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Their water in their hands: Communities take control of water source, safety

On a mat, under a tree, a village head ponders his relationship with water. Aliyu Usman, elderly and well beyond a grandfather, is also the…

On a mat, under a tree, a village head ponders his relationship with water.

Aliyu Usman, elderly and well beyond a grandfather, is also the head of Garin Mano community, in Mallam Madori local government area of Jigawa.

He spent the first 60 years of his life always searching for water: to drink, to wash, to cook, to feed few household livestock that roamed Garin Mano.

For years, his water source—and that of the dozens of households he oversees—was a “rijiya”, an open well, sited far from his home.

For more than 60 years, his community drew water from that well. That changed the day a new water source emerged—a handpump. And Garin Mano is doing everything to keep it pumping.

Around him, men—family heads and unmarried youth—gather. They are the brigade that keeps the pumps running.

Across Jigiwa, similar bands of community residents are tasking themselves to keep water installations working—at the cost of N20 contribution per household head.

Ibrahim Yahaya is secretary of a committee for water, sanitation and hygiene—and a meticulous record keeper.

It is his job to receive and collate “weekly contribution for repairing the handpump,” he says. His bookkeeping goes back years, documenting every meeting of the community, every N20 collected from each household.

“We accumulate it. When the pump breaks down, we repair it.” By that token, Garin Mano doesn’t wait for external help. It has two pumps installed, and downtime is at most two days before repair. Its taps keep running.

In Garin Mano, records of contributions, meeting and weekly sanitation have been meticulously kept over years

Pumps everywhere

In 2013, Babandi Alhassan, a consultant for water, sanitation and hygiene  helped conduct a baseline survey of water needs across Mallam Madori.

Fifteen motorized boreholes were spread across Mallam Madori, constructed by local, state and federal interventions. Alongside were 714 handpumps, said Alhassan.

But open wells—33 of them in disparate locations, shared by pastoral and nomadic communities—were a concern. In some communities, only two or three homes had latrines. The combination was worrisome.

Garin Mano entered into a pact. It got its first hand pump in 2008 after it was declared the first community to totally do away with open defecation. Its second pump came in 2014.

Jigawa’s affair with water is embedded in a project it undertook to reform the water supply and sanitation sector under a water, sanitation and hygiene programme of the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Funded by the European Union, the project since 2008 has moved onto a second phase, extending to a total 22 local government areas, with Jigawa’s Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency as implementer.

Jigawa is eager to match counterpart funding, but five local government areas are not covered. It has to provide “budgetary allocation for water and sanitation in five local government areas not covered,” says Labaran Adamu, managing director of the agency.

Jigawa’s allocation for water, sanitation and hygiene this year is N3.3 billion, he says, slightly less than last year’s N3.4 billion.

Children in Garin Mano take a go at the handpump, one of which supplies some 24 households

Watery tales

Inside the home of the chief, Zainab Nuhu is with four other women, all covered in veil. But they are excited to talk about how they have dealt water.

Nuhu recalls how she had to walk far through unpredictable terrain to get water.

“The road was bad. We suffered while going to fetch water.”

Getting to the water meant pitching a “tyre rubber” receptacle into the open well. Called a “guga”, the receptacle swung from one end of a rope; a woman tugged on the other end above the well.

“The rope would cut, we would tie the [broken halves] back together. It would cut again. Life was difficult then. Our palms were torn,” she recalls, showing off coarsened palms.

Sometimes it took two women pulling together to lift the water out of the well.

“Even when we were cooking, we have to leave food on the fire to go get water. Before we get back, the food is burnt.”

Another woman chimes in. “And we have to walk all the way back. Even when we are pregnant, and you have to walk with it. We suffered.”

Now the water sources are closer home, and it is common to see children doing the fetching.

Rakiya Adbullahi, garbed in grey veil, says there has been a lot of changes with the pumps closer home.

“Women can rest and children go fetch water. I can relax and drink water. Before when you had to go all that distance just to get water, you’d lose the strength to drink it from all the walking.”

Suffering for water

On the other side of the state, in Bandutse, Kazaure council area, women formerly compelled to walk long distances are choosing water, even over the convenience of having toilets nearby.

Hindatu Ibrahim, who coordinates women of the community on water, sanitation and hygiene, will pick water if given a choice between it and the toilets she’s helped the community come to terms with.

“Both are important but water is more important. Water is life. After using the toilet, you have to use water to wash your backside,” she challenges.

“I am happy water is close by. My children don’t have to go far to get water. We are no more suffering for water.”

Residents in both Kazaure and Mallam Madori have drawn straight lines between clean water sources—and breaking the line through which disease are transmitted from faecal contamination back into what they consume.

The line goes to cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery—ailments that cost communities spending on hospitalization.

From the first 36 weeks of 2017 to the first 24 weeks of this year—June 21, precisely—no case of cholera has been reported in Jigawa state, according to epidemiological data from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.

By contrast, laboratory testing has confirmed cholera outbreaks in surrounding states of Kano, Bauchi and Yobe.

Keeping water source safe is important

“Toilet is important, but water is important too,” says homemaker Fatasia Isah. “When you go to toilet, you will definitely need water. When you want to eat, you will need water to wash your hands—even when you defecate. Children do too. Without care, germs will affect both children and adults.”

In the back communities of Jigawa, water, sanitation and hygiene are no child’s play. The handpumps are off limits to any activity apart from colleting water.

Children tug on the handle to fill their water containers and take them home. Men keep the area around the handpumps clean.

No other activity is allowed near it—not washing, not even watering livestock. A separate cement canal channels water spill into a drinking hole metres away where livestock can drink.

The authorities are concerned about sustaining the pumps once its donors pull out. But men in rural Jigawa have found a way that works for them.

The men on the mat monitor the handpump slike hawks, careful how it falls to routine wear and tear. They keep records, they keep the funds. They stand ready to put their water sources back up.

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