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Enugu: Ravaged by water scarcity for more than 50 years

Enugu State is the political capital of the South East. It prides itself as the Coal City. Enugu has an ambience and a weather condition that make visitors desire to return anytime soon. Its allure is enchanting. But IFEOMA ONONYE and KEN OFOMA report that for more than 50 years, the city has battled a monster-shortage of water, which has made life there hellish. They report that it is a problem that has defied solutions from successive governments



After air, water is the second most essential element of life. Getting clean water has been the greatest Challenge in Nigeria’s Coal City State, Enugu.


A little research by our reporter proved that the water scarcity in Enugu is as old as residents born in the 80s. A few critics have described the water scarcity as an age long sickness that has no cure. Experts blamed the scarcity on the topography of the state.


The natural resources Enugu State is blessed with, Coal, has been pointed as the major course of water scarcity in the state capital. Also, the name Enugwu (Enugu) which literally means on top of the hill, is another reason why drilling boreholes or Wells to get water have not been completely successful in many parts of the city.


In the 90s, places in Enugu Metropolis like Agbani Road, Asata, Obiagu, some parts of Uwani, Achara Layout, Abakpa, Independence Layout and Coal Camp relied mostly on tankers that sold water. Until the idea of drilling wells for water came into the picture. Back then, some areas in Onu Asata, Obiagu, Idaw River, New Haven and Government Reserved Area (GRA) had running taps provided by Enugu State Water Board.


These areas were tagged the best places to live because of the availability of water. It also made renting apartments in these areas more expensive. At the moment, places like New Heaven, some parts of Idaw River have lost their crown. The pipe borne water they were respected for is no more. A journalist, who grew up in Nise Street, in Uwani Enugu, from 1984 till 2007 when she left Enugu for NYSC, recalled that fetching water was the hardest chore for all the children in the neighborhood.


Children and adults walked a few kilometers with kegs and buckets on their heads to get enough water for their families daily. Rainy season was and still a blessing to Enugu residents. They celebrate rainy season the way farmers look up to it for the flourishing of their crops. Not because the residents are predominantly farmers, but because it means having water in abundance. Every family has tanks, drums and kegs to store water for the drought season.


A few children like the journalist developed bronchitis due to fetching water in the rain. “Fetching water was just too tedious. Fetching water from nearby houses can be fun, but walking quite a distance with a heavy bucket on your head, that would take you five to ten trips to fill up a drum, is no joke. “To get enough water, every member of the family must participate in fetching water.


Every keg, buckets or even small water bottle counts. The number of people you have in your household that are able to carry water also helps because getting enough water for the family has a lot to do with the number of people fetching. It was not until my father bought a car for my mum, a Panel Van to be precise, that we had a little relief.


The car saved our heads and necks,”she said. In Enugu town, owning a car is a necessity, not luxury. No matter how luxurious you believe your car is, one day, the car, with all its grandeur will bow to the almighty water scarcity Enugu is known for. If you own a truck, then you are in luck because it means one trip to the water tap, your home will be filled.


And if you are in the business of selling water in Enugu, then you are a king.


The journalist also recalled that in 1994, the then Military Governor of Enugu State promised the residents of Nise Street, Isuochi street and Real Estate in Uwani a borehole after he commended their Saturday sanitation exercise of clearing the refuse dump that was threatening to block the road.


The sanitation team led by Late Mrs Veronica Meze, held a small ceremony to receive the Governor, who returned weeks after to fulfill his promise.


After few days of drilling, the team of engineers sent to drill the borehole packed up and left, saying they could not get find water. These communities licked their wounds and went back to relying on their long distant water supply. Many in the area who could afford to drill wells, were very fortunate. But during the dry season, they find themselves in the same position as others, because the wells dry up or become muddy.


Leaving Enugu for greener pastures to other states or countries gives people the hope that the years and change of government would help bring lasting solutions to the water problem.


Unfortunately, nothing has changed. Rather it is getting worse. Almost every compound is littered with huge tanks to reserve water. The early morning cluster at water taps by private trucks, cars, pedestrians carrying wheelbarrows filled with kegs are still there. People that are in business of selling water in Enugu are cashing in on the situation because the prices of water are not cheap. Now that the dry season is raging, Enugu State is at the peak of the drought.


A 500 gallon GP tank costs as much as N7,000. Many families fill these tanks, at least, two times in a month. In some areas, the same GP tank can be bought at N9,000. A 20 liter of water can go as much as N100 per keg.


