Safe water and sanitation in Nigeria

– BY Jide Ojo.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

—From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by English Poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This poem paints the picture of the water situation in Nigeria. The late iconic Afro Beat musician, Fela Aniikulapo Kuti, in one of his classics said, ‘Water, he no get enemy’. Water is essential to life as roughly 70 per cent of an adult’s body is made up of water while health specialists are of the opinion that while one may stay off food for some time, it is impossible to stay off water for too long. Otherwise one will become dehydrated and die. The availability of safe drinking water in Nigeria is very appalling. It is saddening that many Nigerians have to bear the burden of sourcing their own water for domestic and industrial use. Urban centres do not have adequate chlorinated pipe-borne water while rural communities have to depend on streams, rain and well water for their water need.

Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, in an address during the launch of Safe Water for Africa recently said, “Current statistics of our water coverage in Nigeria are not very pleasing as only 58 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water.” Water and Sanitation Summary Sheet from the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed, among other facts, that access to safe water and sanitation was a major challenge in Nigeria and that water and sanitation coverage rates in the country were amongst the lowest in the world. Moreover, Nigeria is currently not on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets of 75 per cent coverage for safe drinking water and 63 per cent coverage for basic sanitation by the year 2015.

A desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Programme shows that poor sanitation costs Nigeria N455bn (US$3bn) each year. Statistics shows that 70 million Nigerians use unsanitary or shared latrines while 32m have no latrine at all and defecate in the open. Nigeria is said to rank third on the list of countries with inadequate supply of water and sanitation coverage globally. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Godknows Igali, reportedly said at the 11th Session of Development Partners Coordination Meeting that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Report for 2012 ranked Nigeria third behind China and India as countries with the largest population without adequate water and sanitation.

This situation has led to high incidence of waterborne diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, river blindness, and Hepatitis A, among others. Available statistics also show that more than 3.4 million people die every year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Ninety nine per cent of these deaths are said to occur in developing countries. Water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through diseases than any war claims through guns. In fact, experts claim that lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.

It is not as if government has been folding its arms, though. In January 2011, the Federal Government launched the water road-map, a blueprint that describes the government’s objectives in developing the nation’s water resources between 2011 and 2025. The plan includes the promises that 75 per cent of Nigerians will have access to potable water by 2015, and 90 per cent by 2020. With the launch of the plan, President Jonathan’s administration announced the availability of special intervention funds for several projects. They include drilling one motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts, rehabilitating 1,000 dysfunctional hand pump boreholes in 18 states, supplying and installing 10 special water treatment plants, and completing all abandoned urban/semi-urban water supply projects. All of these and more were to be completed within 2011, with officials describing them as “a quick measure to accelerate water coverage”. Going to two years now, most of these short-term targets have not been met, though a number of projects are on-going.

The Director of Water Quality and Sanitation in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Dr. Obioha Agada, recently disclosed that Nigeria had recorded 40 per cent sanitation coverage, up from 32 per cent that had spanned two decades. In spite of this however, 70 million people in the country still lacked access to improved sanitation. In a March 2012 article, Ameto Akpe of Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting, observed: “Nigeria, in the past two decades, has not been able to keep up with the global and regional average rate of increase in water coverage. For the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of 75 per cent coverage by 2015, access must increase by 17 percentage points within the next three years.”

According to experts, in overcoming the challenge of water and sanitation in Nigeria there are issues of legislation, structure, finance, planning and attitudes to contend with. Significant annual investments are needed to address water and sanitation problems in the country. The MDG Office says $2.5bn (about N375bn) is needed to meet the nation’s water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015, while government notes that an extra N200bn is further required to provide additional development in Dams with hydropower components amongst others. The idea as presented by the Federal Government, experts observed, is to fund the water road map via direct public and private sector financing, in which, budgetary appropriations as well as cost sharing arrangements with states, local councils and communities would be the public proposed fund-raising approach, while private funding will be accessed via multilateral credit, loans and internally generated revenue. It is noteworthy that donor support to the water sector is estimated at less than three percent of needed resources.

Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in budgetary allocations to water and sanitation. In 2010, the Federal Government budgeted N112bn for water and sanitation but by 2011, budgetary allocations had dropped to N62bn. For 2012, the budget for water is only N39bn. Mercifully, this has increased to N47.8bn in the 2013 budget. This, however, is still a far cry from the amount needed to make any appreciable impact. However, as the Water Resources minister recently disclosed, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies appears to have been aggressively making efforts to tackle the problem of water supply through the water supply and sanitation reform programme with support from the European Union, the African Development Bank, the Chinese Water Supply Initiative, and the Japanese International Corporation Agency.

One hopes all these initiatives will bear good fruits and make access to safe drinking water and sanitation easy and affordable. However, our individual and collective attitude to water and sanitation facilities must also change. Oftentimes, we waste water that should have been conserved, refuse to pay water bills and sometimes vandalise water pipelines and borehole facilities. This is wrong. Even the way we dispose off water sachets and bottles as well as other solid wastes is unhygienic and should be changed.

Culled from Punch Newspapers.

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  • Olaiya Bamidele  On July 4, 2013 at 3:59 pm

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