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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Enugu community where residents depend on a polluted river and deplorable primary health care

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Anastasia Ani crouches while pouring water into a bucket on the shallow bank of the river. Mrs. Ani removes the remains from the surface of the light green water with her plastic container while she fills her bucket.

For residents of Umuenwene Iji Nike, a community in Enugu East Local Government Area of ​​Enugu State, the Mmiri Ihe Ọjọọ River is both a blessing and a curse. Its name translates to river of bad things in Igbo, the language widely spoken in southeastern Nigeria. However, every day, residents walk to the river with buckets and barrels.


“This water is dirty,” says Ifeanyi, another resident. “But we have no other alternative. “The well is very far from here and the water is for sale.”

Mmiri Ihe Ọjọọ from the Nike Umuenwene Iji community. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba

Residents who can afford it buy water from the private well, but this arrangement is not sustainable in a country where more than half of the population is poor.


Chidinma Ukachukwu says it costs about £600 to fill her family’s storage tank with water from the well. “Yesterday they filled it,” he says, pointing to the plastic container. “It usually lasts one or sometimes two days,” says the mother of five.

Public water systems provide 90 percent of the water supply in low- and middle-income countries. But in Umuenwene Iji Nike and many other communities in Enugu State, more than 2.5 million people lack access to safe water. Public water supply is hampered by the state’s undulating landscape. Residents said the only public well in Umuenwene Iji Nike broke more than 15 years ago, after the administration of former governor Chimaroke Nnamani.

“Since then, several administrations have made promises but no one has solved the problem,” says Chukwudi Okonkwo, who has lived in the area for more than two decades. Okonkwo says the reprieve only comes to residents when they have “water from the roofs during the rainy season.”

Article page with financial support promotion An obsolete public tap in Mr. Okonkwo’s compound. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba


Contaminated water source –

A recent study found the presence of heavy metals and other materials such as phosphorus, lead and selenium in Mmiri Ihe Ọjọọ. The contaminants were traced to fertilizer runoff from surrounding farms and other human activities.

The World Health Organization notes that communities with contaminated water like Umuenwene Iji Nike are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.

“My children always have itchy rashes,” says Mrs. Ani. “Apart from the eruptions, we suspect that perhaps internally the water is also damaging them.”

Anastasia Ani goes to the river to look for water. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba

Heavy metal ions are very resistant to microbial degradation. They can last for long periods in water and do not break down in boiling water. These heavy metals can accumulate in dangerous amounts within the bodies of plants and other living things, which can affect people throughout the food chain.

According to the National Institutes of Health, long-term exposure to and consumption of contaminated water and its habitats can damage organs, reduce energy levels, and damage the brain and other vital organs. Boiling water does not remove harmful metals such as chlorine and lead.

Symptoms of exposure to heavy metals and water contaminants can include gastrointestinal, kidney and neurological symptoms that can range from headaches, abdominal pain, irritability and itchy sensations, such as those experienced by Ms. Ani’s children. , to more serious problems such as abnormal heartbeats, anemia and even cancer.

Risks of contaminated water

Cosmas Achikanu, Professor, Department of Applied Biochemistry, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), spoke on the risks of heavy metal pollution to the environment.

“These heavy metals can accumulate in plants, vegetables and aquatic organisms (fish) that are found in polluted rivers can also accumulate heavy metals; They do not excrete metals. These metals accumulate in your organs. “They attack the organs basically by producing reactive oxygen species that alter the structure of the DNA.”

Achikanu further states that “people who are exposed to an environment that releases heavy metals, such as those who work in the paint industry, people who drink contaminated water or eat fish from contaminated water, are at high risk of suffering from this poisoning. . “Heavy metals are carcinogens and can cause skin and kidney cancer.”

Abandoned health center

To investigate public health issues in the community, Newslodgevisited its only public primary health care center and found it in a deplorable state. The facility has only two permanent employees.

Sign for the Nike Health Center in Umuenwene Iji. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba

Stella Odo, a consultant to the Community Health Extension Worker (CHEW) in charge of the APS, says she was a beneficiary of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), although the physical conditions of the facility did not indicate this.

Mrs Odo says the PHC serves more than 66 communities but lacks adequate manpower, security, infrastructure and water.

