In its effort to enhance water supply, sanitation and hygiene to the people, the Taraba State government has extended the mandate of the Taraba State Water Supply Agency. In line with this, an amendment of the existing law is being considered by the legislature to make the agency fully autonomous and able to meet its new mandate. THE NIGERIA STANDARD’s VICTOR GAI, had audience with the General Manager of the agency, Engr. Musa Buba Siam, and the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in the state were discussed. Excerpts
NIGERIA is second globally in terms of open defecation. Would you say open defecation is a poverty issue or a cultural issue in Nigeria?
I think it is both. There is the angle of poverty there. Here we are talking about households not being able to provide sanitation for themselves. And there is this issue of culture whereby in rural settings, the practice of people going to the bush to find conveniences prevails. The essence of going to the bush is to find a secure place where he will do his conveniences without being seen and so if such a person would have his conveniences within his apartment, I think it would be most comfortable for him to use it. That is where the poverty angle comes in; that people find it difficult to afford some of those sanitation facilities and the bush is there already, naturally made. I am not sure any man would want to stand in an open bush and defecate, being watched by people or passers-by. If there is an alternative, such a person would prefer a place that is secured, that is dignified so that he would do his conveniences.
What in your own opinion is the best strategy by government and other stakeholders in dealing with the menace?
Let me take you back to a video that was played when Gov Ishaku launched the revived WASH policy for the state. The video gave the typical scenario of what happens if we don’t tackle open defecation. In that video, you would see people going to the open field to defecate and when rain fell, it was washed and found its way into the water bodies and people went to fetch water for household chores. And then there were also flies that found themselves where those faeces were deposited and they fly to homes, touch our food, we eat the food, drink the water and then we fall sick. And there was this young man that was educated and picked it from there that he was going to be a champion in stopping open defecation. He came home and educated his parents. He discovered a relative had fallen sick and was vomiting and passing out excreta uncontrollably. He took that person to the hospital and kept on with the campaign until the people realized that there is a link between open defecation, the food we eat, the water we drink and the environment. So, all of us have roles and responsibilities to play. The government has a role to sensitize the populace on the dangers of open defecation. We ourselves and the people would also have to do things thinking of our dignity, our respect and then the impact on our health. Once we begin to do that, then we are ready to tackle open defecation. Government can also support people by providing those facilities at strategic points but I know it would be very difficult for government to provide sanitation facilities for people that do not have, but they can provide facilities in motor parks, schools, markets, stadia and even in some communities. You can have public toilets where people can ease themselves and even pay a token so that we can maintain those facilities.
The Taraba State Water Supply Agency, being an urban water supply and sanitation service provider, how does it affect us?
It does in a way because, this faeces, when they get to our water bodies, these are the same water bodies we extract water from. Even when we treat before we give to the people, peradventure there is a mistake in the course of treatment, you are sure that people will be affected. So if we are able to protect our water bodies, the better for us. The environment would be protected, the water would be of high quality that would require less treatment and then there would be cost saving and those things put together would lead to the general wellbeing of the people.
What is your assessment of the water supply and sanitation situation in Taraba State and Jalingo in particular?
Well, the situation is below expectation. Open defecation you see is practiced everywhere. Go to Mile six, immediately after the TSBS, you will see an open field where solid waste is being dumped. The place has become an open toilet. Now, there is an environmental danger there. Like we said flies would go there, rodents and creeping animals would go there and find their way into people’s homes and contaminate food and water and then when it rains, you will see so many things; stench and odour would be oozing out and we have such points littered across the city. Now the situation is really bad and we need to do something really fast otherwise we would be consumed by this environmental menace.
Can you tell us the mandate of the Taraba State Water Supply Agency?
Our new mandate is to do water supply to urban centres, talking about towns with population of above 20,000. Then we have additional mandate to do liquid waste management. By liquid waste management, we are talking about waste water that emanate from domestic, industrial and commercial activities. The question now is how do we manage it?. You discover that we have septic tanks in almost every household. Our responsibility for the start would be to get to these septic tanks and see how we can evacuate them when they are filled, take them to a treatment facility where we can treat centrally and then there are so many chain values from there. From the treatment, we can generate manure, we can do recycled water and many others. But our vision is to have a city in line with SEWA lines and then we collect water from household including pump water from the city and take them to waste water treatment plant where all these waste water would be treated and discharged to the environment. So by then we would have removed all the negative things that go with the water and find a way of disposing them safely.