The Agony of Water Scarcity

Photo by Tucker Tangeman on Unsplash THROUGH THE EYES OF OJONUGWA YAHAYA INTRODUCTION Located in an atmosphere of serenity and decorated with the rich savannah vegetation, the communal life and practice of trade by barter is still held with great prestige in the community of Ojokpachi-Odo.  Ojokpachi is one of the villages in Omala Local Government Area (LGA) of Kogi State.  The years I spent growing up with my grandmother in Ojokpachi would have been nothing short of amazing and enjoyable if we had access to clean and accessible water. The major source of water in the community is the stream (Oche and Oshumamanyi), while those that can afford hand-dug wells have it close to their compounds. The quality of the well water is determined by the nature of the soil where the well is situated, and it is not all the available wells that produce good, safe water.  The well in my family compound produces hard water (highly concentrated in calcium and magnesium carbonates, bicarbonates and sulphates).  The water is not good for drinking. We usually manage it for other domestic use such as cooking, bathing and washing, though the water does not lather well with soap, so it does not really wash cloths clean and ends up leaving the skin looking white and dry after every bath.  During the raining season, we practice rainwater harvesting; a practice where my grandmother usually collects drinking water into special clay pots. The journey of water collection to the nearby stream during raining season is usually much easier, even with the distance of about 6 kilometres. Because the stream is full, and water flows freely during this time, we can make up to five (5) trips at a stretch. It is important to note that water collection in most households in the community is predominantly done by women and girls, making life difficult for women and girls.   When school is in session, children of school age like me normally go for water collection first thing in the morning before setting off to school. When we get to school, some of us are assigned to fetch water to teachers houses as part of our labour duties. On getting home and having a rushed lunch, we set off for another round of water collection for the household until the available large water containers are filled up. It is an everyday routine. When school is not in session, we usually fetch water before going to farm. During the dry season when water scarcity reaches its peak, when the stream dries up and wells do not get to produce enough water, life in the village become as hard as you can imagine. We have to walk several miles – beyond 6 kilometres – in search of water. Women and girls set out as early as 3:00am or as soon as the cock crows to go in search of water, carrying touch lights in their hands. Women use cutlass to dig shallow ponds in the moist part of the stream, which is now dried, then wait patiently for the water to gather before scooping it with a little bowl into to a larger round container/basin which is equivalent to 25 litres keg. The queue usually become very long as the day breaks, sometimes water collection may take the whole day. The best time to get water from the shallow pond is very early in the morning or at midday when most people have gone to the farm, because the moment most of the people get back from farm the queue become unbearable. Sometimes, after waiting for hours, and getting to evening when the sun finally disappears, one may return home with an empty container. When the water situation becomes tougher, women and their children (girls) take time off farming activities completely to dedicate more days to fetching water. In this case the mother will be at the water source, scooping water from the hand-dug pond… scooping and waiting for it to gather again as if she is counting every drop, while the children will concentrate on carrying the water home. The journey home is never easy at this point, as our neck aches, with the centre of the head pleading for freedom from the water load, and shaky legs climbing the stony hill and walking the sloppy paths. The feet feels the hardness of the stones under the flip-flop slippers and bodies soaked with the constant droplets from the edge of the large basin, balanced on the head and held with both hands. One trip can take one and half hours. In some cases men who have bicycles go farther along the farm road with their kegs tied to the back of their bicycles in search of where the stream had formed a pond and is yet to dry up. Though the water gotten from there is usually dirty, brownish in colour and has odour due to dry leaves falling into the pond or as a result of cattle coming to drink from it. Usually when men fetch water, it is for their own personal use: for laundry and bathing and not for the entire household use as they believe that fetching water for the household is the duty of women and girls. My grandmother use to join us to fetch water but at a point due to old age, she did not have the strength to carry water, or wait on the queue to scoop water from the shallow hand-dug pond. But whenever me and my little sister go for water collection, she appreciates us a lot, calling us sweet names or our clan’s greeting name (Oyowo-gida), and adding larger portions of dry fish to our dinner. My grandmother feels our pains and wishes she could help. On several accessions, either me or my sister will return from the stream with swollen face from bee stings and my grandmother will cry and say we should not go to collect water again, but if we do

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