Residents taste first clean water in 10 years

Officials in northern Nigeria’s Kano State have rehabilitated a creaking water plant in the small town of Wudil, 30 km south of Kano city in an effort to bring residents cheap, safe water, but some question if the price will stay affordable.



Less than 40 percent of Kano State’s population of nine million had access to clean water in 2004, according to the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which supported the project. Most residents get their water from unsafe sources such as rivers and ponds, or from hand-dug open wells or boreholes.



Nigeria is among four West African countries where less than half of the residents can access safe drinking water, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Others include Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Niger.



“Wudil is situated along a river that flows all year round and guarantees uninterrupted water supply , so we already had a head-start,” Yahaya Bala Karaye, managing director of the Kano State Water Board, told IRIN.



95-percent savings



Before the plant was rehabilitated, up to 200,000 people living in and around Wudil relied on a nearby river, open wells or 25-litre containers of water purchased from private sellers at 7 US cents each.



Wudil resident Ali Nera, father of nine, told IRIN he he paid US$1.30 every day for water for his family and to maintain his garden, which amounted to 20 percent of his average monthly salary. Now, he told IRIN he pays a flat US$2 monthly rate - a 95-percent savings.



Initially local people were sceptical about the government delivering clean water, according to a DFID report about the project. But some residents report that even the water tastes different now. "We now have safer, cleaner and tastier and cheaper water than what we were getting from [private] water vendors," resident Kamilu Musa told IRIN. He said his children no longer spend three hours every day walking to the well or river where they wait to collect water.



Another resident, Haruna Maisiminti, told IRIN he has seen fewer children falling ill in Wudil since the plant was set up.



Subsidies



The Kano government currently heavily subsidises the water it provides: it costs the state 13 cents to produce one cubic metre of water, but users are only charged one-tenth this cost, which is not sustainable said Karaye.



“If we charge a higher rate and cover our overhead, they [residents] will be discouraged from patronising us and settle for river water or private water vendors with all the inherent health implications in doing so," Karaye told IRIN.



Private vendors IRIN spoke to said water quality depends on whether they get it from the river, or open or closed wells.



Eventually, Karaye said prices must increase. "We are gradually sensitising the people of the importance of clean and safe water and once the people...appreciate the dangers of consuming unsafe water, we would add a small margin on the cost of production of the water we supply the public," Karaye said.



Corruption



Musa Abdullahi Sufi, project coordinator at the Kano-based NGO, Society for Water and Public Health Production, told IRIN in parts of Nigeria, corruption keeps water prices artificially high.



"In many cases clean water is supplied to the public at higher than real costs due to corrupt practices by water board officials," Sufi told IRIN.



"Expenditure for the procurement of chemicals and other [water] treatment requirements is usually inflated and the added funds siphoned by officials," Sufi added. States are responsible for supplying Nigerians with water.



Nigeria ranked 121 out of 180 countries covered in Transparency International’s 2008 global corruption perceptions rating, with 180 being the worst reputation for corruption.



But Karaye from Kano state’s water board told IRIN people should not make assumptions.



"Some people assume every government agency is corrupt and therefore make wild allegations without any concrete proof to substantiate their claims," Karaye said.



"Here in Kano, our books are periodically audited by the government and we have never been implicated [in] financial impropriety.”



The number of West Africans without access to clean drinking water rose from 124 million in 1990 to 170 million in 2006, according to UNICEF; of the millions living around the world with no access to drinking water, 20 percent live in West and Central Africa.



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