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•Teenage student recounts ordeal having to source water for domestic chores in her native Bauchi community
From Paul Orude Bauchi
A promising student, Zaliha Shuaibu, 14, cannot forget the hassles she went through to get water in her rural community before going to school.
“It was a terrible experience growing up,” she recalls.
Zaliha is an indigene of Unguwan Yakubu Dogon Maje in Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi State.
Her community, with a population of 523 people, according to statistics provided by the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Unit of Toro LGA, is one of several rural communities which suffered age-long lack of access to water.
Located 27 kilometers from Toro, the council headquarters, the journey to Zaliha’s Unguwan Yakubu Dogonmaje, one of the 1,151 communities in Toro, to a visitor, was bumpy.
The road was rough and had many corners and turns and takes nearly two hours for vehicles to get there from Toro.
Many vehicles and motorcycles cannot access the Unguwan Yakubu Dogonmaje during the peak of the raining season.
But Zaliha’s biggest problem was not the road but lack of access to water.
Growing up, she suffered low access to safe water and sanitation.
According to United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in a latest report in 2015, 66 million people in Nigeria do not have access to improved water.
According to the report, released ahead of the World Water Day on March 22, 2017, entitled, “Thirsting for future: Water and children in a changing climate,” by 2040, almost 600 million children will live in areas of extremely high water stress across the globe.
“One in every four children lives in areas of water stress – meaning areas with limited water sources,” it says.
“Unless governments start planning for changes in water availability and ensure equitable distribution, access to water, sanitation and hygiene will pose more challenges with global climate change,” adds the UNICEF report.
According to UNICEF, with the coming years, demands for water will increase as population grows and moves, thereby increasing water stress.
Zaliha, her mother and siblings and indeed most people in the community who usually trekked approximately three kilometers to the stream located at Bachim to fetch water – experienced what the UNICEF report says will happen to children.
“I started following my mother and siblings to fetch water when I was eight or nine years,” Zaliha recalls.
“I was then in Primary Two at Gundus Primary School, near my community.
“Although I was a little girl, the difficulty of getting water everyday registered in my head,” she says.
Zaliha says it was worst during the dry season because the water at Bachim dried up.
She and other children in the community were forced to trek the long distance sometimes more than once a day to collect water.
The long and tiring trek to get water left Zaliha and other children little time for school, study and play.
The daily search for water for Zahila, now a budding JSS 3 student of Gandi Upper Basic Secondary School, Gandi in Palama ward of Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi State, usually began from 4:00 am.
“I used to feel sad because we suffered a lot to get water,” Zaliha whose dream is to study Political Science in the university and bring more amenities to her community in the future, enthuses.
“When I was in primary school, there was hardly any day that I didn’t go to school late and I was flogged almost all the time for lateness,” she remembers.
The water from Bachim was hardly clean and both animal and human faeces and urine flowed into the source.
According to UNICEF, without water, children cannot survive; and when forced to rely on unsafe water, are at the risk of deadly diseases.
But Zaliha and the people of Dogon Maje and indeed the whole community had no choice.
They needed water to survive.
With no health care centre in the community, it took hours to get to Toro or the nearby health facility when they suffered water-borne diseases like diarrhoea.
Zaliha had vivid memories of incidences of her two brothers being sick.
“My father told me he spent nearly N35,000 to treat my two brothers in hospital,” Zaliha explains.
Although her siblings were fortunate to survive, many children in her community died, Mailamu Yakubu, the village head of Unguwan Yakubu Dogonmaje, discloses.
Water and sanitation related deaths are one of the leading causes of deaths in children.
“We tried to dig wells but they collapsed,” says Yakubu.
“Water was difficult for my people to get”
For Zaliha there was hardly enough water to wash or bath before going to school.
Maintaining hygiene and sanitation was therefore an uphill task.
“We had to manage the little we had. We took our baths once or sometimes we skipped bath.
“There was a time I had rashes all over my body,” Zaliha recalls.
With the provision of a hand pump borehole in her community in 2014 by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom and the Bauchi State government through UNICEF, under the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) project, now Zaliha no longer has to trek a long distance to get water.
Under the SHAWN project, DFID, UNICEF and the Bauchi State government have provided 178 hand-pump boreholes in several rural communities in Toro LGA, including Unguwan Yakubu Dogonmaje that had no access to safe and clean water.
“We have rested from the suffering and struggles to get water,” Zaliha’s mother, Zainab Shuaibu, says with a smile on her face.
“We had many problems with the water at Bachim. Sometimes before we got there, others were already there and had finished the water; so we had to join the queue and wait for the water to gather.
“Sometimes before we got , people defecated near the water source but we had to still fetch it. I managed the water for my family but with the coming of this borehole, we have all rested. The borehole is safe and clean,” she says.
“Now I go to school early and I have enough water to maintain good hygiene. As you can see, my uniform and socks are neat. It’s because there is water and I don’t have to think about how to get it,” Zaliha says.
Zaliha says the stress of getting water is over as she can now concentrate on her studies and have more time for school and to play.