A resident, Stanley Nsude, told Sunday Telegraph that in recent times, some areas which used to have water do not have water anymore. “Independence Layout and Trans Ekulu have been having water issues. Some parts of Uwani, Achara Layout, Abakpa and Coal Camp used to have water until November last year when the water stopped completely.


As we speak, there is no water anywhere.” He further explained that during the administration of Governor Chimaroke Nnamani, the Enugu water problem was significantly solved with the construction of three water projects along Enugu – Onitsha Expressway. In recent times, no one knows what happened to those projects


. “Unlike Lagos, Port Harcourt, Anambra and some other states that can just dig boreholes and get water, Enugu has a lot of coal deposit that makes it impossible to get water.


That was why the planners of the city designed it in such a way that its water will come from outside of the city,” he said A businessman, who spent most of his childhood in Enugu, Arthur Ugwu, told our reporter that he believes that the water scarcity in Enugu is as old as in the 1970s.


He explained that the reason he said so was that he was born in Enugu in the 70s and he witnessed the nail-biting hardship of water scarcity. Uche Jiakponna described the water scarcity in Enugu as an age-long disadvantage. “Years back, it was terrible because there was no availability of well water.


However, in the recent times, there are Well water here  and there. But during the dry season, most of the Wells dry up, thereby leaving most of the residents of the state to be without adequate water supply. “Also, the tap water supply which is managed by Water Corporation is nothing to write home about.


You can count few places where such tap water is still in existence, thereby making the residents to find means to supply their own water. “Water scarcity in Enugu, especially during the dry season affects almost all the homes. Most times families are forced to fetch muddy water, keep it overnight to settle so as to get clean water for the family use,” he said.

For many years, the city relied on water tankers, who go as far as 9th Mile to get water. 9th Mile is about 18 to 20 kilometers away from the Enugu Metropolis. It takes about 20 minutes’ drive to get to 9th Mile which to some extent explains why most tankers charge a lot of money to fill people’s tanks. Recent photos of many residents on a long queue to get water have gone viral on Facebook.


Another photo that has got people’s attention is that of Enugu residents fetching water from the stream. The photo was posted by Obi Eddy Oranusi, who wrote a short note to Enugu State Government saying: “Please, please, please, Enugu State government do the needful to save the people. Geologists have explained that getting water from inside the soil in Enugu has its peculiarities because soil texture varies from community to community.

A Geologist, Emmanuel Uzoechina, has worked as a borehole engineer and geophysicist in some areas in Enugu. He was kind to explain the mystery behind the lack of water in Enugu Metropolis. He tied his theory around the research he did while in school and the practical aspect of testing the soils when drilling boreholes for water.

In his words: “The entire Enugu State is underlined by Mamu formation, Ajali sandstone, Nkporo shale (Enugu shale) and Nsukka formation. Of all these formations I have mentioned, the only formation that contains substantial amount of water is Ajali


formation, located around 9th mile where it outcrops itself. The formation is overlain by Nsukka formation and underlain by Mamu formation and Nkporo shale. Ajali formation, which is a sand bearing formation, allows the collection and storage of water due to its porosity and permeability.

“The Nkporo shale, Mamu formation and Nsukka Formation contain water as well but not as that of Ajali which gives out substantial amount of water. That is why within Enugu Metropolis, which is Enugu town that is underlain by Nkporo shale cannot have enough water because of the presence of coal/shale.”

He further explained that to determine the depth at which water can be gotten in these places, geophysical survey is highly needed because the depth which you got water from Mr Okeke’s house cannot be the same depth you will get water in Mr Okafor’s house.

So, the depth of water can never be ascertained except you do a proper survey.

The rough estimate of the depth at which you can start getting water in the whole of Enugu Metropolis is between 150 feet to 400, 500 feet as the case may be. It is advised that before drilling for water, one needs to consult a geophysicist who will carry out a geophysical survey before going into drilling.

“Before you get water in Enugu Metropolis, you either go for drilling a Well, which has a bigger diameter and retains a lot of water or you go for a borehole. But going for a borehole, you must make sure you consult a geophysicist, who might with the survey indicate a crack. Cracks allow the passage of water easily unlike shale or clay,” he said.


Explaining why most wells drilled in Enugu Metropolis dry up in dry season or the water turns muddy, Uzoechina who studied Geology and Mining at Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University Uli stated, that shale is a fine grain material made of mud or clay that has been compacted over-time. Shale has porosity and little permeability as to compare with sandstone which is more porous and permeable.


