For so many women, today’s water crisis takes many forms: especially having to walk long distances every day to fetch enough drinking water – clean or unclean, contaminated or uncontaminated, safe or unsafe – just to get by, suffering from avoidable malnutrition or disease caused by drought, flood or inadequate sanitation, or in terms of a lack of funds, institutions or knowledge to solve local problems of water use and allocation. In 2010, a joint visit by a team from my organization and executive members of Attarkar Women Association of Nigeria (AWAN) to a farmland on which we were to establish a jointly owned and managed demonstration farm, once again brought me face to face with this reality. While on the farm, we carried out an appraisal of the virgin farmland and did a lot of brainstorming over the next steps on putting our plans to progressive action.
After about two hours sojourn at the location, Mary Abu (not real name) a member of AWAN excitedly invited us to her home, which was about 15 minutes drive away. She extended an invitation to us to come spend some time in her home to refresh- particularly to quench our famishing thirst and also wash our earth smeared hands and feet. Everyone’s hands and feet were quite mucky and unsightly as a result of all the back and forth trekking as well as dipping of our curious fingers into wet soil while on the farm. Done with our exploration, we all hopped back into the four wheel drive vehicle, and then drove as far as we could on a very narrow road until we got to a point that was not motorable. We had to pull to a stop and walk the rest of the way to Mary’s house.
Once we arrived her home, Mary called out to her older son (a boy of about eight years old) to fetch us some water for drinking as well as for cleaning ourselves up. Simultaneously, she advanced towards and entered into one of the thatched roofing mud houses in the compound that she and her children call home. By the time Mary reappeared, she was holding a fairly large silver coloured aluminum cup, while her older son was right besides her carrying an averaged sized bucket full of water. He reached us and dropped the container full of water right in front of us (his mum’s guests), following which Mary joyfully handed her obviously special and prized drinking cup to me, as her youngest son of about 2 years old kicked up his heels playfully around her in heightened mindfulness of his mum’s August visitors.
I gazed in awe at the muddy looking water in the bucket in front of me, as I wondered if we were actually expected to or would dare gulp the contents to subdue or ease the dryness which had become the lot of our water famished throats. I had no choice but to politely inform our host that I was more pressed for a wash up than thirsty; as there was no way I was going to risk consuming water which I logically concluded was not safe for consumption. It was pretty scary to even imagine that the same water I did not even feel comfortable to wash my hands and feet with was all Mary, her children and other members of their community relied on daily to meet their domestic needs- including but not limited to drinking, cooking and laundry. Like others in her community, Mary relies on a well that is devoid of any form of protective lining that would at the least help improve the cleanliness of the water sourced from it. “Nearly half of all people using dirty water live in sub-Saharan Africa, and one fifth live in Southern Asia” states 2015 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report.
Once back to my base, I began looking out for ways to bring safe water to Mary’s community. Hopes were high for intervention at some point, but sadly, the corporate organizations I approached at the time with a request for them to provide a borehole in the community as a corporate social responsibility, were more about how it would translate into financial returns for them. I was pretty helpless about their standpoint and ended up not following up on the change I wanted to help make happen in Mary’s community as my organization couldn’t afford the cost implication. Sad realities such as this put up with by Mary, abound across communities in Nigeria. This is worrying! It sure retells the tales of despair and paints a clear picture of the dismal situation faced by one-third of humanity’s lives in countries where clean and safe water is scarce. According to WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Report 2015), “663 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water” and 42% of healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to safe water (WHO/UNICEF, 2015.)
Every time we celebrate water, we are also celebrating life and women. World Water Day is another Women’s Day! Thus, as the 2017 World Water Day (22nd of March) approaches and I take to heart this year’s theme which is ‘Water and Waste Water’, I am filled with renewed hope about what is possible for women like Mary in the water and sanitation sector. Women’s leadership in the safe management of water is non negotiable as it is undoubtedly key in improving the general health and well being of individuals, families, communities and our ecosystem as a whole. According, I recommit towards ensuring that my organization continues to prioritize and deliver programs that position women at the centre as well as forefront of solutions in the water and sanitation sector. There is glowing light at the end of the tunnel as so much has changed for me from the time I encountered first Mary and now as I write, particularly in terms of where and how to mobilize resources for my desired intervention in her community. I will sure take a go once again at helping her community.
Happy World Water Day in advance!