“We buy water from the monthly fund and use rainwater to sustain ourselves,” he says. When she is asked if she knows that some of her patients drink river water, she nods. “They are drinking it, no, what will they drink? They are using it for everything. If you don’t have money for pure water, you will go there.”

Storage tank to collect rainwater from the roof. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba

Limited access to improved water and sanitation facilities in Nigeria plays a major role in the high rates of illness and death among children under five years of age. Due to their vulnerability to water-related diseases, up to 70,000 children in this age group die annually in the country, says UNICEF.

These alarming figures clearly indicate that Nigeria is far from achieving UN SDG 6, which aims to ensure access to safe water and sanitation for all by providing safe water and sanitation facilities and promoting hygiene practices. It emphasizes improving water quality, efficiency and sustainable resource management to address the critical need for human health and well-being around the world.

“They come here when they are sick, but we can’t do much because we don’t have the equipment to do important tests. And when the person returns home, he drinks it (river water) again,” says Mrs Odo.

She says diarrhea and typhoid are common in the community, with children being the most affected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says contaminated water and poor sanitation can lead to diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.

A water tank purchased for the APS with BHCPF funds last year has provided some relief to the water shortage. “I used two gallons to fetch water, even to wash my hands. I used a keke (tricycle) to fetch water from my house and use it here,” says Mrs Odo.

In addition, it gives an idea of ​​the situation in its center: “We don’t have any equipment; we simply use a private laboratory.” She says an ad hoc staff member collects samples and takes them to the lab for testing.

She says the APS receives about 40 patients daily.

“We don’t accept inpatients unless it’s a person giving birth,” meaning pregnant women going to bed.

“We work morning, afternoon and night without security.” When asked how they were coping, she said, “God is protecting us.”

With their only two usable beds, they say they use a tricycle in emergencies. “If the patient does not have money to pay the keke, I will pay.”

Empty bed frames in the facility. Photo credit: Chiamaka Ozurumba

Enugu health budget

According to BudgIT, Enugu State allocated £19.53 billion to the health sector in 2022, but only £10.43 billion or 53.40 percent of the sum was released. The state has a population of 5,281,068 people.

According to a 2023 budget implementation report, the Enugu State Primary Health Care Development Agency received £1.1 billion, while the Enugu State Agency for Universal Health Coverage received £460.4 million. . However, these funds were insufficient to meet the health needs of residents like those of Umuenwene Iji Nike.

Government response and intervention

The state Commissioner for Health, Emmanuel Obi, declined to speak to this reporter about public health services in Umuenwene Iji Nike.

However, in a telephone interview, Felix Nnamani, the state Commissioner for Water Resources, reviewed the state’s long history of water supply problems and how they were being addressed.

“There was no water anywhere, not even in the Enugu metropolis, for 20 years. The government has three main sources of water for Enugu Urban (Metropolis). The three sources are the 9th Mile ultra-modern water facility project, the Oji River and the Ajali River,” says Nnamani.

“In the 9-mile city of ultra-modern water facilities, we have eight wells that were not functional, that were dying. The current administration has not only revitalized them but has also built another 16 wells to make it a 24-well project. This 24-well project now generates 70 million liters of water per day. The Oji River also generates 50 million liters of water daily. we have a total of 120 million liters,” he says.

To ensure quality circulation, he says old asbestos pipes from the original reticulation lines covering 40 percent of the city in 10 different areas are being replaced with ductile iron pipes.

He believes that the change of water pipelines will facilitate the supply of quality water to urban and rural areas, from the water reservoirs situated along Nike Lake Road and Ibagwa Nike, beyond Iji Nike.

“So what we are doing now is changing the pipes, once the pipes are changed, the water will be reticulated to where you mentioned (Umuenwene Iji Nike). “Work is being done on all fronts.”

However, the commissioner says vandalism of water equipment and the inability of communities to maintain facilities remain a challenge to maintaining access to drinking water in the state.

“We have 360 ​​wells drilled by the government and water projects. Some of them are dying, others have been vandalized and, in some cases, the communities cannot compensate them because they cannot afford to buy gas to power the generators. “That is a challenge.”

Enugu’s expenditure on water in numbers. Credit: Adeiza Sanni

This report was carried out with the support of the Center for Innovation and Development of Journalism (CJID)


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