of clean water daily, is already having a toll on Nimba’s failing health. Her backache has intensified as she bears the pains of carrying 20 litre container in a city where water has become as scarce as gold.

She said “My back is hurting because of having to carry water over a long distance everyday. It appears we are yet to see an end to this problem. I am just tired ”, she cried as she narrated her daily agony to LEADERSHIP Weekend.

While Nimba had to endure the pains of water scarcity in her North Bank area, speedy water tankers, rusty and leaking, profusely make their ways to the water storage containers of eagerly waiting clients in New GRA, Kanshio, Terwase-Agbobu, Gada Villa, Achusa Media Village, Mobile Barracks Naka Road, High level and several parts of Makurdi.

The water shortage has not only hit the less income people but the wealthy too, especially those in the highbrow areas like the Judges Quarters in Makurdi.

The ugly part is that the streets of Makurdi is replete with bows, kegs and water vendors, all in search of this scarce commodity that has turned the lives of the people into a nightmare.

Contrary to the natural advantage of having one of Nigeria’s visible landmark, the River Benue, passing through the heart of Makurdi, the people of Benue state have had to grapple with perennial water scarcity, a situation that has become so notorious and embarrassing to the residents of the city.

While the shortage bites harder on the residents, water vendors who source water from private boreholes are smiling to the banks, as water tankers as well as individuals throng the various locations to buy water. A 20 litre of water now sells for between N25 and N30, a rate many residents have complained as way beyond their reach.

An elderly woman, Esther Abi, who has lived with her family in the New GRA area of Makurdi town for over thirty years, said she does not have portable pipe borne water in her residence and cannot afford to buy at high rate resorts to trekking long distance to fetch water. Abi said water pipes do not run in the area and that the place is rocky and impossible to dig a water well in except a borehole.

Abi’s family who hail from Oju local government area of the state, stated that the lack of water situation in her community is very alarming, and that the condition has not made any difference with the so much articulated basic amenities which prompt the people to migrate to the urban centres.

However, Benue state government has executed greater water works projects in the three major towns of the state, but it is yet to actualize the mandatory obligation of supplying adequate water to the people. This situation has put the people in more vulnerable parts of the state at risk of contracting water borne diseases.

A resident of the New GRA in Makurdi who simply gave his name as Oche, said due to the long distance from their homes to the location of the borehole, the mobile water vendors popularly called mairuwa, are most times, unable to supply water for those who are ready to buy.

Additionally, the price of water supply, whether from private or government owned tankers, is very high and the situation has caused untold hardship on the citizens of Benue state. The state government is said to be faced with the major challenge of reticulation, a project which its financial resources are not sufficient to execute.

In 2008, Governor Gabriel Suswam, awarded contracts for the construction of Greater Makurdi Water Works, Otobi Water Works in Otukpo and Katsina-Ala Water Works at the cost of N4.99 billion, N2.6 billion and N1.5 billion respectively.

The water project in Makurdi was given out to Gilmor Nigeria Limited, while those of Otobi and Katsina-Ala were given to CGC Nigeria Limited. The three water projects were to be completed within the period of 18 to 24 months.

The Makurdi water works has the capacity to supply 100,000 cubic metres of water per day while Otobi and Katsina-Ala have capacity for 15,000 cubic metres each.

In February 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan, during a visit to the state, commissioned the Greater Makurdi Water Works projects. But the project has not yielded the expected result of providing water to the people since it was commissioned. The state government said it needed N5billion to fund the reticulation process.

However, it can best be adduced that the huge investments which the government has made in the water sector would be a total sham if the reticulation project is not executed especially now that the present administration is left with just less than three weeks to go.

The water crisis situation in Benue state is pathetic because Makurdi, the state capital, is situated at the river bank and the River Benue run through the major towns of the state. It is common and very pitiable to see children and women undergoing great difficulties searching for water. Some women are easily seen with babies strapped to their backs and trekking long distances to look for or to buy water.

The banks of River Benue have been turned to a huge beach, not for recreation but by water starved residents who throng the rive banks, on daily basis, to do their chores, bath and also fetch water. Many experts have warned that their activities are a threat to human and aquatic life due to toxins from soaps discharged into the river.

The situation is worse in the villages where a huge majority of the populace largely depend on shallow streams and muddy wells to survive. In Otukpo, water shortage has become an integral part of the people’s life. In 2013, many hospitals in Otukpo compelled patients going for operations to come with 20 litres of water before undergoing surgical operation.

Retrospectively, in September 2014, the Benue State government approved the sum of N4.5 billion for the reticulation of the Greater Makurdi Water Works. The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Justine Amase, had briefed journalists on the outcome of the state executive council meeting. He further assured that the project would be completed by the Governor Gabriel Suswam’s administration before it leaves office on May 29 this month.

Amase said the contract has been awarded to CGC Nigeria Limited and that it is expected to be carried out in phases, beginning with the North Bank area. He insisted that Governor Suswam would not leave any stone unturned in ensuring that the contract is executed in line with laid down specifications.

But several months after the state government approved the funds to carry out the reticulation beginning with the major areas in Makurdi, the pipes are still dry, and there is no hope in sight regarding whether the project would be realistically completed before the handover date of May 29.

The Benue state Commissioner for Water Resources, Mrs. Esther Dzungwe, was not available to comment on the project as at the time of filing this report, but a Director in the ministry who pleaded anonymity, said “they said the reticulation project is awarded but we do not know how much and if work has started or whether it will be completed in due time.”

Meanwhile, there is high increase in the price of water supply. A water vendor who was met at an elite area in Makurdi, who simply gave his name as Abdul, told LEADERSHIP Weekend, that to fill a big water tanker from the state water board, cost about N2, 500.

“We buy water here at N2, 500 and we later sell to residents around the elite districts of New GRA and modern market areas among others. We do sell to customers a full water tank, with transportation charges at N6000 and N7000. But the price varies depending on the distance where the supply is made and the number of tanks a customer is able to buy,” Abdul stated.

When contacted, the general manager of Benue State Water and Sanitation Agency, Engr. Michael Zungu, said the acute lack of water supply is propelled by the rusty pipes and the non-reticulation which makes it more difficult to pump water to distant areas.

“The water tankers are not owned by the state water board but we collect a fee of N2,500 to supply water to them. Because the pipes are rusty and the present reticulation was done in 1976, it is not possible to supply water to distant metropolis in the town. Government has awarded the reticulation contract but I seriously believe only the next administration can complete the process.” Zungu stated.

Solomon Ayado (Makurdi)

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