New water point to save lives in conflict-affected north-east Nigeria

With support from UNICEF UK, UNICEF Nigeria plans to construct 13 water supply systems in the three conflict-affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa

By Kusali Kubwalo
Rehana washes her hands before preparing food for her family in Zabaramari in Borno in north-east Nigeria.
02 April 2019

When Rehana’s two -year old son Auwal got sick, she suspected cholera, but was not sure. Only a week earlier, a community volunteer had gone door-to-door, explaining the symptoms of cholera and how to prevent it. Rehana was told that the disease is spread through the consumption of food or water that is contaminated by the faeces of infected people. She knew some people who had already died of the disease and tried to protect her family.

“But Auwal was always playing at the neighbour’s house with his friends. I don’t know what he ate, and where,” said Rehana, tearing up.

One night, Auwal was very ill. He was vomiting, running a high fever and had watery diarrhea. Rehana was not able to seek medical help because of the night-time curfew in place due to the ongoing violent conflict in north-east Nigeria.

In the morning, Auwal was taken to Fore Clinic, where he died just two days later.

Auwal is only one of the 2,388 cases of cholera recorded in the Jere local government area, where Zabaramari is located, in 2018.

In north-east Nigeria as a whole, there were 6,230 cholera cases in 2018, with 73 associated deaths.

“He was such a happy child. My heart broke. I did my best for him. I do my best for my family, but it is so hard. Everything is very, very expensive and I am not always able to buy safe and clean water.”

In Zabaramari, where there is inadequate access to water, families like Rehana’s must buy safe water from merchants every day, spending at least N100 (30 US cents) daily for domestic use and to support the small businesses that are the source of their livelihoods.

Rehana is the breadwinner in her family -- her husband lost his sight a few years ago after a lengthy illness and is now unable to support the family. She makes soybean cakes for a living. From a N2,000 capital injection, she makes a N200 profit, half of which she uses to buy safe water.

The first financial sacrifice she was forced to make was the education of her children. Only the eldest is in school, as she cannot afford the N1,500 school fee to pay for the other three children.

The second sacrifice is safe water.

When Rehana has no money to buy clean and safe water, she opts to get water from unclean sources, putting the lives of her family members at risk.

“Every time I use that water I know I am putting my family at risk. I have no choice, really. I try to boil the water, but when I am not in the house, I don’t know whether everyone understands and follows my instructions,” she said.

With support from the UK National Committee for UNICEF, UNICEF Nigeria plans to construct 13 water supply systems in the three conflict-affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa that will benefit at least 115,200 people. Rehana’s community in Zabaramari stands to benefit from a borehole through this support. The borehole is expected to produce 100,000 to 150,000 litres per day, serving 8,000 to 15,000 people.  It will also allow water distribution to clinics, schools and market areas.

Once operational, this access to safe water will ensure that breadwinners like Rehana do not have to make the hard choice of putting their family member’s lives at risk because they cannot afford to buy water from their meagre earnings.

To ensure the access to safe water is sustained, UNICEF will provide regular operational and maintenance support to the water systems, while continuing to promote good hygiene practices, so that children like Auwal will no longer die from preventable diseases such as cholera.