Dealers in sachet water products, popularly called ‘pure water’ are currently making brisk business in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi capital due to the prevailing hot weather, caused by the harmattan season.
The high rate of turnover recorded by dealers was further boosted by the complete absence of public water supply in Abakaliki.
Sachet water products available in Abakaliki are: Aqua Rapha, Bejoy, Earnesto, Rovel, Sparks, Elvis, Smart, among others.
Efforts by the present administration to restore public water supply in Abakaliki had not yielded the desired results.
The Oferekpe and Ukawu gigantic water projects built by the former Gov. Martin Elechi’s administration were yet to supply water about six years of completion and inauguration of the projects.
The state in addition to the Oferekpe water project has the Ezilo Water Scheme, built by the Chief Jim Nwobodo’s administration in the old Anambra.
The Ezilo Water Scheme was very effective and functional, even during the Martin Elechi administration.
Regrettably, with the exit of the Elechi administration on May 29, 2015, public water supply became non-existent, leading to perennial water scarcity in Abakaliki, the state capital.
The situation resulted to residents depending largely on sachet water products for their source of drinking water, while water from boreholes, streams and wells were used for other domestic purposes.
The situation led to calls on the Ebonyi Government to declare state of emergency in the water sector.
Mr Victor Aleke, representing Ebonyi North-East Constituency in the Ebonyi House of Assembly, at a one-day multi-stakeholders workshop on Water Sanitation and Hygiene, held recently in Abakaliki, admitted that government has failed in the water sector.
Aleke, Member, House Committee on Water Resources, Sanitation and Hygiene, said that the House would give accelerated hearing to any executive bill brought before it aimed at addressing water crisis in the state.
Recall that Gov. Dave Umahi in August 2016, said that the government would spend N2.1 billion on the rehabilitation of water facilities in the state in order to meet the water needs of residents.
Umahi made the promise while inaugurating the state’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) water projects in the three senatorial zones of the state in 2016, which he christened “Operation Water Ebonyi State.”
The governor at the event said Ebonyi was among the 10 states that accessed the SDG grant of N600 million each.
According to the governor, the benefitting states were expected to match the grant with additional N600 million each in order to access the fund.
He explained that Ebonyi did not only do so, it also injected additional N900 million into the pool, thereby having N2.1 billion for the water rehabilitation projects.
He added that the money would be used to fix the Ezillo water plant; the Sacamori Water Station, the Juju Hill Water Scheme and the Ukawu, Ohaozara Water Station.
Mr Emma Anya, former Chief Press Secretary to Umahi, quoted the governor as saying: “Let me put it properly that Federal Government gave N600 million and we were expected to match it with another N600 million. “We did and we also provided another N900 million. So all together, the three lots of the projects are going to be costing us about N2.1 billion.
“Let me say that the scope of this job is, part one, rehabilitation of Ezillo water treatment plant and Sacamori pipe line network facilities.
“We intend to have storage tanks in Ichichi Forest, which will supply the Federal University at Ndufu Alike (FUNAI), supply the local government of Ikwo, supply some areas in Izzi.
“Other area is rice mill and that is as we make efforts to get our rice millers to also take over the UNIDO rice mill.
“The Sacamori pipeline has its network through Ezza North, Ezza South, Ishielu, Izzi, Ohaukwu local government areas and even FUNAI.
“We want to do proper integration of Ezillo Water Scheme and that of Oferekpe to ensure that if we have problem with Oferekpe and it is shut, Ezillo will start supplying, but most importantly, is the distribution network in Abakaliki.”
In spite the laudable efforts by the Umahi government to provide water to the citizens, water supply in Abakaliki from the public water scheme has remained a mirage.
As expected, the absence of public water supply has led to the proliferation of sachet water products in Abakaliki.
Mrs Ifeoma Nwankata, a major dealer in the product, said that the profit margin in the business was high due to high demand.
She said that a bag is sold between N120 and N170 depending on the product, adding that none of the products sold for more than N60 at company price.
“I supply to retailers and I also sell per bag. This is a boom period for sachet water business because hardly can any person stay for two hours without feeling thirsty.
“I sell more than a ‘911’ lorry-load of the product in less than a week and we sell a bag between N120 and N170 depending on the product. “Aqua Rapha and Bejoy products are in high demand in Abakaliki, and are brought from Enugu State and we sell these products sometimes N170 or N150 per bag, depending on availability and cost of transportation.
• Okoro writes for NAN
“These two products are not in competition with any other sachet water product because there demand are always high in spite the presence of other products in the market,’’ Nwankata said.
Another dealer, Mr Ephraim Elom said that he was making an average of N5,000 profit daily from retailing of sachet water, stressing that he was planning to register with one of the major sachet water companies in Enugu State to enable him become a major dealer.
“This is our season and we are making huge profits from selling of sachet water due to increase in demand.
“It is a lucrative business that requires small capital to start with, and with just N2,000, you can start the business,’’ he said.
Mr Emeka Akam, a dealer, regretted the flooding of Abakaliki with all kinds of sachet water products, alleging that some of the products were not verified by health authorities before bringing them out for public consumption.
“There are many sachet water products in town bearing the National Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registration numbers, but we know that these numbers could be faked.
“I appeal to the state government, its regulatory bodies and NAFDAC to intensify surveillance and ensure that sachet water products brought into the state or produced in the state meet the required standard,” Akam said.
Mr Donald Mgbada, a consumer, lamented that significant percentage of his income was spent on sachet water.
“I spend an average of N800 a week to provide sachet water for my family’s consumption and this amount translates to N3,200 every month.
“Since there is no other alternative source of drinking water, we solely depend on the product, and this is taking a large chunk of my monthly income,” he said.
Mgbada appealed to the state government to urgently restore public water supply to Abakaliki and other parts of the state in order to ameliorate the suffering of the people, especially the low income group, that spent huge amount of money on potable water.