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Northeast: Access to water in Borno’s Gwoza signals better life ahead

Soni Daniel, Editor, Northern Region
The   ravaging war between insurgents and government forces, which has lingered in the Northeast for several years, has left in its wake what legendary singer, Fela Anikulapo, called ‘blood, sorrow and tears’ in the North East of Nigeria. Beyond tearing communities into shreds, the bloodletting has also caused thousands of deaths, and displaced millions of innocent children, women, and men and rendered them as beggars in their own land.

The situation is dire and frustrating as basic amenities have also been cut off   from where they existed before now while areas which never had such facilities, have been left worse off and at the mercy of avoidable ailments, which could prove to be devastating and very costly if urgent steps are not mobilised   to ameliorate the situation.

According to official information released by the Institute for Migration, IOM, no fewer than 1.8 million  women, men and children have so far been displaced by the hostilities in the Northeast, hampering their access to vital resources, including water.

In addition to the displaced population, 1.56 million individuals have returned to their communities since August 2015, due to the expanded presence of security forces. However, the infrastructure in these areas had been severely damaged or destroyed and essential services have  yet to be fully restored.

People in Gwoza town, Borno State for example, spend several hours a day under the scorching sun searching for water, often in unsafe, hand-dug wells. The absence of infrastructure leaves the people with no other option as the limited available resources are overstretched by the needs of displaced and returnee populations.

But all of this, is about to change due to the intervention of international organisations and some friendly countries, which have already stepped in with aid worth hundreds of millions of Naira.

Last week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) completed the rehabilitation of two boreholes in  Gwoza  and Konduga as part of a project funded by the Republic of Korea. The initiative aims to revitalize these communities by ensuring that people affected by conflict are returning to safe and dignified living conditions.

“We used to travel for about 12 kilometres to fetch water from an unprotected well before the new borehole was reopened,” said  Bakin, one of the beneficiaries from the troubled communities.

According to the Humanitarian Response Strategy for Nigeria 2019-2021, an estimated 7.1 million people affected by the conflict are in acute need of protection and life-saving assistance in the region.

On the occasion of the reopening of these water facilities, Lee In-tae, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Nigeria, stated that in 2018, Korea donated USD  7.5 million to support women and girls in  Borno  State while joining multilateral efforts to tackle humanitarian needs via IOM and other agencies.

“The Korean Government will continue to strengthen efforts by providing support to vulnerable people, especially women and girls, continuing capacity-building of government officials, and promoting education and health of Nigerian youth,” he added.

The rehabilitation project has improved the access to water for 13,500 individuals voluntarily returning to their communities of origin. Access to clean water in these areas of return has been achieved through the drilling, installation, maintenance and rehabilitation of boreholes, all of which are powered by solar energy.

“Our aim is to improve access to community infrastructure and basic services and to ensure that these rehabilitation activities are sustainable,” said Dave Bercasio, IOM Nigeria Head of Sub-office. “That is why we are engaging the beneficiaries by forming community-based water, sanitation and hygiene committees,” he added.

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“These committees, comprising local elders, women, men and youth, will be tasked to conduct regular water quality monitoring activities, provide maintenance of the boreholes and conduct sensitization activities to raise awareness about the rehabilitated facilities and how to use them.

“IOM has completed the drilling of an additional borehole in  Damboa, as well the rehabilitation of a community market in Konduga and two primary schools in  Mandarari  and Pulka benefitting approximately 6,000 individuals.

“The project approach is guided by the  IOM Progressive Resolution of Displacement Situation (PRDS) framework.  Starting on 1 November 2018, the project has a duration of seven months with the objective to promote pre-conditions for safe, dignified and voluntary return in identified areas of return,” IOM said.

Whatever happens, the renewed drive by international agencies and donor-countries to provide relief and assistance to the displaced people of the Northeast, has given a fillip to the once neglected, frustrated and forgotten victims of an undeclared war of attrition that has given Nigeria a appalling image and consumed much of its resources since it reared its ugly head in 2009.

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