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Water Water Nowhere, As Enugu Thirsts For Solution

People fetching water from the Mmiri Ani stream PHOTO: LAWRENCE NJOKU
People fetching water from the Mmiri Ani stream PHOTO: LAWRENCE NJOKU

Desperate Residents Bewail Decades Of Scarcity

THE season of water scarcity is here. It is common now in the streets of Enugu State to find water containers of all shapes and sizes waiting to be filled up at shallow wells, boreholes and streams. The shortage is more pronounced because the rains have stopped. Supply trucks can be seen everywhere. It is boom period for their owners, as residents who can afford to pay queue up for their service.

Enugu is an organised and well-mapped out city. There are beautiful houses, fine roads and streetlights. Security wise, one could pass it as having less crime rate. But the absence of water is proving an albatross.

Although many homes have shallow wells, majority of these wells dry up during the dry season, forcing residents to search desperately for alternatives. As early as 4am, the city dwellers are roused from sleep by the footsteps and din of young boys and girls armed with water containers. Some pack vessels in wheelbarrows. Some hold cups with which they scoop water into bigger containers. The streams, of course, are always congested, especially in the morning and evening hours.

At Independence Layout, one of the highbrow parts of Enugu, the situation is an embarrassing contradiction. The place is inhabited by prominent persons and is located near the state’s Government House. The houses are beautiful, the environment is tidy, but the people patronise water tankers or draw from streams. It was learnt that in the over 20 years since the area has existed, no water pipe has passed through it.

A popular stream, ‘Mmiri ani’, has consequently become a trusted source of the precious liquid, which is best ‘harvested’ in the early hours or very late in the night. The water, however, is not drinkable, as its purity seems to be in doubt.

The Idaw River area, mainly populated by low-income earners, has a similar story. The people draw from a stream called Nyaba. Many residents say the water is not fit for drinking on account of its offensive odour and colour. Children, meanwhile, bathe and wash their clothes in it daily. Like Independence Layout, the Idaw River area has never had water pipes.

Voicing his frustration over the development, a resident in the area told The Guardian: “Idaw River has never had potable water. Nyaba remains our only source. People who can afford sachet water buy them for drinking. But for many of us who cannot, we fetch water from Nyaba early in the morning, boil it and keep it for drinking.”

Abakpa Nike is another densely populated area of the state. Its inhabitants draw water from the popular Ogba na Okwute River, as well as underground wells. The story is the same in Emene, regarded as an industrial hub in the state. Although Emene is as old as Enugu, perhaps even older, access to potable water in the area is a challenge.

But in some parts of the state, like Transekulu, GRA, New Layout, Ogui road and Coal Camp, where water facilities exist, there hasn’t been regular supply by the state’s Water Corporation. In these places, many homes have big tanks and shallow wells. Vehicle owners, whose offices are located in areas where the taps run, pack their cars with empty containers while leaving for work in the quest for water. In these places, water is sold according to the sizes of containers. A 25-liter vessel is sold for N10-N15. The price is higher in places without pipe borne water.

Efforts by the state government to end the water shortage have often been frustrated by a combination of vandalisation of equipment, epileptic power supply and failure to maintain existing facilities.

The Guardian learnt that since it was built (between 1980 and 1982), the Ajalli water works in Ezeagu Local Government, with an installed capacity of 77,000 cubic meters, never witnessed major maintenance operation until 2012. Instead, the state focused on establishing smaller water works, like the Iva Valley and Iyoke water schemes, to complement Ajalli. These schemes came up as a result of increase in the state’s population and frequent breakdown of facilities at the Ajalli plant.

It was also gathered that flooding at the Ajalli water scheme often leaves equipment submerged during the rainy period. According to a source at the corporation’s headquarters in Enugu, “If you have noticed, many times during the rainy season, much of what we supply is coloured. This is because our facilities are often submerged, thereby contaminating the water.”

In 2005, in what was considered an ambitious attempt at finding a permanent solution, the Governor Chimaroke Nnamani-led administration established the Oji River Augmentation Water Scheme. The N27bn project was expected to deliver 50 million litres of water per day to about one million residents. Time, perhaps, did not allow the administration to fulfill this dream. Nnamani left office in 2007.

In order to provide potable water for the people, the Governor Sullivan Chime-led administration in 2012 went into a partnership with the World Bank in a $27m deal to replace old pipes with ductile iron ones and extend supply to other parts of the state.

Although the state government refurbished some facilities with the funds, little success was achieved; contractors handling the project could not continue due to allegations of non-payment by the government. In fact, at Independence Layout, the contractor, a former member of the National Assembly, was said to have exhumed pipes already laid.

There was yet another attempt by the Chime government to execute a concession under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and with a private company, Goldtrust Limited, for the improvement of water supply in Enugu, last year.

Sources close to his government claimed the company would restore existing water treatment plants at Ajalli, Oji River and Iva Valley and build five new water treatment plants in the state. The company would also lay new 950 kilometers of transmission and distribution pipeline network using the best quality iron pipes and fittings. And at the end of construction, it would produce about 193.7 million litres of water daily to service the entire Enugu City population. This is in addition to creating 1000 new jobs.

But the plan ran into a hitch as the Eugene Odoh-led House of Assembly passed a motion stopping further execution of the agreement. This followed an alleged plot by the then governor to “illegally concession water for 25 years to a company related to a member of his family.” There were allegations that the company would collect revenues under the period, thereby usurping the function of the Water Corporation.

The lawmakers expressed dismay at a concession that affects the Corporation without the knowledge of the legislative arm of government, even while there was a $50m loan reportedly tied to projects of the Corporation.

With Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s coming on board, eight months ago, there are high expectations that a permanent solution would be found.

One resident, Mr. Mike Onah, said: “I think the governor should show the same level of zeal the last administration displayed on road infrastructure. He will have his name in gold, as one who succeeded where others failed. I weep sometimes when I realise that only areas in the old layouts enjoy pipe borne water. Sadly, the new layouts, which harbour even more residents, are not in the plan of the Water Corporation.”

The incumbent Commissioner for Water Resources in the state, Chief Charles Egumgbe, said the state government is aware of the enormous challenge residents face over water.

He said the plan of the government is to improve existing facilities and extend services to parts of the state that lack access to water. He, however, described the World Bank pact of the last administration, as a setback, saying the controversy it generated, especially about the contractors, is yet to settle.

Egumgbe explained that the state government has already begun an in-house cleansing, aimed at making the Corporation effective. He stressed that failure by residents to pay water rates is hampering operation at the Corporation.

To tackle this, he said the collection of water revenue has been enhanced, alongside the metering of consumers, adding, “When supply is consolidated, we will move into new areas of the state to ensure that those who are willing to pay have constant access.”

He disclosed that whereas the state requires about 100,000 cubic meters daily to meet needs, the Corporation