Sanitation in the Niger Delta: it may not be glamorous, but it’s essential.

Sanitation in the Niger Delta: it may not be glamorous, but it’s essential.
November 2, 2011 Callie Daniels-Howell

By: Scott Pegg, Bebor Project Liaison,

Although it initially started as a project focused largely on bringing the benefits of primary education to children in the rural Niger Delta, Timmy’s work with the Bebor Model Nursery and Primary School has increasingly turned in the direction of providing sustainable public health interventions that will benefit the hundreds of kids enrolled at our two campuses in Bane and Bodo, Rivers State, Nigeria.  We recently learned that the final component of a larger water and sanitation phase of our work, toilets for the school in Bane, has now been mostly completed.  The photo below shows the shell of the building that will ultimately house boys, girls and teachers’ toilets at the school in Bane. The three black tanks in the right of the picture are what stores water pumped up by a borehole (generously funded by our partners, Stepping Stones Nigeria) from an underground aquifer.

Bebor Latrine Project

The boreholes, now operational at both schools, serve three main functions.  First, they provide a source of cleaner and safer drinking water for the students and the teachers at both schools.  Second, in both locations, we have installed water taps near the schools that local villagers can freely access to provide themselves with cleaner and safer drinking water.  Third, the boreholes provide the water that enables (in the case of Bodo) or will enable (in the case of Bane) the toilets to flush and the students to wash their hands.

Both schools are located is an oil-producing region where spills have negatively affected water quality and the overall health or local residents.  As noted in a recent report by the United Nations Environment Program (Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, p. 165), “An oily sheen is ever present on the water surface of the creeks around Ogoniland.  This same water is used by local communities for fishing, bathing and in some cases for drinking.”  After installing the first borehole at the school in Bodo, Timmy funded a study comparing the quality of drinking water from three different sources (a stream used for drinking, the school’s previous well and the new borehole) across eight chemical and five microbiological parameters.  The borehole water was found to have the lowest heterotrophic bacterial count.  E. coli was detected in the stream water and fecal coliform bacteria were detected in both the stream and well water but not in the borehole water.  Beyond the obvious public health benefits, the community water taps at each school will also disproportionately benefit women as they are the ones who are overwhelmingly charged with fetching water in the Niger Delta and will thus benefit the most from this more readily accessible new source of freely available water.

While the provision of cleaner drinking water is increasingly appreciated, the health benefits of providing basic sanitation facilities often go unnoticed.  The Economist news magazine editorialized in 2008 that “Politicians and celebrities are often enamored of ‘clean water’ – but less keen on posing next to the latrines that must be built to keep water that way.”  While the work that Timmy does in the Niger Delta is not glamorous, it is essential.

Bebor Latrine Project

Three local workers constructing the waste pit or “soak away” which
will collect the waste from the toilets which will soon be installed at the school in Bane. 

In addition to its health benefits, the construction of functioning toilets at both schools also plays a critical role in terms of their basic educational mission.  According to UNICEF, “Safe water and adequate sanitation are as important to quality education as pencils, books and teachers.”  In particular, UNICEF notes that “Safe water and adequate sanitation are crucial for girls to take their rightful place in the classroom. Without these basic necessities, girls will continue to be absent…. While affecting all school-aged children, inadequate sanitation facilities hit girls hardest, pushing many out of the classroom for lack of privacy and dignity.”  Although a large majority of school age children around the world not in school are girls, our student enrollment at Bebor is nearly 53% female.

And the next stop after the construction of the toilets is completed?  Our hope is that we can continue improving the overall health of the school populations through public health screenings and interventions for the students in Bodo.  Assuming that pilot project works, we will extend it to the school in Bane in the future.  Both the health interventions and the improved water and sanitation facilities will go a long way toward helping the incredible teachers and staff at Bodo continue to build healthy futures in the Niger Delta.


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