By Abu Dooshima
Seventy-year-old Harriet Sunday has lived her entire life in Ikot Esop community in Nsit Atai local government area in the oil-rich Akwa Ibom State, South South Nigeria.
The community is home to more than a thousand four hundred persons and majority of them are small-scale farmers and petty traders.
Aside its beautiful scenery, Ikot Esop lacks safe drinking water. As a young child, Mama said she dreaded waking up early and walking miles to the village stream to get water for the entire household. The task, she explained, was both backbreaking and time consuming.
Her toil for water became worse when she got married and had eight children. Now she had to work all day not only to provide water but (to) also till the soil to put food on the table for her family, leaving her with less time to bond with her children.
“It was difficult as a mother to get enough water for the entire family, if it were to be now, it wouldn’t have been like that,” she said, speaking in her local dialect.
Asked if her husband ever helped out at the stream, she smiled and said no. Local customs put such job beyond men!
At the start of each year, she hoped and prayed that the water situation would improve, but as years turned into decades, she lost hope and the stream continued to be her last resort.
The stream is popularly known as Iket Esop River and is the community’s only source of water supply for centuries, according to local accounts.
The stream is about 10-kilometre walk to and from the village centre. The road to it is slippery and untarred while raffia palm and chirping birds bid visitors welcome as they approach the mouth of the stream.
The path to the river is hilly and steep with holes the size of foot dug at various point to aid easy access and prevent accidents but many of the women said they’ve had a number of accidents and lost their water pots in the process.
The stream is far from being pure, a part of its surface covered with algae.
”We use it to wash cloth, bath and we have to boil the water before we drink,” Augustine Carlos, a tour guide, said.
“Three communities depend on the stream for their source of water and some individuals come here to sacrifice and pray to the goddess of the river. The water doesn’t get dry.”
Carlos said the poor quality of the water had repeatedly led to outbreak of waterborne diseases in the village and it was in the bid to address it that members of the community in 2009 dug a well which supplies water only in the rainy season and dries up during the harmattan.
Ukeme Etim, a driver, corroborated the story and noted that the dry season was the most difficult period for his family as it was difficult for them to get water.
Twenty three-year-old Edidion Pius, a mother of two, shared the same view.
But respite came the way of the villagers in 2013 when the village was selected for a water project under the Niger Delta support project sponsored by the European Union, UNICEF and the state government.
The project saw water taps stationed at different areas of Iket Esop, a development that brought joy and excitement to members of the community.
The women sang and danced at the launch of the project, saying they had now turned the page on decades of water scarcity and disease.
They said they were now investing quality time in their businesses which in turn has improved their living condition and hygiene.
Putting on infectious smiles in the crowd, Harriet said the water project was for her a “childhood dream come true”.
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