By Oluwatoyin Adegoke, Abuja

Out of Nigeria’s population of more than 203 million people, 71 million do not have access to clean water and 130 million do not have access to basic sanitation. This lack of water, sanitation and hygiene services – exacerbated by accelerated urbanisation, poor cost recovery, weak governance and institutional frameworks – adversely affects the health of Nigerian citizens, as well as their access to educational and economic opportunities and their work efficiency and labour productivity.

The severity of the WASH needs in Taraba State cuts across communities and institutions in urban, peri-urban and rural settings, with largely dysfunctional and non-existent WASH facilities and services, such as: safe sanitary disposal of human waste, hand washing and water supply facilities, etc. Facilities for WASH are either grossly inadequate or simply not safe to use for maintaining good hygiene in communities and institutions like schools. This contributes a very high WASH related disease burden with its attendant health and economic impacts.

Sources of water to most residents aside patronising water vendors are boreholes, local wells, streams and rivers, which are sometimes contaminated.

Access to water is strongly associated with hygiene practices, and hygiene practices are strongly linked to health. For these reasons, one of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals is access to safe drinking water.

Safe water can be a driver of progress for many of the Sustainable Development goals including health, nutrition, education and gender equality. This was a reason for global actions to improve water access, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

The aim of WASH is to empower communities to enhance their access to and use of safe water and sanitation service, and to improve sustainable hygiene practices in order to reduce spread of diseases.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) joined with Taraba State Executive Governor, Dairus Dickson Ishaku, to formalise a new partnership to improve the management and delivery of water and sanitation (WASH) services to help people live healthier lives through reliable access to clean water.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed online on May 21, 2020, outlines commitments between USAID and Taraba State to jointly develop a professionally managed, commercially oriented and accountable state water board. This will be accomplished by improving the water board’s financial viability, and strengthening policy, institutional, and regulatory frameworks for better WASH service delivery.

As a result, the Taraba Water and Sewerage Corporation (TAWASCO), was revived. It is now an autonomous agency saddled with the responsibility of providing clean and portable water to residents of the state.

The revival of this agency has reduced the risk associated to unhygienic water, which, overtime has posed serious health risks to consumers.

With the launch of Effective Water Sanitation and Hygiene (E-wash) programme by USAID in Taraba State, with the help of Connected Development (CODE), the leading civil society organisation, led by its executive director, Hamzat Lawal, which is collaborating with community-based organisations, media organisations, the WASH Customer Forums and other WASH groups in Taraba State to support civic advocacy, and strengthen policy, institutional, and regulatory frameworks for improved WASH services in the State, and advance the cause of transparency and accountability on the issue, some of these challenges are gradually being nipped in the bud.

The Advocacy and Capacity Building Specialist For E-WASH in Taraba State, Mrs Hauwa Hamzat, believes that with E-WASH, Taraba in no time will have a clean environment and portable water supply across urban settlements.

“The importance of water, sanitation and hygiene has been emphasised by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said USAID Mission Director, Stephen M Haykin, at the signing. “The collaboration marked by today’s agreement will help Taraba chart a path towards a better performing water board, which will raise the quality of services for the health of their customers.”

Governor Ishaku said his goal was to ensure that reliable water and sanitation services reach at least 90 per cent of the state, even in some remote and mountainous areas, before his term expires.

According to the governor, “This is a milestone for our state. We believe we have the potential to provide not only the best water service delivery in the country, but in all Africa.”

The governor also encouraged citizens to employ safe hygiene practices for example, washing of hands with soap after changing babies’ nappies, after going to the toilet, before handling food or eating, after house cleaning, work or disposal of refuse. He asked them to also engage in proper disposal of solid waste etc, cleaning of teeth and bathing at least once a day, all to prevent diarrhoea and other infectious diseases.

The general manager, Taraba Water Sewerage Corporation (TAWARSCO), Eng Musa Buba Fiam, while giving the details of the activities of the water sector, said the agency, as a result of the E-wash programme and technical assistance from USAID, has the capacity to distribute potable water across 45 communities in urban and semi urban areas of the state and have been supplying water constantly.

Residents of Jalingo, who spoke to LEADERSHIP, appreciate the efforts of the state government to make potable water available to all the people in the state capital, the potable water supply to households in the state capital was to be behind the massive reduction of water vendors popularly call Mai Ruwa in the state capital.

Adegoke writes from Abuja.

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