“Permeability is the ability of a rock to allow the passage of water through it while porosity is the space between individual grains found in a rock. Because there is not much water produced during dry season, the little amount that tends to come out from the water bearing unit is immediately collected by the owner without giving room for it to settle.


Hence, the muddy colour. But during rainy season, water tends to rise up and that water tends to be a bit cleaner when compared to the other. “Shale collects water but does not give out water easily. Shale is similar to clay soil.

This is the reason most wells drilled in Enugu Metropolis dry up or turn muddy during the dry season. “Ajali formation contains sandstones. We all know how sandstones behave. It collects water and likewise gives out water in large quantity. This is why most water used in Enugu town comes from 9th Mile.” Stanley Nsude, who spoke earlier about the water situation in the metropolis, disclosed a few discoveries he made about the water situation.


He stated: “The irony of the whole thing is that 9th mile, very close to Enugu has the best water in the whole country. That is why we have so many bottling companies at 9th Mile. Nigerian Breweries, Ama Plant is the largest outside Europe, 7up, Aqua Rapha Companies and many other companies are located at 9th Mile.


Today, numerous water tankers sell water to Enugu residents on a regular basis from water they shuttle from 9th Mile to Enugu town. Since the water in 9th Mile is being sold to Enugu residents for years now, the reason it is difficult for our state government to construct a water plant that will feed Enugu from 9th Mile is inexplicable..” he said.


The water situation in Enugu has also become propaganda for many politicians. A businesswoman, Obiageli Nwodo admitted that there were boreholes drilled by politician but has no water in them. ”


To me, those are just political camouflage” There have been a few reports in the news about the present Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s plan to unveil a water project in partnership with AFD (French Development Agency) to end the water scarcity in Enugu. Rumors and speculation have punctured this plan, stressing that the so called water project is a private water vendor owned by the governor. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.


More so, a few months ago, the Managing Director of FordMarx Nigeria Limited, Engr. Clifford Nnaji, who is handling the complete rehabilitation of the 9th Mile Crash Programme being executed by the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, which is over 35 years since the water project was abandoned, assured residents of Enugu that the issue of water supply will soon be a thing of the past.


Till date, nothing has been heard. These add to the long lists of many promises and fail Enugu residents have suffered at the hands of governments. This has not stopped the resilient indigenes from hoping that one day a Messaih will come to save them.


A product of geography or inefficiency?


The problem of pipe borne water supply in Enugu State has overwhelmed and outlived every administration in Enugu State in recent history. Residents rely on tankers and hand dug wells to get water to drink. During the rainy season, they rely on rain water and muddy water to flush toilets and do other things.



Others rely on boreholes or streams and rivers, with the attendant water borne diseases. While the successive state governments blame the topography of Enugu, being a coal belt, residents have blamed government inefficiency and corruption. They claim that successive governments have latched on the excuse of trying to solve the water challenge in Enugu to borrow humongous amounts of money but yet nothing comes out of it at the end of the day


. For instance, in 2016, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state urged the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to recover billions of naira allegedly stolen from the Enugu Water Scheme under his predecessor, Sullivan Chime and previous administrations in the state.


Reacting to the plan of Enugu State Government to summon a town hall meeting over the lingering acute shortage of water in Enugu Metropolis and other towns, APC Enugu State Chapter called on Ugwuanyi to instead of town hall meeting, convoke a high powered panel of inquiry to ascertain what happened to billions of Naira voted for Enugu water scheme.


The call was made by the then Enugu State Publicity Secretary of APC, Mrs. Kate Offor, while addressing members of the party at Akpugoeze, Oji River Local Government Area, during a condolence visit to Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu who lost his grandmother.


Mrs. Offor specifically called on Governor Ugwuanyi to shelve the idea of Town Hall Meeting if he actually was serious about providing water to Enugu Metropolis and other towns. “Governor Ugwuanyi should as a matter of urgent state importance, convene a high powered panel of inquiry to unravel those who siphoned the monies voted to provide water to Enugu Metropolis and other towns and go ahead to recover the looted water funds.

Town Hall Meeting is only a talk shop, which is more or less a cover up”, the Enugu APC spokesperson said.


Asked which water fund she was talking about, Mrs. Offor recalled that there were two or three tranches of funds voted to provide sufficient water in Enugu State in the last two decades, including the money voted by Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under Muhammadu Buhari and the 50 million dollars World Bank loan obtained by the immediate past administration of Governor Sullivan Chime.


“To start with, in the late 90s, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) then chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari after intensive study designed a water scheme for Enugu Metropolis taking a cue from the 1904 Oji River British drilled wonderful borehole which is still functional today.


