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Burden of water scarcity on women

By Victor Bajah and Comfort Agbaji

Water is life! This statement is a very familiar one and it alludes to the fact that man cannot survive without water from all ramifications. Yet research over time has proven that this aspect of livelihood is one of the scarcest resources among the poorer communities in Africa like Nigeria.

Recent reports by Center for Development Research (ZEF) on the plight of communities in Sub-Saharan Africa show that a large percentage of the population still relies on unimproved sources of water.  This has accounted for most of the serious global health burdens, especially  when viewed  in  terms  of  the  consequences  associated  with   lack  of  access  to good  drinking water, among other issues.

Nigeria is not left out as the universal goal of access to potable water supply by the citizens remain very poor, in spite of the huge sums of money invested in that sector by the government at all levels of governance.

Benue State is one of the most fortunate of the 36 states that form the six geopolitical zones in the country. The state is surrounded by all bodies of water from ponds to different outlets of large water bodies; among them is the River Benue, the second largest in the country. Yet, the state is currently facing serious challenges of sustainable water supply. In the face of the overflowing banks of the Benue River and other major sources of water, Benue State has been struggling with acute potable water shortage as a result of ineffective water supply.

Efforts by different administrations in the state since its creation in 1976 have failed to address the yearnings of the poor communities to combat water shortage; not even the water corporations set up by different leadership to manage this important resource found abundantly.

At the receiving end of the water challenge in Benue State are women. According to World Water Assessment Programme of UNESCO, “More and more communities around the world are forced to survive with limited or no access to clean water and the burden of collecting water usually falls on the shoulders of women and girls. It’s estimated that globally they spend 200 million hours every single day simply collecting water for themselves and their families – time that could be spent in education, working and earning, with their family, or contributing to the community.”

Similarly, experts have opined that, “Water is critical at every stage of a woman’s life. The relationship between water and women’s time runs deep. At every stage in life, the absence of safe water robs women of opportunity and even life itself. The human right of access to clean water, close to home, can unlock a woman’s potential – economically, educationally and socially. Its absence can lock women in a cycle which is repeated from mother to daughter.”

Accessibility to clean water, therefore, plays a key role in the lives of women in every society. In spite of the abundant water resource in Benue, the state has suffered enormous setbacks in the area of accessibility to clean water. Makurdi, the state capital situated right at the bank of River Benue has spent 45 years of inaccessible water supply. Benue women source water from several channels such as boreholes, wells, streams or direct from the river. Most of these water sources are individual projects aimed at alleviating the challenge of scarcity. On the other hand, the state, local governments and private companies have contributed some of these water projects yet, the challenges of inadequate water supply are on the increase.

As domestic managers, women’s daily need for water is believed to be higher than their male counterparts. In Benue State like other parts of Africa, men and women have different priorities and tasks for the use of water. As an agrarian state, farming is one of the priorities that both men and women engage in depending on the use of water. However, women are often responsible for fetching water for domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning and washing, drinking, bathing, flushing of toilets among others.

The absence of safe and sufficient water supply in the state has a disproportionate effect on the lives of Benue citizens, especially women. The reasons are not farfetched. Women are the major collectors of water, in other words, they are saddled with the responsibility of providing water in the home. This process of going about in search of water is often very time consuming and laborious. It has direct medical and socio-economic effects on their lives and sometimes affect their conjugal relationships with their spouses.

Recounting her challenges with inadequate water in Makurdi, Mrs Grace Odoh, a food vendor said, “I go out to fetch water every day because of my restaurant business just because there is no water in my area and at times I buy from truck pushers to save the stress of going about in search of it. Buying from the truck pushers cost me a lot of money every day. My kind of business depends solely on water. My kind of business can’t survive a second without water, and if I don’t make sales, it directly affects our welfare. It is from this food business I earn money for myself and my family.”

In a situation where women are exposed to dire need for water, they become more vulnerable to abuse and attack. Imagine women and young girls, walking long and lonely distances to find water to cook; women exposing their lives to untold danger in search of secured open defecation sites in the bushes, because there is no water supply that could accommodate their need to use the water system toilets at home.

“I can’t do without water because water is life. I need it every day for drinking, bathing, cooking and even for my sanitary needs as a woman”, Mrs. Rita Jabba said.

Water plays a major role in the sustenance of a woman’s health. In other words, water could be said to be that silent “health doctor” to a woman. Without the availability of clean water supply women are at dangerous health risks due to their uniqueness that demands the use of water. For instance, women have specific hygiene needs during menstruation, pregnancy and child rearing.

These water needs if compromised, would result in irreparable loss for the entire community in arduous ways.

For Miss Blessing Attah, her relationship with water is a matter of life and death. “It is not possible to stay without water because I use it for different purposes such as drinking, cooking, bathing and even for my plants. As for me I drink water every second, I can’t survive without water for a day. As a woman I really need water for so many things to get my life going in the right direction,” she said.

There is therefore, the urgent need for the Benue State government to declare an emergency in the water sector as a proactive step towards curbing the protracted challenges inadequate water supply has caused as a result of malfunctioning or moribund water plants scattered all over the state.

The Ortom led administration could redirect governance to bring to life all water plants sited in the state like the Greater Makurdi Water Works and other water plants located in different parts of the state. If given the urgent attention needed would go a long way to reviving and empowering the Benue woman in all facets, to overcome the current challenges faced because of inadequate access to potable water. Indeed, water is life and water is instrumental to effective and efficient performance in the life of every woman.

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