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139 FCT communities where RUWASSA is working, not afflicted by cholera
Ag. Executive Director, Dr Hassan
August, 2021

Water and sanitation are two areas that are crucial for human existence. The vital importance of both led to the establishment of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program by UNICEF globally. A relatively unknown Division, the WASH Division, of Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) was upgraded into a full-fledged agency by the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, to accentuate the critical importance of water and sanitation to general wellbeing.

The move showed the official passion towards a clean, healthy and conducive environment for all residents. The new agency, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), was raised to improve the lives of FCT rural communities by providing clean water and sanitation.

Abuja Digest Weekly duo of Josie Mudasiru and Olubunmi Labiyi recently had a chat with the Acting Executive Director of the agency, Dr Mohammed Ali Dan Hassan, a geologist and specialist in water, water sanitation, mineral resources and hygiene, whose Ph.D was in Water Resources and Hydrogeology. Excerpts:

Abuja Digest Weekly: Your agency's mandate is to provide water and sanitation to rural areas. Please, expatiate on this?
Hassan: The National Policy on Water and Sanitation (2004) domesticated in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources mandates states and FCT to establish an agency for human water supply and sanitation. The mandate of these states and FCT is to handle the provision of safe water sources to the rural communities because most of our rural communities are not serviced by pipe borne water and the aspect of sanitation and hygiene cannot be done successfully without water.

So this agency ensures delivery of safe water supply in our rural communities and environmental sanitation and hygiene to ensure that the communities have toilet facilities in each household and maintain good personal and environmental hygiene. Right now, Nigeria is being ranked number 1 on open defecation in the world. A couple of years ago, India was number 1, but India did a lot of advocacy campaigns, construction of facilities and awareness programs to reduce it to the barest minimum. Now, we are doing the same thing in Nigeria.

We have about 23 percent of our population defecating in the open and that is about 47-49 million Nigerians defecating in the open. As far as a person defecates in the open, we are not safe because of transmission of diseases. Through open defecation, flies touch the faeces and contaminate the food and water which people consume and which, on the other hand, result to health issues. Even when the rain falls, it washes the faeces back into streams and shallow wells which get contaminated and which lead to a lot of water-borne diseases.

We are also involved in a lot of advocacy campaigns to stop the behavioural/ cultural problem that encourages open defecation. Currently, we have WASHCOMs (Water Sanitation and Hygiene Committees). These committees are to ensure safety, security and sustainability of the facilities, whether they are constructed by the government, philanthropists, owned by communities or partnerships. The overall maintenance is handed over to these Committees. Except there are instances where the maintenance is beyond their capacity, they can contact the agency to get involved.

We have trained artisans in rural areas that will be able to handle repairs and maintenance of water schemes. This training project was supported by UNICEF and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and this took place in March 2021.We trained artisans from each of the six Area Councils. They are trained on minor repairs to support sustainability in the water schemes.

There is a road map we have drafted with the support of UNICEF, and the road map is to assist in eliminating open defecation before the year 2025 and it is in line with the National Road Map to eradicate open defecation. So you see, it's not just rural communities we give service to but also the urban communities.
In most cases, it's not just the lack of infrastructure that encourages open defecation. There are people that still refuse to use toilet facilities provided. We want people to change this mindset so that people can accept the use of safe toilets for defecating. This behavioural problem is being tackled by reorientation and public awareness programs.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Can you mention some of the satellite towns and rural areas that have benefitted from your intervention?
Hassan: First of all, we started a planning scheme in Bwari Central ward where JICA supported us and we conducted the community-led total sanitation in the ward comprising of 10 communities in Zuma 1 and 2, Kuchibiyu and Bwari Central ward. This was in January this year and in each of these communities, we formed the WASHCOMMS and they started constructing toilets.

What we are currently doing is follow-up and monitoring to ensure work is progressing. In June, UNICEF supported us also in Kwali and Yangoji wards comprising 139 communities and surprisingly, the recent outbreak of cholera did not affect these 139 communities. So this support is ongoing right now and we just collected what we call cyclic pans, which is a plastic pan you place on the toilets in the house they (pans) resemble squatting WC (water closet) but this is in the form of plastic and has an internal cover underneath to prevent flies from going in, and it only requires a small amount of water to flush.

