From Magnus Eze, Enugu
As the rest of the world marked this year’s World Water Day on March 22, the people of Nomeh in Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State were busy trying to unravel why Nvuna River, their only source of water for domestic use, turned red like blood.
The people of the rural community actually understand the value of water, particularly Nvuna, the stream that runs a snaky course through the middle of their town. The river traverses three other communities, Unateze, Mburumbu and Nkerefi, all in Nkanu East LGA. It is their source of life, and also used for irrigation as they farm along the banks of the stream. They cherish it, they deify it. According to Nomeh legend, Nvuna was a spirit, which came to their town like a woman and was welcomed with a spotless white cock, hence, it is still ministered to till date by a chief priest.
The ‘bloody’ stream
So, the peace in the town was shattered and melancholy took over as they woke up to a rude shock in the morning of Monday, March 15, 2021, when women, young boys and girls, who went to the stream to fetch water saw what they described as an “abomination”. Contrary to the Igbo saying that the early animal to stream drinks the cleanest water, this routine morning chore turned awry as their stream hadturned red like blood, oozing a very offensive odour, thus causing the women, young boys and girls to scamper home, terrified, as though they saw a ghost.
It was not long before the post went viral on the social media. When Daily Sun got to the stream, members of the community were seen around the bank, bewailing their fate. Expectedly, different people had different explanations for what could have made Nvuna turn red, as many thoughts ran through their minds.
A community elder, Chief Fidelis Mbah, told our reporter: “Some people claimed that the Nvuna had been desecrated or angered and the chief priest should be consulted to know how the spirit of the stream could be appeased. You cannot blame them because never in the history of our ancient town has it been heard that Nvuna turned red like blood, smelling like mortuary, fishes dying and so on.
“We experienced pollution caused by a breach of NNPC pipeline in the early 2000s. But it was nothing near this. So, there were equally many conspiracy theories as well that I can’t repeat here. But the important thing is that the source of the pollution has been established.
“I thank God for our Neighbourhood Watch, which took it upon themselves, through the motivation and support of our illustrious sons, to get to the root of the matter”.
Councillor of Nomeh Ward, Chinweolu Anichukwu, explained that the stream was badly polluted to the extent that livestock that drank from it died instantly.
He said: “We woke up to what had never been witnessed in Nomeh since the days of our ancestors. The stream turned red. It was like a dream and our people could not fetch from it for the normal use. In fact, women and children who came to fetch from the stream early in the morning ran for their lives. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them to report to the elders. And behold, when we came here, it was just so true.
“Nvuna stream is heavily polluted with poisonous substance. Some who live downstream only discovered it around 10am as it continued to spread and surge downwards. But by then the news had gone around the community.
“The water is now dark red with very pungent smell, the fish in the river are dying, and two livestock that drank from it died a few minutes after. The river is the major source of water to Nomeh community and the extent of the pollution is very much that it may last for many weeks. We fear long-term health and environmental consequences.
“We mobilised our Neighbourhood Watch to trace it, along the stream from Nomeh to Nenwe, Ugbawka, Amuri, Ogbaku, Agbogugu and to Ozalla old road. It was on the second day that we discovered a factory called D-HAP, which we were informed is an ethanol production factory.
“However, we are consoled that the Enugu State government is giving the matter the serious attention it requires.”
Community blames factory
Meanwhile, the community is pointing accusing fingers at D-HAP Enterprises Services Limited, which it said is an ethanol factory located around Ituku in Awgu Local Government Area of the State.
Chairman, Amigbo Unity Association, Nomeh, Daniel Anyimkpuma, while lamenting the hardship the incident had put the members of the community into, commended Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for taking the right steps to stop the pollution.
“Some representatives of the company came to Nomeh on Tuesday (last week) over the incident. They didn’t bring water or anything to ameliorate the suffering of the people. So, we only asked them to go to our stream and see things for themselves; to see how the fishes have died, to smell the heavy stench and come back another day.
“We thank our governor and the government of Enugu State for serious concerns shown so far”, he said.
Earlier, the Enugu State Commissioner for Environment, Chijoke Edeoga, had assured reporters that the state was on top of the situation.
