The earth road is dusty and bumpy. But that is not the main worry of the residents of Oduroin, a small community in Modakeke in Ife East Local Government Area of Osun State.
A putrid air hung over the village. The reporter mentioned it to his escort as they entered the village.
“We don’t like the smell too but we can’t help it,” a resident, Ismaila Alamu, later said to the reporter.
Oduroin is just another community in Nigeria without access to potable water. But in the global effort to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, access to potable water has become even more important. According to the NCDC, hygiene, including regular washing of hands with soap and water, is one of the important measures against the spread of the disease.
However, in Oduroin, hand washing is not an issue, according to Mr Alamu.
“We are talking about water to drink and prepare food. Bathing and washing of clothes are secondary for us here. We have been enduring scarcity of water for years and yet no hope.”
“We hear people in the cities talk about coronavirus but we can’t fight it here,” Isaac Olawoyin, a crop farmer, said.
“I was in Osogbo recently where people talked about how to prevent coronavirus and the first means I heard is washing of hands with soap, water, and use of sanitisers. How can you do that here?”
Mr Olawoyin said the residents trek a long distance to get water from streams or pay N200 for 25 litres of water.
“To get the stream water, it will take you over one hour journey. We know the implications of drinking dirty water but we have been taking the water like that for years. We regularly treat typhoid and other forms of illness,” he said.
Because the community sits on rocky terrain, digging wells costs much.
“Many dig wells but could not reach water level and we have no money to dig boreholes,” Mr Olawoyin continued.
“We beg people with motorcycles to help fetch from the streams. People go sometimes for one week or more without a drop of water touching their body.”
“There is no potable water in Oduroin except when it rains,” a woman in the community, Toyin Opeloyeru, said.
“We pay N200 to commercial motorcyclists for a keg of water. With N1,000, they bring five kegs which can last only two days. I will wash my children’s clothes and bathe from the five kegs. There are days we don’t have money, hence we will not have our bath or wash clothes for that week.
“If I trek to the stream, it will take me an hour and 30 minutes. But sometimes I am also tired because of the stress I would have gone through in the farm. We are appealing to the government to help us.”
No government presence
Oduroin is an agrarian community of about 3,000 inhabitants. But there is virtually no government presence. The people say they only feel government presence when politicians visit during election campaigns.
“Many farmers in Modakeke reside in this community but the road is also a challenge,” Semiu Olaifa, a commercial motorcyclist, said.
“It is dusty during the dry season and worse during rainy periods because the road is then filled with portholes.
“We fill the potholes but a single downpour always renders the efforts useless. So, we have accepted our fate about the rough road.”
The community also has no school, primary healthcare centre or electricity. Some residents told PREMIUM TIMES that they leave their children with family members in the city so that they can attend schools.
Ajala Rasaq said he has lived in the community for more than 50 years.
“I’ve not taken my bath for nearly a week now. We urge the government to help us.”
Muritala Juliana, a mother of two, said lack of potable water exposes the residents of Oduroin to ailments like tonsillitis and skin infections.
“This is because we prepare food with stream water that gets muddy when it rains. This is our greatest predicament as parents taking care of children who need water at all times.”
State battles COVID-19
Osun State discovered the deadly B117 strain of COVID-19 in January.
Health experts say the virus is a more dangerous strain and is 70 per cent more contagious than the other strains.
Announcing the discovery, the Commissioner for Information, Funke Egbemode, said the government “is particularly worrisome because it is barely a week that the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 announced the discovery of the strain in Nigeria, and Osun already has cases,” she said then.
“Considering the continued disregard and defiance for safety protocols in the state, the government is extremely concerned about the days ahead. This new strain spreads faster and kills quicker.
“If it continues to grow, more citizens will become vulnerable and those with underlying ailments more endangered. We cannot continue to act like Covid-19 is not real. It is not just a sad reality but one that has changed momentum with this more deadly strain.”
She advised the people to comply with the non-pharmaceutical protocols outlined by the government such as frequent hand washing to avoid tragic consequences.
Rafiu Isamotu, the commissioner for health, said it was “regrettable” to have such a community in Osun.
“It is unfortunate,” Mr Isamotu said to PREMIUM TIMES.
“However, I may not be able to talk on that because as far as water is concerned, I will advise that you direct your questions to the ministry of water resources. We need water everywhere and it is part of fundamental human rights.
“That we still have communities without water is regrettable but like I said, I cannot really talk on that.”
The state’s commissioner for water resources, Amidu Tadese, said he would go to the community and work on our reporter’s findings.
“You will agree with me that it is practically impossible for the government to provide water for all communities at once,” he said.
“In Osun, we have a Water Corporation that deals with urban areas, we also have the Small Town Water Sanitation Agency that was put in place last year April when we realised that we need to pay attention to lower communities with 5,000 to 20,000 people. Then, we have a Rural Water and Environmental Sanitation Agency (RUWESA) that attends to rural communities.”
The commissioner said the government had tried to reach “a reasonable part” of the state and that work was still ongoing.
“You will, however, agree that it is impossible to reach everywhere,” he said.
“We will reach out to the (Oduroin) community as soon as possible since you have reported their plights. We don’t want our people to rely on stream water. Apart from needing water to fight COVID-19, water is essential and I will ensure that we locate the community and provide their adequate needs.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), proper washing of hands can reduce the risk of contracting infectious diseases like COVID-19.
A global data released in 2017 revealed that unsafe water sources, poor access to basic hand washing facilities and unsafe sanitation are linked to 1.5 million deaths across the world yearly.
The global report further showed that nearly 2.2 billion people are currently living without safely managed water outlets.
For WHO, its 2019 data revealed that around 22 per cent of healthcare facilities in the least developed countries do not have basic water services.
In addition, a World Bank data revealed that around 75 per cent of people living in rural areas lack adequate facilities for hand washing.
Nigeria is one of the countries affected with all of the aforementioned realities such as lack of pipe-borne water and sanitation facilities.
This, unfortunately, is a major hindrance to efforts at containing the pandemic.
‘Government must act’
A microbiologist, Feyisara Akani, said the authorities and non-governmental associations need to focus on addressing the issues of basic amenities in communities.
“Your findings have simply shown that there is a lot to be done in many rural communities if people have to go as long as one week before taking their bath. The authorities and NGOs must as a matter of fact locate many of these rural communities and attend to their needs.
“It is evident that these people want to adhere to protocols but circumstances won’t permit them. More so, the government has not done well in its awareness campaign. The government ought to have noticed some of these communities if they have done necessary awareness in local communities so that these people can practice the preventive measures to avoid the spread of community-level transmission of the deadly virus.
“In addition, the local government must be held responsible and must be ready to take responsibility in calling the attention of the authorities at the state level to the crisis some of the rural communities are facing,” Ms Akanni said.
This report is part of the COVID-19 Response “Together for Reliable Information project” implemented by PAGED Initiative with support from the EU & FreePress Unlimited.