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The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) is worried about water-borne diseases in the country especially in the Niger Delta region. The UN interventionist agency is particularly concerned that lack of access to potable water has led to deaths among infants.

UNICEF in partnership with the European Union (EU) is deploying environmentally-friendly technology, resources and expertise to reduce and gradually eliminate water-related diseases killing children in various states in the Niger Delta.

Therefore, UNICEF as a matter of policy, collaborates with government at all levels to set standards for water and sanitation systems and supplies, and supports them with innovative approaches such as Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a non-subsidy approach to promoting improved household sanitation like latrines.

The UN agency also helps build capacities of water authorities to improve provision and management of water facilities (boreholes and protected hand-dug wells depending on geology of the area) to schools, health centers and rural communities.

The motive is to encourage governments to expand the systems to enable more Nigerians have sustainable access to sanitation and safe water. Recently, Bayelsa State, where access to clean water seems a mirage, became the focus of the agencies.

In conjunction with the Bayelsa State Government, UNICEF and EU gathered media executives at Otuoke, Ogbia Local Government Area, to examine challenges of lack of drinkable water in the state. The workshop on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) brought notable journalists in a roundtable to learn from experts and become part of the solutions to a mountain-like problem.

Participants are the Programme Manager, Winikime Asingbi; Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Inebiri Daniel; Sanitation Officer, Andrew Tarivi; Water Supply Officer, Adolphus Alfred; Hygiene Education Officer, Felicia Afenfia and UNICEF State Consultant, Bright Nwaonu.

UNICEF’s WASH specialist Martha Hoodia said access to water and proper sanitation could reduce poverty through decrease in morbidity, mortality, reduction in health expenditures, among others.

She said EU, UNICEF and the Bayelsa State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), have been developing various innovative approaches to end water-related deaths in rural communities. She said UNICEF and its partners with effective knowledge management produced learning-based approaches and evidence-based advocacy and programmes to to stop the menace in communities.

Diarrhea was identified as the third highest cause of death in children. Therefore, schools were implored to build safe and clean toilets. Schools were also asked to ensure that children have access to potable water and sanitation.

Advantages of sanitation were discussed by the participants. Clean procedures help to reduce morbidity and mortality; healthcare expenditure and poverty. It also increases productivity, school attendance and income generation opportunities.

The Programme Officer, Bayelsa RUWASSA, Asingbi Winikime, noted that in partnership with UNICEF and EU, the agency started work on sanitation and hygiene in two local government areas of the state. Winikime applauded achievements recorded in the two councils covered and called on the state government to reach out to six other local government areas.

Winikime’s presentation raised the interest of the participants, who expressed the desire to tour the two councils and see work done by all the interventionist agencies. They wanted to see whether the agencies were really walking their talk.

The trip was to enable the participants see what the experts described as the reverse osmosis, which helps to treat and preserve water for 20 years; ecological latrine (dry pit or drum latrine) used to counter open defecation and the water safety plan like the bio sand filtration for converting the river water into drinkable colourless, odourless and tasteless water.

The EU/UNICEF intervention commenced in Bayelsa State in 2013 with two focal councils of Brass and Kolokuma-Opokuma, with the overall objective to mitigate violence in the Niger Delta states through the provision of water and sanitation facilities and promotion of safe hygiene practices.

To tour the two councils, the participants were divided into two groups. While one group visited Brass, the other went to Kolokuma-Opokuma. The Niger Delta Report joined the Kolokuma-Opokuma trip.

The journey terminated at Ekpotuari community. The area is said to have a population of 1,897 people including 854 males and 1043 females. Hitherto, residents practised open defecation. They defecated along bush parts and water bodies. They also used the same water for domestic activities such as cooking, bathing and drinking.

The unhygienic system caused health crisis in the community. It led to infections, snake bites, cholera, diarrhea which in most cases resulted to death. But the calamity was reversed by UNICEF/EU when they intervened to eliminate the practice of open defecation. They sponsored the construction of the dry drum pit latrine, an innovative local technology for sewage disposal. It was delivered by RUWASSA.

The families of Churchill Okotori and Janet Tombrigbofa, who benefitted from the intervention described it as a huge relief to the community.

“The dry drum pit latrine is a huge relief. It is quite accessible because of its location. It prevents infections, enables an odorless environment, creates a high sense of hygiene and safety”, they said.

Indeed, the local technology is a great innovation. The dry drum pit latrine is designed to separate urine from faeces during the process of defecation. It is like a normal latrine but it has a pipe leading to the drum for the faeces and a jerrican for urine.

After excreting, the user sprinkles ashes on the faeces through the pipe and goes out to wash hands with the tippy tap. Water cannot be used for the latrine because as explained by Onuoha-Ogwe, water decomposes excreta.

Tomgbribofa attested to the effectiveness of the latrine. “Whenever the Jerrican or drum fills up, they are rolled aside and replaced with another. The jerrican is allowed to sediment for three weeks then poured on farmland as manure for agricultural purposes as it facilitates rapid growth of vegetables, cassava and plantain.

“The drum which is kept aside when full is sprinkled with ashes which help sediment it and convert it to manure that looks like sand. It can also be used for agricultural purposes and sand filling of bumps on roads.

“The dry drum pit latrine is used by both young and old. It takes the drum months to get filled. As a matter of fact, it was constructed for the Okotori’s and Tomgboribofa’s compound over three months ago and till now, it is yet to be full”.

The facility requires diligent maintenance. If it is not mismanaged, it does not develop any problem for a long time. But the locals still view it as very expensive to construct. The said its construction required about N50,000.

But Asingbi said persons desiring to have more of the latrines should contribute to it to enable them value and handle the facility with care. “RUWASSA will provide the manpower to fix the facility for them.

“All that is required of the people is to get tapoline or any other cover for privacy, wood for the staircase as it needs to be raised up to place the drums under it”, Winikime said.

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