Thousands in water shortage protest

Some 5,000 inhabitants from five villages in Nigeria’s northern Kano state have threatened to relocate to the state capital, Kano, in protest at 30 years of grappling with acute water shortages.

Villagers in Rigar-Rana, Agale, Dandani, Kwabo and Barebari in Gwarzo district, 120km south of Kano city, collectively announced they would leave after the September harvest, following 15 years of fruitless appeals to local authorities to build a well.

None of the five villages has access to open or closed wells.

"We are facing a disaster here due to acute water shortage. Here are our roots which we would not want to abandon but with the way things are, if the situation persists we may not have any other option but to leave,” Gambo Dan-Madana, chief imam of the five affected villages, told IRIN.

Aminu Azara, 32, a farmer from Agale, told IRIN, "I have to wake up early in the morning and use my donkey to fetch water in two plastic containers for domestic use… I spend at least four hours every day to collect it because of the long queues.”

Children in Rigar-Rana have had to drop out of school to fetch water.

"To get water for our daily needs we have to walk or cycle to Dagacin Sabon-Birni town [4km away],” Abdulkadir Kagane, 46, told IRIN. “We want to enroll our children in school but we can't because they are out in search of water for most of the day. This has left them uneducated. No child in this village can write his name.”

"Since the local authorities have ignored our complaints we have made up our mind to relocate to Kano where it is easier to get water because we can't continue to live like this," Azara added. Digging a well requires drilling equipment because of the area’s rocky terrain.

A delegation of villagers last visited the Gwarzo chairman, Sunusi Mahmud Getso, in March 2009 to lodge a final complaint.

Less than 40 percent of Kano State’s population of nine million had access to clean water in 2004, according to the latest UK Department for International Development (DFID) study, with  most residents accessing water from unsafe sources such as rivers and ponds.

Photo: Aminu Abubakar/IRIN
Boys collecting water from an open pond during the rainy season in Rigar-Rana

Empty promises

Politicians regularly visit the area on election campaigns, promising to provide villagers with potable water once they win, said Kwabo resident, Habu Mati, but they never follow up.

"We are only as important as our votes and once they [politicians] get what they want from us they shut their doors on us and renege on their promise," Mati told IRIN.

Water is available in open ponds during the rainy season, with serious health consequences – cholera, typhoid fever and Guinea worm have all hit Rigar-Rana village in recent years, and cholera killed six locals in May 2008.

The authorities say they are aware of the villagers’ plight and have plans to lay water pipes to one of the five villages.  

"We are aware of the problem and we have undertaken feasibility studies for the laying of water pipes to Rigar-Rana to serve the water needs of all the affected villages," Getso told IRIN.

''Nigeria is among four West African countries where less than half of the residents can access safe drinking water''

"The project was delayed due to funds shortage as a substantial amount is required to execute it but now all arrangements have been concluded for the take-off of the project by the end of the rainy season," he said.

But Mati says residents have heard this many times before. “We are no longer moved by such empty promises," he told IRIN.

“We are poor, uneducated people with no representative or someone to push for us at the local authority. To attract projects for your community you need to have an influential figure to curry favour on your behalf.” 

Nigeria is among four West African countries where less than half of the residents can access safe drinking water, according to the UN.