From time immemorial, philosophers and scientists have linked development to the presence of safe and clean drinking water. In fact, the availability of and access to potable water is one of the strongest indicators for development in any society. It is therefore not surprising that 37 percent of the 884 million people in the world who lack access to safe water supplies live in Sub-Saharan Africa. As water is linked to development, so is it linked to poverty and almost 2 in 3 people who need safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day.
Not only are people living without access to clean water burdened with poverty and underdevelopment, their health and education are also adversely affected. Worldwide nearly 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 is due to a water-related disease and in developing countries, as much as 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from a water-related disease, leading to more than 840,000 deaths each year.
With these searing statistics in mind, it becomes almost impossible to not view what Dr Abdul’aziz Yari Abubakar has achieved in improving access to potable water in Zamfara State over the last five years as a revolution. Most state governments in Nigeria pay close to zero attention to provision of potable water. It is one of those issues politicians rarely campaign with or give any promises about. Whatever is done in that sector is hardly regarded as an achievement. But Governor Yari Abubakar has spent a great deal of time and resources over the last five years bringing lasting solution and succour to Zamfara State.
When his administration assumed office in 2011, Yari Abubakar wasted no time in giving the strongest possible hint that water provision would be of the highest priority to his government. The Governor kicked off efforts in the regard by ensuring the speedy completion of the N636million Kaura-Namoda water treatment plant in order to ease the persistent problem of water scarcity in Kaura-Namoda Local Government. He personally inspected the project, which was inherited from the previous administration but was curiously omitted from the handing over notes.
One year into office, the administration of Yari Abubakar awarded a N6.7 billion contract for the construction of a water treatment plant at Talata Mafara. The project at its completion was expected to provide five million gallons of treated water to Talata Mafara, Maradun, Bakura and Maru Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state. The true test of Yari Abubakar’s leadership ethos came when while he was away, the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State, Ibrahim Wakkala, in acting capacity inspected this monumental project and ordered the demolition of part of the water treatment plant over non-adherence to contract specifications. The engineering consultants handling the projects had raised observations over the contractor’s violation of contract agreement, and the Deputy Governor, being well grounded in the administration’s vision said the government would not compromise quality and standard in any job awarded in line with its principle of transparency and accountability.
In 2013, Yari Abubakar continued with his vision of executing at least one major water project each year to improve access to clean and safe drinking water in Zamfara State. The dredging of the Gusau water barrage and the provision of two underground fresh water plants and reservoirs to complement the barrage in an effort to ensure consistent water supply in the state capital were classified as priority projects. Two years in, the Yari Abubakar administration had spent N7 billion to improve water supply in all parts of the state with the rehabilitation and expansion of Kaura Namoda and Talata Mafara water works as achievements.
Seeing the dedication and commitment of the Zamfara State government under the leadership of Dr Yari Abubakar to the provision of adequate water supply, international organizations in 2015 partnered with the government to achieve even more. The governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF) in conjunction with the Department For International Development (DFID) in effort to enhance the provision of water and sanitation in the state. He also immediately approved the release of N85 million counterpart funding for the projects to be executed under the MoU. Birnin Magaji, Tsafe and Gusau were selected as piloting local government areas to immediately benefit from the projects, before expanding to all the other local government areas.
So far in 2016, N111 million has been committed by the government, through the Ministry of Water Resources, to tackle water shortage usually experienced during dry season by residents in Gusau, Zamfara State capital and its environs. The expansion of water pipelines from Koramar Wanke and Yarkusa reservoir directly to the water board is almost completed. Similar projects are executed in all the 14 local councils of the state before 2019 to ensure that the acute water shortage being experienced by the communities is addressed.
Travelling through Zamfara State there is a recurring theme, from one local government to the other, giant water supply plants powered by solar energy. From Kasuwar Daji, to Gora in Maradu local government, to Rini in Bagura local government, these water schemes have gone a long way in improving the economic development of the communities where they are sited. And there is perhaps no greater form of economic empowerment, albeit indirectly, for the women in these communities. Almost two-thirds of households rely on women to get the family’s water when there is no water source in the home and in many developing countries, millions of women spend several hours a day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources. The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water; the same as an entire year’s labour in all of France.
For Yari Abubakar, no policy decision or investment is in isolation, and there is a nexus, driven by innovation and thoughtfulness, between education and water supply in Zamfara. As government embarked on wide rehabilitation of old structures and construction of new ones in schools across the state, they were also equipped with their own solar-powered water supply schemes. The ingenuity behind this is fully appreciate when you learn that more than half of all primary schools in developing countries don’t have adequate water facilities and 443 million school days are as a result.
According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of between $3 and $34. Haven committed N26 billion over the last five years to the establishment of an efficient system of production and distribution of clean and safe drinking water, Yari Abubakar has undoubtedly set Zamfara State on the path of economic prosperity while alleviating the sufferings of the people.