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NIGERIA: Make potable water run again

make_portable Since the 1999 outset of democratic rule in Nigeria, public taps have not had water running in them consistently. These are at variance with the prime days of the Garden City, for example when the entire Rivers State had regular water supply. The water flowed freely in all water taps. The rivers of water; saline and fresh, which surrounded the state, were not the trusted drinking water sources.

Government was dutiful to provide the water needed for drinking. And every social service worked then. Drinking water ran through and out of public and yard taps. It was trusted and safe. Only a few streams were trusted and relied upon by the people to fetch drinking water. That was mostly in the rural areas.

Government was conscious of public good. It ensured its facilities worked. The population growth rate was slow. The trek and hand pulling canoe journeys, when embarked upon, were not for a long distance to get the water. The taps provided healthy drinking water. As government showed commitment, its officers were up and coming with saddled tasks.

They monitored and pumped the water. The pressure in the underground pipes was strong. It pushed up water to gush through the taps. There were functional taps in Borikiri, in old Port Harcourt Township, Diobu areas and Rumuola town. The taps in Rumuomasi worked also. And it was the case at Rumubekwe as well as the entire Rivers State.

The facilities never came under any pressure difficult for the personnel to handle. It was a sacred duty that needed to be performed. The pumping stations at Borikiri, Station Road, Mile one Diobu and Rumuola Town had functional generators. The steamed and water was pumped. There was regular servicing of the equipment. And the water supply of both surface and ground water sources were exploited.

The water was treated at the plants, distribution was effective, the elevated water tanks were maintained and the pipes were not allowed to break down without attention. Almost every house especially in the Garden City and its environs was connected. This was aside the public taps that were installed along streets and major roads. Each public stand pipe, as a standard, was intended to serve at least two hundred and fifty people. But can this be the case today?

The population growth rate had tripped and caught the government sleeping. The challenge of water consumption standard of nowadays has as well surpassed the usual planning rate at one hundred and twenty litres per capital per day for urban area and sixty litres per day for rural areas. And government has no measure visibly to address the challenge. What is seen is that it is just difficult to measure water supply rate in today’s hardly unplanned society.

The year by year neglect of water supply by successive government administration had taken a hard toll. As the population grew, there were no commensurate attentions paid to maintain and upgrade the facilities. This was a great undoing. For as the water need increased, the available facilities came under undue pressure.

This did not come suddenly. Full scale decay plagued the sub-sector in the late 80s’s till date. Yet the water need had not receded. In fact water is an integral part of life. It is used for drinking, to wash and to bath. Living just gets frustrated without water. It is both a social and economic resources.

So that as the government effort became inconsistent, the gap was gradually filled by private borehole owners. Government looked away. And the number grew so large to become the primary source of water supply, instead of functioning as a standby provider. Government could still not check it then and now.

The government water supply activity was yet to steer on stream. The lack of adequate check allows the private boreholes to disregard depth rules. The boreholes required depth of one hundred and fifty feet for the upland areas and two hundred feet at the riverine areas are not respected.

As the rules got violated, the quality of water supply was compromised. Portable water supply continues to be a major concern in the state. The lack of it had signaled attendant water bore diseases. Not too distant time ago, there was cholera inflection outbreak in the parts of Opobo and Akuku tori local government areas. That would have been avoided. There are still cases of diarrhea, ochocerciasis, fever, malaria and others diseases remain enormous threats to the people. These situations will persist if the people do not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Most political will expressed in the successive years by government appeared eloquent. But the speeches and far reaching decisions had not however, commensurate the actions taken. The needed capacity to take water resources development and management to the next trusted higher level had been epileptic.

Drinking water is for the people. It is for their living. It is not to stay on the pages of papers. It is not to be the talk for the board and conference rooms alone. Water and portable water supply should be visible. And it should be available. The health of the people is now at the mercy of private and often unregulated borehole business men. There are also mass producers of sachet water. This is a major challenge in Port Harcourt. It is also a threat to the environment.

But every declaration of government had raised hope in the heart of the people. They believe the conscientious effort to rehabilitate, replace and lay new pipeline in the state. And they looked forward to it. But the days that come after just cloth water supply efforts with illusion.

At a media briefing, the state commissioner for water resources and rural development, Mrs. Patricia Hart blamed the problem on previous government. Such regimes neglected water pipelines in the state. The result was the slow pace of achieving portable water supply to residents in the state. What the present government was doing now was to replace all physical water infrastructures in the state.

The intention was to make sure that water run freely and regularly, at least for twenty hours daily. Indeed, early 2010, public and some yard taps started to gush water. There was joy expressed by the people. How so relieving the portable water supply by government could be? It was witnessed in parts of the old Port Harcourt Township, Diobu and Rumuomasi. This action is expected to be sustained. That was the commitment expressed by the commissioner. And the attendant pricing regime would not be a threat.

In the days before, when government was apt at it, there were effective and commensurate water rates paid. The designated officers determined the rate. And it would still be with an economic pricing scheme now. This would encourage rational use and cost recovery. Of course the private borehole water provider charges for the water he provides.

Governor Amaechi had also expressed determination to water supply. At a consultative forum on portable water supply in Port Harcourt, he said he was guided by conscience not to fail like previous government in water supply. He said he would provide portable water to rivers people. That was a promise. What plagued other regimes was that they wanted immediate solution to the years of neglect in water supply.

Governor Amaechi is taking a careful study of the situation. He wants to make his effort in the sub-sector to be sustainable in solving the problem. He also wondered why the many water projects embarked upon by the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority, NDBDA, in the state were non functional or had suffered abandonment.

Governor Amaechi was said to have told NDBDA to collaborate with his government. The effort was to ensure sustainability of water supply in the state. One area of such collaboration was to channel all money for water projects through the Rivers State Government.

But this stance of government had been a seeming political posturing. It lifespan is elapsing; four years, and no tangible solution is proffered for water supply. Indeed, good has looked on and allowed the people to take in untreated water and be exposed to several water borne diseases. Last year, there was an outbreak of cholera in OPOBBO Town and Abonnema with a repeat this year in Abonnema. When will water supply be a front burner issue not only in Rivers State but the whole country?

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