Water news gets a platform thanks to Bread of Life.
By Sarah Brown-Anson
A website aiming to shed light on water issues in Nigeria is headlining issues that are often neglected by traditional media outlets. eWASH, an online publication of the Bread of Life Development Foundation, publishes articles about water access and sanitation.
Bread of Life Foundation is a NGO incorporated in 2001 with the major objective to promote policies for sustainable human and environmental development. It’s a Christian organization, with secular and non-secular parts. eWASH, publishing at http://assemblyonline.info/, is written by a network of volunteers, as well as Babatope Babalobi, the editor, who follows water and sanitation policy closely.
Reached on his cell phone, Babalobi pointed to the role of journalists in raising awareness about water and sanitation access. Sanitation, which is available to less than half of Nigerians, is especially neglected in the media, according to Babalobi.
“The role we need to play (as journalists) is to ensure the media starts to write about sanitation issues,” he said. He said one motivation for his work was defending the poor, because “a lack of water supply and sanitation affects the poor most, and these poor do not have access to platforms of (media).”
But, he said, sanitation issues rarely make headlines in the media. “The tragedy is that nobody wants to talk about sanitation.” In its online publication, eWASH is working to reverse this. “We have been trying to highlight the risks and the costs of lack of access to improved sanitation,” Babalobi said. Those risks and costs include elevated maternal and child mortality rates. UNICEF estimates that 335,000 children die annually in Nigeria from water-borne diseases such as malaria, cholera, guinea worm, and diarrhea.
“We have been trying to publish stories and articles that highlight the poor sanitation and services that our people are (receiving) and tell the government that it’s not enough to provide water, they need to ensure that the sanitation component is there,” Babalobi said.
eWASH has also put out a call to their contributors to write about corruption in water infrastructure projects, with a cash prize to contributors of stories on that topic, but no one has responded yet. “People are cautious about exposing corruption.” Babalobi said.
In addition to publishing eWASH, Bread of Life carries out studies for multinational organizations like UNICEF and WaterAid and occasionally implements grant-funded projects related to access to water. They also coordinate the activities of West African Water and Sanitation Journalists Network.
Five or six years ago, the organization started a news blog to report on the activities of the Nigerian national assembly. “After some time, we focused on publishing exclusively stories on water supply and sanitation,” said Babalobi.
Babalobi has a journalism degree from University of Lagos. “That is why some of our programs are media-driven,” he said. He also completed a post-graduate degree on environmental management, which he said gave him “an opportunity to have a academic and theoretical background on some of the issues in the water sector.”
He said the online outlet was a strength, allowing them to post stories quickly. In the future, Babalobi said he hopes to make the site more interactive to get more of their readership, which reaches almost every area of Nigeria, involved.
Sarah Brown-Anson is a junior Comparative Languages and Linguistics major and journalism minor at Earlham College Ford/Knight Research project, Washington U.S.