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Nigeria’s Rivers Without Water: Citizens At Mercy Of Mai Ruwa, Sachet Water Producers

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Water water but not a drop to drink. This is the first and second lines of a poem written by Shaun Cronick

Rivers State is political head quarters of the South/South geopolitical zone of Nigeria. It is also one of the richest states in Nigeria as a result of her rich natural resources.

The state derived its name from the many rivers that surround it. Being a state with huge economic potentials and opportunities, it is expected that the state will be able to provide most basic amenities, especially water for residents, especially those living in the capital city, but the reverse has been the case for some years now.

Rivers State used to have the Rivers State Water Board, which distributed water at the old Port Harcourt township, Diobu, and adjourning areas. But this stopped in the early 2000’s, leaving residents of the oil-rich city to source for water through alternative means such as boreholes and sachet water popularly known as pure water for their daily use and consumption.

Findings by NatureNews revealed that in high brow areas within Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas of the State, some landlords install boreholes in their buildings where tenants are made to pay monthly token for their services. It was also gathered in some other houses, the tenants are responsible for pumping water, either by contributing to buy fuel whenever there is power outage to pump the water.

For other areas where landlords didnt provide water, the tenants either rely on public borehole sellers where they buy a 20-litre jerry can or bucket of water for N30 when there is light and N50 when there is not light or patronise water sellers popularly called “Mai Ruwa“. This is also applicable in waterfront areas.

Further findings revealed that some residents pay as much as N600 to N1,000 per truck of water when there is power outage, or between N700 to N500, when there is power supply in places like Borokiri, Rumuola, old township area, Rumuolumeni, amongst others.

It was also found that most of this water are not drinkable as residents still rely on sachet or bottle water.

A resident of Borokiri, Margret, who spoke with this correspondent, said her family of five spends approximately N4,000 a week on water. She lamented on the hardship the expenses is adding to the economic welfare of her family.

“We are many in the house so a truck of water barely serves us for two days. We buy water almost every day and this is really telling on us. Some times the Church of God Mission opens their water for people to fetch but its not every time we fetch there,” she stated.

A resident in Nanka Street, Blessing, Diobu, said they buy water from boreholes. “We use to fetch water from the borehole. But those who don’t have time to stand on the que buy from Mai Ruwa,” she said.

Another resident from Rumukrurushi area, Ifeanyi said they fetch drinking water from the water provided by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.

He said: “I will not really say we are suffering from water too much. The compound where I live we have borehole, then Shell also provided water so people go there to fetch drinking water free of charge. You will only have to wait because the que is always long. You will see big men with their cars and lots of jerry cans so you just have to be patient.”

The case is no different at the State Secretariat. For several years since the previous administration, the Rivers State Secretariat has relied on “Mai Ruwa” for water in the various offices.

The state governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, had ordered for probe into the spending of the funds budgeted for provision of water supply and maintenance of utilities at the State Secretariat, few days after being sworn into office.

The governor decried that the state Secretariat had no water supply despite huge amounts of money spent to correct the situation.

A visitor to the Secretariat who would not want his name on print told this correspondent that last week he was directed by the Security in one of the blocks to hold on for “Mai Ruwa” when he wanted to use the lift.

“The security man said I cannot go with the mai ruwa because the lift cannot carry my weight and that of the water. I had to wait for the lift to return,” the source said.

It was also gathered that most sachet water sold to consumers are substandard and unsafe for human consumption.

National President of Table Water Producers, Egberi Odiri Mackson, while speaking with this correspondent said licensed pure water distribution produce under the supervision of NAFAC and the state Ministry of Water Resources, but regretted that some unscrupulous persons produce unsafe water and distribute to the unsuspecting public.

He said: “The official time to distribute water as provided by the state government is 7am to 7pm but those who illegally produce water distribute them in the night to avoid being caught.

“They will write 50cl on the satchet but the content is 35cl and I can tell you that those water are unhealthy for drinking and there has been attempts on my life because i try to stop them.”

He said currently there are about 1,500 licensed hygienic water suppliers and several illegal operators in the state.

Mackson, who lamented multiple taxation and illegal operators as part of challenges, said the association will soon increase the price of pure water bag from N250 to N400 as a result of the present economic realities.

However, for sometime now, there has been digging and laying of pipes around Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor areas of Port Harcourt.

Findings revealed that it is an ongoing water project for the rehabilitation extension and distribution of water within Port Harcourt and Obii/Akpor local government areas of the state. Already reservoirs have been built at Rumuola, Diobu, and Borokiri areas of the City.

When completed the project, co-financed by Rivers State Government (RVSG), African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank (WB) is expected to provide potable water to the over two million residents of the two local government areas which make up the capital city.

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