We were given about 2,000 pieces of these cyclic spans. They have been distributed to the communities for free. The idea is that when we use Bwari and Kwali as models, we will replicate it in all communities in the FCT and we encourage the communities to use locally available materials to construct their toilets so that they do not have to come into the city to buy WCs, which are expensive. We encourage them to use locally sourced materials to construct their latrines.

In addition, there is also what we call sanitation value chain. The economic aspect of this sanitation can be used to empower the youth. Sanitation economy can boost the revenue of Federal Capital Territory Administration. These public toilets can be constructed and a token is charged for anyone that wants to make use of the facilities. Income is generated and royalty goes to the government. It will empower the youth and they will make a lot of money from it.

We are looking at working with all SDAs (Secretariats, Departments and Agencies of FCTA) to ensure that some of these toilets are set up in the FCT and ensure that it conforms with the Abuja Masterplan and that it doesn't become an encumbrance to the existing structures.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Sanitation and water go together. It is very difficult to maintain hygiene without water. What is the agency's plan to ensure clean water gets to rural areas of FCT?
Hassan: We have an action plan that will look at critical communities that don't have water at all or have very inadequate provision of water. There are also those which have water schemes that are not functioning and there are those that have schemes that are working, but they don't have the structure for operation and maintenance. So, we go to those ones and form the structure of WASHCOMS that oversee the operations and maintenance of such water project which as well depends on the availability of funding.

RUWASSA is also having signals from Federal Ministry of Water Resources through a project called P-WASH (Partnership for expanding water sanitation and hygiene) which is a 50/50 percent partnership between Federal Ministry of Water Resources and each state/FCT. This partnership will assist us in achieving our target of sustainability.

Abuja Digest Weekly: What is your agency doing about indiscriminate dumping of waste in streams and waterways?
Hassan: This is part of the campaign and awareness program as well. Once you have a pollution trait, it's easy to contaminate but very difficult to eradicate. But gradually, the eradication of pollution wastes on lakes and water banks can be done through awareness to the public. We have to educate and engage in advocacy for people to know that they have to dump their refuse in appropriate locations. That's why we are advocating the return of the monthly environmental sanitation programme because it reminds people to take care of their environment.

The STDD (Satellite Towns Development Department) is in charge of wastes around the Area Councils and RUWASSA liaises with them to support the issue on water sanitation nuisances. Right now, we have on the drawing board Organized Private Sector on WASH. This is the private sector that is coming with its own funding to assist FCT. They are even mobilizing Nigerians in Diaspora to support.

They plan to provide trucks for waste collection and even three centers for sewage system in the Area Councils, which they want to provide on their own. Dr. Nicholas Igwe is the coordinator of the Organized Private Sector on WASH and he is sourcing funding from Nigerians in Diaspora.

FCT also has its own waste management plan; one for the Area Councils, solid wastes by STDD and then the city's AEPB. So both of these agencies are stakeholders, but RUWASSA goes to the rural communities and ensures that each household takes care of his environment.

There is also a PPP (Public Private Partnership) program encouraged by the government for handling sanitation issues. Some companies have come with applications for specific locations. They will be negotiating with the Federal Government on that and when it becomes operational, it will also serve as another source of revenue for government.

Abuja Digest Weekly: As a geologist, what is your advice on boreholes? There are concerns that the digging of too many boreholes can lead to earth tremors.
Hassan: Technically, digging of boreholes is not responsible for earthquakes and tremors. The dangers the boreholes will cause will be in of form of what is called a kind of subsidence; that is, when you extract too much water which is more than the precipitation by rainfall, you are creating vacuum from the soil and rocks. In Nigeria, we have different seasons. So when too much water is extracted during the dry season and there isn't any precipitation by rainfall to replace it, it causes differential settlement.

Abuja Digest Weekly: What advice do you have for FCT residents?
Hassan: First of all, we are all Nigerians and our target is to leave a legacy so that our descendants' lives will be better than ours. So, Abuja residents should give Federal Capital Territory Administration the maximum cooperation in ensuring safe water supply. Their support is very important because we have a Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello who is passionate about the wellbeing of residents.

If residents notice any issue concerning water and sanitation, they should not hesitate in contacting us to report and we'll see what we can do to salvage the situation. We need their cooperation to ensure safe delivery of water supply and also safe sanitation and hygiene practices; also in stopping open defecation.

We want to encourage each household to have its own toilet because defecating in the open, especially in the night, has led to dangers such as girls been attacked and raped. In conclusion, this agency has been established for the good of all of us to have better health and improved standards of living.

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