In Kanwa community, Warawa Local Government Area (LGA) of Kano State, access to clean, potable drinking water is a luxury residents can barely afford. Access to any kind of water comes at the cost of sharing it with livestock, writes Daniel Ojukwu who recently spent time in the state.
The picture above is of a young boy, below 10 years of age. At the lake, he stood casually watching men and women go about their daily rituals, fetching water for their daily needs, while his cattle drank from the same source.
Moments before this picture was captured, he steered his two cows into the lake, wielding a stick in his left hand, and guided them away from a man and woman filling jerrycans with water from the same lake, which they loaded onto a cart to then journey some five kilometres to where they reside.
If he was much older, a Hebrew, and stammered with a crowd of followers, I would swap the picture for a representation of the attempt by Moses and the Israelis to cross the red sea. But the size of the lake aside, one could very quickly see that there was no parting of the water body but a convergence.
Very quickly, I observed that whilst the humans and animals flanked the boy on both sides, fetching and drinking from the lake, respectively, the water formed ripples that met directly in front of this young shepherd.
I asked these dwellers why they had travelled this far out to get water from what seemed to me a contaminated body of green liquid (for want of a better description).
“No water anywhere,” one of the men replied as he fetched his kegs from the lake. I found that carts were not the only vehicle of choice to convey water to their homes. Littered around the lake were motorcycles. Residents patronised motorcycle (okada) riders, and would tie their jerrycans to the bikes, and ride to their destinations. Recall the distance was no less than five kilometres.
The motorcycles were not the only things to litter the grounds. Anyone with half a nose would very easily notice a foul stench created by several splotches of dung from obvious culprits.
To outsiders, this would be an oddity, but this is the norm in this part of Nigeria. This here, was Kanwa community in Warawa LGA, Kano state.
Prior to my visit to Kanwa community, reports of the unhealthy living conditions of the people had been made public, and the waters had been tested and showed high levels of Psedomonas aeruginosa, one of the most dangerous bacteria known to cause inward fever, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Why then were these people still drinking and using it? No water anywhere?
JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF WATER
When I first took the diversion off a tarred road and unto a dirt path leading to this community, I had little idea of what I would encounter.
That morning, I had eaten a heavy meal and downed it with water from a treated plastic bottle, before setting out on an hour-long journey to this community.
During my negotiations with a motorcycle rider, his refusal to budge on his exorbitant asking price put me face to face with the reality of how strenuous my journey would be.
In a few minutes, we arrived in the midst of men and women who wanted to tell their stories but speak anonymously.
They were camped under a tree, waiting for children and other adults to return from the lake I later visited. Some others were digging away at a dried-up lake directly in front of the tree these dwellers were camped under.
“Normally, we use water from this lake, but as you can see, it is dry,” a resident explained to me. “Those men in there,” he added, gesturing towards labourers who were digging away, “they are removing goat faeces, and digging deeper, so that when the rain falls, there will be more water for us.”
They went on to explain that their children had to fetch water during school hours because different households now depended on the same source, and it was a race against time because the source they were all currently using could dry up soon.
What these people were telling me was that their lake had dried up, and they had to trek or ride a long distance to another lake to find water, regardless of how contaminated it was, and they needed all hands on deck. I told the story of their children’s poor education here.
In a short while, I was on a bike, heading to the lake where I would find the young shepherd tending to his cows as man and animal drew water from the same source. How far was this journey? I calculated.
Riding at an average of 27km/h, I got to the lake in a short while, and learnt from my readings that the entire trip was 5.6 km in distance.
On a motorcycle, the duration of the journey appears short, but how long would it take an average human being to walk this distance in search of water?
The average human walks 5.1 kilometers per hour. This speed varies and can be upped as would be the case if one was to fetch water from one point to another.
A 5.6km distance between residence and lake would mean it takes around an hour for villagers to get to the lake, and another hour to get the water back home.
POOR ELECTRICITY, POOR EDUCATION AND MORE PROBLEMS
Beyond Kanwa’s water crisis, I learned from residents that they had been without electricity for as long as they could remember.
I recall riding past felled electricity poles, and wondering; what’s going on here?
When I first asked about it, it was with a genuine look of concern. It quickly switched from concern to confusion when the men began laughing and turning heads to look at eachother.
The laughter was quick, and ended as quickly as it started. I thought to myself, they are probably thinking, “This man hasn’t seen anything.”
They explained that they had been living in darkness for a while, and that despite several efforts, nothing had changed.
By evening, I had heard enough stories about the hardships endured by people in Kanwa community. The villagers shared stories of how their health suffered as a result of poor healthcare and how their children were unable to go to school due to water scarcity.
Their plights were captured here.
Kanwa community faces enormous challenges, but for me, the biggest culture shock was learning that “ordinary” Nigerians share their water with cows that defecate in the same pool.
This report was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.