The water flow line designed from Oji River to Enugu is about 25kilometres. PTF finished a successful test borehole, set aside money and nominated a German company for the project. Shortly after General Sani Abacha’s demise and return to democracy in 1999, the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) took over.


“We want the panel of inquiry to tell the world how the money PTF voted for Enugu Water was spent and who derailed the plan? The study showed that Enugu Metropolis will have more water than it requires, that storage will be the major headache,” Offor said.


Quoting a report credited to a top official of Enugu State government, Offor explained further that, “The two water schemes in the State broke down at the same time and put us in trouble. We have the Ajalli Water Scheme built by Jim Nwobodo administration, which is about 34 years old now and Oji River Water Scheme commissioned by Obasanjo “They used to break down one after the other, but this time, they broke down together. The thing is difficult. Now it has been repaired.

Light coming from the EEDC is low. It cannot pump water.” Offor said the second failed opportunity was the $50m World Bank Loan, a transaction which took place under the watch of his predecessor, Sullivan Chime.


She said Governor Ugwuanyi should reopen the investigation of this alleged scam, which his top official said was not 50 Million dollars but about 29 to 30 million dollars, but whatever they (Chime administration) did, the new government did not see it, she contended. Ugwuanyi himself has also borrowed money for the same water problem.


As recently as November 2021, the Enugu State House of Assembly approved a N15 billion loan request by the Enugu State Government from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).


The loan request was contained in a letter to the house read by the Speaker, Chief Edward Ubosi, during plenary. Ubosi said the loan would be used to finance infrastructure development in the state, including water. He said that the government was finding it difficult to finance infrastructure projects due to the current economic challenges.


The speaker said the facility, which would domicile in United Bank for Africa, had a 10 years repayment plan of nine per cent per annum, with a 12-month moratorium. In offering the reason for the recent water scarcity in the state that lasted nearly more than two months, the Special Adviser (SPA) to the Governor of Enugu State, on Water Resources, Hon. Anthony Dubem Onyia, who reassured residents of the state that the issue of inadequate water supply, one of the key challenges the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi inherited, will soon be history.


In a statement, Onyia maintained that the present administration is doing a lot, with the lean resources at its disposal, to address the issue of water in Enugu metropolis. Noting that some areas in Enugu metropolis, such as, Iva Valley, GRA, New Haven, Ogui/Asata, Uwani, parts of Achara Layout, Abakpa Nike, Trans Ekulu, Independence Layout and Thinkers Corner, enjoy potable water supply, Onyia reassured residents in other areas that they will soon enjoy adequate potable water supply.


The Special Adviser disclosed that the state government has commenced comprehensive rehabilitation of the 9th Mile Crash Programme, with solar powered boreholes to ensure adequate supply of potable water from Oji River, Ajali and Iva Water schemes to Enugu metropolis. Onyia revealed that a contract of N600 million was recently awarded to FordMarx Nigeria Limited, for the rehabilitation of the 9th Mile Crash Programme, adding that the company has mobilized to site.


The Special Adviser explained that the contract, which will be solar powered, to address the peculiar challenges of power failure, will boost the volume of water being reticulated from the aging water schemes to Enugu metropolis.


He revealed that the state government has commenced the bid opening and evaluation meeting for new Okwojo Ngwo borehole augmentation to Enugu metropolis. Onyia said that the Okwojo Ngwo boreholes augmentation to Enugu metropolis, which is a network of 10 solar powered boreholes, is a newly conceived design which will help boost water production for the newly awarded 9th Mile Crash Programme. “It will equally augment the existing water schemes in order to effectively manage and meet the demand of the growing population of Enugu metropolis”, he said.


At the managerial level, Onyia pointed out that Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration, in its determination to address the issue of water in the state, recently constituted the Board of Enugu State Water Corporation, headed by a foremost consultant in the water industry and the first Managing Director of the corporation, Engr. Innocent O. Diyoke, to vigorously drive the state government’s sustained programmes towards ensuring adequate supply of potable water in the state.


The governor’s aide further disclosed that the state government, in February 2021, advertised for the post of Managing Director of the State Water Corporation Board, to join the team for effective implementation of its agenda in the sector.



He further explained that the state government has also committed funds to the actualisation of FG Adada Dam Water Project in Nsukka, to guarantee its speedy actualization, stressing that Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration is not relenting in its bid to increase the sources of potable water supply, and to continue to maintain existing facilities.


Residents of the state believe that taste of the pudding is in the eating and therefore look forward for a day that water scarcity will be a thing of the past in the state.

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