FreshWater Watch is launching in Nigeria, as Earthwatch Europe and WaterAid partner to investigate water quality and faecal bacteria presence in water in Benué state.
Benué is a fertile agricultural region, known as the ‘food basket of Nigeria’. However water supply and safe toilets were so lacking that people had to defecate where they could. This meant that the environment and water were easily contaminated by faeces. Water is a concern, both for people drinking it and the farmers using it for their crops. Contaminated water can cause sickness and diarrhoea – one of the world’s leading causes of death, and children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
Thanks to the work of WaterAid and its partners, more than 28,000 people in Benué now have access to safe water, and more than 50 communities have been declared open defecation-free. To help ensure everyone in Benué has access to safe water, Earthwatch and WaterAid are partnering to empower people in ten communities to monitor their water quality through FreshWater Watch.
FreshWater Watch is Earthwatch’s global citizen science programme to investigate the health of bodies of water. With only 1% of the world’s fresh water accessible for all our needs, it is important that we know about the health of ponds, rivers and groundwater. Scientists cannot monitor all of the world’s water without the help of volunteers. With almost 8,000 FreshWater Watchers around the world carrying out simple scientific tests on their local bodies of water, Earthwatch is building a global picture of the health of freshwater bodies on an unprecedented scale.
WaterAid is providing expertise in helping to reach some of the country's poorest people, and Earthwatch is bringing its experience of hands-on science for people from all walks of life.
Wandoo Akosu, Programme Support Manager, WaterAid Nigeria, said: “This is the first partnership of its kind for WaterAid. We are collecting information on the safety of water, promoting awareness, and will be proving the water quality.”
Wandoo, learning to use the FreshWater Watch kit in the UK
Wandoo will train teachers, students and retired people from ten communities in Benué to use the simple FreshWater Watch kits. They will monitor for signs of sewage contamination by testing for the concentrations of faecal coliform bacteria.
A high concentration of these bacteria occurs, for example where infrastructure is poor or people do not have adequate toilet access, and indicates contamination of potable water sources by wastewater. Similar tests are being used in FreshWater Watcher sites in New York City, Jakarta and Mexico City.
Wandoo has spent many months working in community engagement to educate people about the advantages of ending open defecation. She anticipates FreshWater Watch training will be a similar experience of changing culture and behaviour. FreshWater Watch will create and strengthen awareness – Wandoo has seen a ripple effect between communities as residents move between communities and share their knowledge on the importance of ending open defecation in communities where WaterAid has not worked.
Wandoo said: “It is always best and most sustainable to strengthen local capacities. We will learn what works from this pilot.”
“I’ll be looking at results with the Head of Programmes at WaterAid to link the outcomes with health of the local people. This is most important for pregnant women and young children as diarrhoea is one of the biggest health risks.”
If the citizen scientists discover that their water sources appear to be significantly degraded, particularly in terms of high faecal coliform levels, WaterAid and Earthwatch will run laboratory tests to confirm the quality of the water.
Earthwatch’s Freshwater Research Manager, Professor Steven Loiselle, said: “As in all Earthwatch projects, communities become more knowledgeable in their local and global environmental challenges and are empowered by this. They can insist on change and they can help us expand to other communities.”