Conflict affects access to resources, but access to clean water and sanitation in households in the Niger Delta is scarce enough without it. The 2011 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report reveals that, on average, more than two-third of the population in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, Edo and Delta States do not have access to improved water supply facilities. Conflict, then, can exacerbate the situation by limiting access to what resources exist.
When United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) saw conflict issues arising in their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects, they partnered with us to build conflict mitigation skills in local actors because of our experience in WASH and extensive knowledge in peace building.
“The challenges of putting in place WASH programs are enormous,” Niyi Lawal, Director of the Community Initiative for Enhanced Peace and Development (CIEPD) tells us in a meeting at his office in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. “It had been difficult for UNICEF’s WASH program to implement some of their projects, get the communities together and make them to participate and buy into the project.”
The UNICEF/demo partnership targeted 2 local government areas each of the five selected states, under UNICEF’s Niger Delta Support Program (NDSP). We developed the curriculum for the training of WASH officials that CIEPD delivered as part of the project. Lawal was in charge of the implementation of the conflict trainings using the curriculum, and even had to manage some conflict himself for the trainings to go smoothly.
“At first, the local WASH units thought that we were trying to take over our jobs, or imply that they are incompetent. They did not immediately understand the point of the intervention. We had to show that their job is not under threat and that we were there to add value. Once they realized that we were actually trying to be helpful, we were able to do our work.
The political environment in two of the four states also proved to be another challenge.
“Some LGAs in Rivers State had conflict, and in Akwa Ibom the program was going on at a time when some State House of Assembly results got nullified. These incidents made some local actors take issue with us, but we had to explain our neutrality.”
The different modules of the training renewed in the WASH officials the urgency for collaboration and knowledge sharing. The UNICEF WASH team reported an improved relationship with the local government team, and the local government WASH coordinators began holding regular project coordination meetings with key local government staff, something that had never happened before.
“Government WASH teams also engage communities differently now. There is now somebody in charge of a particular cluster, so they work more efficiently now. Community people that benefitted from the training now tell us that they have been able to apply some of the lessons from the training to resolving other community level issues.”
CIEPD credits PIND’s relationships for helping manage the relationships between the various actors.
“PIND helped to bring co-ordination to the entire program, as well as quality control. The Foundation was also able to work with the NGOs in areas where they had issues and helped to manage relationships. We at CIEPD also took away some things we want to bring into our work from PIND, like the ‘Do No Harm’ concept. We will be using that tool going forward.”