He said: “Today (Thursday, March 18, 2021), the ministry visited the community to reassure the people that the government is addressing the situation and they should not panic.
“We have traced the pollution to a cassava factory in that (Ituku/Ozalla) location, but we are not sure yet, whether the washing of cassava tubers, as the owner claimed was responsible for the pollution of water and dying of aquatic animals in the stream.
“We have collected a sample from the factory for laboratory investigation and the result will be out within the next 48 hours. This is to determine the actual cause of the pollution and dying of aquatic animals.
“We are not limiting our investigation to the factory alone. We are widening our scope of investigation to other areas to ensure that we get to the root of it.
“I can assure you that the government of Enugu State has taken steps to stop further pollution of the water and to mitigate the sufferings of the community”.
Sequel to the findings of the ministry officials at the factory and Nomeh community, the commissioner led staff of the ministry to the factory of D-HAP Enterprises Limited, where he engaged the owners of the company. Some leaders of Nomeh community and their councillor were also at the factory during the visit.
Daily Sun learnt that the commissioner used the meeting and conveyed the orders of the governor for the company to immediately suspend production pending the completion of investigations, reassessments and meeting of any additional standards.
A few days later, on the directives of the governor, a government team, led by Special Adviser to the Governor on Water Resources, Anthony Dubem Onyia, and the managing director of EN-RUWASSA, Dr. Frank Omeje, visited the Nvuna River on a fact-finding mission. The team, after its on-the-spot investigation, established that there was indeed contamination of the water. They collected samples for laboratory tests, in line with international best practices.
They also discovered that the effluent in question had destroyed living organisms in the river, including fish, while confirming that the water body emitted some odour.
Addressing the people of the communities, the special adviser identified with them and expressed the governor’s concern and commitment to addressing the issue as well as mitigating the challenges they were facing.
He advised the people of the communities to avoid water from the river, adding that the state government was already considering emergency interventions such as provision of boreholes for the affected communities prior to the clean-up of the river, among others.
Onyia disclosed that state government would constitute further sanctions as soon as laboratory test and more contact tracing were completed.
Call for justice, help for community
A leader in the community, Mrs. Maria Nkumah, said the pollution had made life worse for the people, urging the governor not to relent in his efforts to ensure that Nomeh and other affected communities got justice and support.
Meanwhile, a member of the Igwe’s cabinet in Nomeh, though not authorised to speak on the issue, said the cabinet saw the pollution as a serious disaster, adding, however, that the fact that the governor and the ministry were giving the matter the required attention was reassuring to the people of Nomeh.
He said that the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Israel Mbah, a London-trained radiation biology and environmental protection expert and also a member of the Association of Health Officers, Nigeria, had called for more help from government at all levels in terms of alternative sources of potable water and immediate clean-up of Nvuna stream.
“The Igwe has written to the governor to declare Nomeh community an environmental disaster zone and for the appropriate federal and state authorities to launch massive clean-up exercise on the polluted river.
“Of course, we are demanding compensation from the company for the health repercussions, lost aquatic life, and other damage done to our community. The vegetation and farms by the banks of the river have been affected and our people have lost huge daily incomes. We don’t even know what would become of the people that unknowing fetched and used and possibly drank the water before daybreak or those who ate of the dead fishes, ignorant of the health implications. The impact could actually last for over a decade.
“Our children want to take the matter up with the company, but we have told them to maintain calm let us see how serious D-HAP Enterprises Services Limited is with addressing the harm they have caused us,” he volunteered.
Efforts by our reporter to get reactions from the company alleged to have caused the pollution were not successful as telephone inquiries and calls were ignored.
Daily Sun had sought to know if the company carried out environmental impact assessment before commencing production. However, indications were that the community may have dragged the company before the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA).
Meanwhile, it was gathered at press time, that the Nkanu East Council, led by Uchenna Nwobodo, had approved the drilling of boreholes in Nomeh, Mburumbu and Nkereffi, two other affected communities in the LGA, to ameliorate their challenges. Similarly, the member representing Nkanu East/Nkanu West of Federal Constituency, Nnoli Nnaji, it was learnt, has equally elected to provide a borehole for Nomeh community as one of his zonal intervention projects for 2021.