Maverick Afro Beat icon Fela Kuti requires no introduction while alive and even in death. He was an irrepressible social critic who deployed the medium of his music to both lament the myriad of problems in Africa and criticize visionless leadership in Africa and elsewhere. Ahead of the World Water Day which comes up on March 22, Fela’s classic titled Water comes to mind. In the number, he lamented the indispensability of water to human existence.
Nothing better illustrate the pre eminence that he accord water than the line that literally translate to ‘when water kills a child, the parents will still rely on water to wash the corpse before interment.’
No doubt, the UN General Assembly recognizes the indispensability of water to human life thus the resolution designated March 22 as International World Water Day as a way of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
That initiative has however not solved the problems that accessing fresh water still pose to the people of the world. Many rural communities scattered around the globe still suffer untold hardship in their bid to source water. The problem is worse in third world countries in Africa, including Nigeria and remote communities in Asia.
Prevalence of water borne diseases is one of the fallouts of lack of fresh water in several communities across the world. It is quite ironic that such diseases have been consigned to distant memories in the developed world, whereas it is still an issue in many Africa countries including Nigeria. More worrisome is that it has continued to cause avoidable deaths and in some case deformities in affected countries around the continent.
This issue continues to generate debate among concerned stakeholders. Some blame the problem on lack of visionary leadership and sometimes too, poor urban planning and other factors. This has caused many communities to be without pipe borne water, even as they are hugely populated areas where governments sometimes collect revenues from in the form of varied taxes. Since water is indispensable, affected people, Nigerians inclusive have devised ways of meeting their need for water.
One of such devices is the ubiquitous water borehole. Often initiated by private citizens for commercial purposes, the quality of such water hasover and over againfallen short of being described as fresh. Even at that, people go for it at least to meet their washing need while they depend on sachet and bottled waters for their drinking needs. This has led to the prevalence of all forms of ‘pure’ water products and brands in the country. In other settlements outside the major cities and towns, well water suffices.
Water Provision as CSR Platform
This has caused some well meaning corporate organizations to adopt water provision as their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platform. In fact, it became the trend at a time as both multinational and local companies latched on to it. The motley crowd of brands and companies trying to leverage the platform that the concept provides as their CSR initiative at a time made brand differentiation difficult.
Adopting the strategy makes good sense. For one, it helps to address one of the fall outs of rapid and urban water systems. In part, it also address the theme of the year 2011 celebration of the World Water Day – ‘Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge – aimed at spotlighting and encouraging governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively engage in addressing the challenges of urban water management.
As stated by the department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom, CSR represents “the integrity with which a company governs itself, fulfills its mission, lives by its values, engages with its stakeholders, measures its impact and reports on its activities”. Although most people appreciate the recent advancement of CSR, some argue that corporations are still not doing enough or are only acting in self interest.
But while the serious ones get it right and go about it professionally, evidence of having thought through the whole idea; others go about it haphazardly. It is easy to know those who thought through the concept properly. Those who did, among other considerations, followed and addressed the key decision points: Needs Assessment, Selecting Alternatives, Project Preparation, Project Implementation and Project Operation. Besides, while some companies and brands only focus provision of water within their host communities, the more committed ones spread it across the country and, in places far away from their host communities.
And this is where the debate that borders on maintenance and sustenance come up. The sustainability and maintenance question has further called into question the role or otherwise of the beneficiary community. Put differently, does a beneficiary community have any role to play in the sustainability of a corporate social responsibility project? This is especially so for water projects since it is agreed that water is essential to human survival.
Beneficiary communities and taking ownership
With businesses having to focus on generating profits and shareholder value in a wavering macro-economic environment, CSR is not top priority for most companies. So, the question does become, should companies be saddled with the monitoring and running of such projects?
A school of thought feels otherwise and canvasses that the communities should take ownership of such projects for their own usage and for sustainability.
An example of a company that has set itself apart in the area of CSR is Guinness Nigeria, especially through its Water of Life project instituted in places like Agoi Ibami, Akwa Ibom State; Oza Nogogo, Delta State, Lantoro, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Ijora-Badia, Ajegunle and Mafoloku in Lagos State, to mention a few. These high capacity water projects donated by Guinness were built for the communities to own and operate through engagement with the community development associations, traditional rulers, and local government officials.
Part of a successful CSR initiative is to empower and allow the communities take ownership of the project after it is instituted. By doing so, the beneficiary communities monitor and operate it in the best way possible. This ensures the projects are not vandalized and serve the community for a long time.
The Ijora-Badia and Mafoluku Water of Life Projects lend credence to this school.
David Hampshire, then Managing Director of Diageo Africa commissioned the Badia project in 2004. Before then, sourcing water was problematic especially in Ijora-Badia and residents sometime go as far as Marine Beach, about three kilometers away to fetch water. Those who could not go the distance were forced to pay through their noses to buy water from local water merchants. All that changed when Guinness Nigerian Plc built and commissioned the water project.
Plaudits for Guinness
The Water life project has proved to be very popular with the beneficiaries. In Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River State, the community swore to safeguard and take ownership of the project as a way of ensuring that it serves the community for a long time to come. Besides the Clan head, many residents of the community praised Guinness Nigeria Plc to high heavens. They also lamented the sufferings that they undergo before sourcing water.
Speaking at the launch, His Royal Highness, Clan Head of Agoi Ibami Community, Charles Ujong, said: “We are looking forward to the coming of the rainy season with joy, confident that the health challenge and portable water crisis that has come to be associated with heavy rains have now been consigned to history by Guinness”
The story is the same at Ona-Ara Local Government in Ibadan, Oyo State before Guinness Nigeria extended the gesture to the community in 2009. Before the building and commissioning of the Guinness Water project, the indigenes of the community depended on fetching water from wells in the community or going long distances to fetch water. The Water of Life Project was a welcome development by the community and has served them well up until now
According to Daudu Adeola of Ona-Ara Local Government in Ibadan, Oyo State, “Before Guinness Nigeria Plc came to commission the Water of Life Project our people had problem sourcing fresh water. Our people depended on well water or they have to travel long distance on foot to fetch water. So you can understand our relief when the Water of Life project was commissioned. The project has been serving us ever since. We’re indeed very grateful, and this is why we are jealously guarding the project. We see it as a communal thing,” he concluded.
It is interesting that ahead of this year’s edition of World Water Day, Guinness Nigeria Plc, a Diageo Company has thus come under the klieg lights as a corporate citizen that identifies with the UN General Assembly which set March 22 as the World Water Day. However, while it is hoped that the project is further spread to other remote communities in dire need of fresh water, one also hopes that beneficiaries will take a cue from the likes of Agoi Ibami, Ona Ara and Badia communities and learn to take ownership of the project.