Much more than water

 By Marilia Cioni

Abuja is not your stereotypical African city…

Roads are broad and well-paved, traffic is smooth and orderly, power and sanitation are functioning. This is due to the fact that it is a young city: the preexisting town was largely expanded in the 80s to become the country’s capital.
Its central location and neutral ethnical makeup made it more suitable – both from a symbolic and security point of view – to host the seat of power and represent the totality of the country.
Yet around Abuja, a number of informal settlements have mushroomed over the years to accommodate the influx of migrants seeking opportunities in the capital. Over the last few years, a new wave of people arrived in the Capital seeking for shelter: the Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs, as humanitarian workers identify those fleeing a conflict within their own country. IDPs in Abuja come from the north of Nigeria and are fleeing from Boko Haram, the ultra-violent Islamist insurgency that began in the country’s northern state of Borno in 2009, sparking a crisis that soon extended to other States in North East Nigeria and neighboring countries. Despite a number of military campaigns, the group is still active, so much so that – according to the International Organization for Migrations – as of 2018 Nigeria counted over 2M IDPs, spread in camps and settlements across the country.

A big influx of migrants have moved to Abuja due to the conflicts going on in the North of the country

The needs of a great community

Waru, a mere half hour south from Abuja’s glitzy Maitama neighborhood, is one of these. Initially a settlement of migrants seeking jobs in the big city, over the past years it has come to accommodate over 4000 people, of which about one in three fleeing Boko Haram. A mix of small brick houses, tin shacks, and wooden huts, with narrow dirt roads, a few tiny shops, a patch of green here and there, Waru lacks basic services such as power, water and sanitation. When IDPs started to arrive three years ago, Waru inhabitants made space for them, shared their little. Friendships were born, marriages were celebrated across host and guest communities.
Waru is one of the areas where Eni and FAO are implementing projects to foster access to safe and clean water, by drilling boreholes powered with photovoltaic systems, both for domestic use and irrigation purposes. The first well, commissioned on November 15, sits at the heart of the community, with 18 faucets disseminated throughout the neighborhood to guarantee ease of access.
“It is a big improvement for me,” says Alicia, a 30-something mother of 2 who’s been living in Waru for 2 years. “The well is just meters from here and it makes it all so much easier when you have to wash clothes. Before I had to walk all the way to the end of the camp to fetch water, and there is only so much water you can carry at a time. Also, this water is good to drink. And it is free”.

The first well was commissioned in Waru, a neighborhood of Abuja, to implement the "Access to Water" project thanks to a joint effort between FAO and Eni

The 25,000-liters tank is equipped with a reverse-osmosis treatment plant that ensures that the water is potable. During the project implementation, the local authorities were involved to provide support in training and sensitizing the IDPs and the host community on water management and practices for long-term sustainability. Inhabitants can use the water also to irrigate the small vegetable gardens that dot the camp and complement their diet, which is a most welcome opportunity for all those IDPs who used to be farmers and hope to leverage their knowledge and experience to enhance their livelihood means. Also, the new well impacts the levels of hygiene and sanitation of the overall population.

Not only water

The water well has also other, unexpected impacts on the community. It is solar-powered and equipped with plugs that inhabitants can use to charge their cell phones. Furthermore, it is well lit at night, which is a rare sight in an IDP camp. “Since the well started functioning, we started sitting outside the door in the evening. People gather around it by night to chat”, noted Alicia. The well has quickly become a safe aggregation point within Waru.

The inauguration of Waru’s well

One important aspect of the project is that it is community driven: the community takes the ownership and leadership in the management of the water system through the Water User Association. The association, made up of the IDPs and host community, have come to accept the project as their own right from the inception, and are happily and jealously protecting the infrastructure and watching over the safe and proper use of the water for sustained food security and nutrition.
Waru’s well is the first of 10 boreholes to be implemented within the framework of the “Access to Water” project by FAO and Eni, designed to alleviate the sufferings of the victims of the insurgency. In the Borno state, the one most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, 5 boreholes will be built, including in the Chibok area, where the infamous kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls took place in 2014.
This project aims to support the efforts to rebuild livelihoods in the region, paving the way for intervention strategies to cascade from humanitarian to development nexus, as the insurgency ebbs out. It is based on the belief that private Companies can and should cooperate with the public sector to play an active role in sustainable development.

READ MORE: “Life is changing…” by Eniday Staff


about the author
Marilia Cioni
Marilia is a content producer and press officer at Eni, where she focuses on Exploration, Upstream and Technical Activities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously she worked for Italian news agency Agi, where she was in charge of international relations.