Why over 160 million Nigerians lack access to potable water

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 19 September 2019 | 979 times

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•Chima Nwafo

The Federal Government of Nigeria has always been spending humongous amounts of money on water projects. But there is a difference in terms of performance and delivery between the First Republic and post-war administrations, both military and civil. There is also a wide gulf between the calibre of politicians of the independence era and those of today, in terms of honesty and selfless commitment to service delivery. For example, under the visionary administration of Dr Michael Iheonukara Okpara, as Premier of defunct Eastern Region, even as a village lad, I knew when Mr P O Ururuka was the Minister of Works. He was known for the initiation of a Rural Water Scheme that provided potable water supply to most rural communities across the region. Although the Southern Ngwa (now Osisioma) Water Scheme was not completed before the civil war broke out, at least, I knew that the hydrant was located at Umuagbai community, near Ekeakpara on the old Aba-Owerri Road. I also knew that the people of then Northern Ngwa (now Isiala Ngwa) County Council, from where the minister hails, were enjoying pipe-borne water long before and not-so-long after the civil war. Ditto other parts of Eastern Region where the project had reached before the 1966 crisis/civil war. This was simply rural, not urban, water supply.

The same delivery of electoral promises heralded other ministries, departments and agencies: Abandoned industrial and agricultural projects litter every part of the South-east today, as a testimony to the selfishness and incompetence of post-war political leaders. Putting behind the military interregnum as the locust years – since 1999 – what is the state of water supply, not only in the East, but the country in general, despite trillions of oil dollars and billions from World Bank and other UN donor agencies? Where are the billions budgeted for Ministry of Water Resources every year invested? If water supply to city-dwellers at Abuja, Lagos and other major commercial towns are the efforts of private citizens, where exactly has the billions, including donations/counterpart funding gone?   

In a recent survey by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), “Many residents of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states of the South-east geo-political zone said they largely depend on private boreholes for their water supply, adding that the regional water schemes established by past administrations in the region were no longer functional.”

On December 24, 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Léo Heller, urged Lagos State Government to ensure that 2017 budget improved funding for water and sanitation access to the estimated 21 million residents. Though Lagos was specifically mentioned, but his message was relevant to the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. He noted: “The discussion of the annual budget is a great opportunity for the city (and other states/FCT) to take steps towards delivering to the people their rights to water and sanitation. It is profoundly worrying how many millions of people are exposed to this level of vulnerability.”

Earlier in 2015, the Lagos State Government came under fire when the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), flayed the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) for seeking partnership with private individuals “on how to meet current demand for water in the state” as an indication that the corporation may be pursuing a strategy of intentionally marketing forms of privatisation in the guise of public-private partnership. But an official of the LSWC said they needed some aid to meet the current daily demand for water which she put at 540 million gallons per day.

But in reality, the inability to meet the demand for both domestic and industrial water supply is not a recent development. In 1983, as a Freelance Reporter for Business Times (from Daily Times of Nigeria Group), yours truly did a study on Electricity and Water Supply to Textile Companies in Lagos. Despite the enormous demand for water due to the production needs in Dyeing, Printing and Sizing departments, among others, the textile mills covered in the study were unanimous in their response: they provided all their water needs through construction of boreholes. They berated the Lagos State Water Corporation for serving them Water Bills without supplying them water, and expected them to pay. So, three decades down the line, the situation could only get worse. The average city-dweller knows how much he spends in digging and maintaining boreholes; or the less-privileged who buy water for all their domestic needs.

Not surprisingly, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on March 14, 2018 called on the Federal Government to provide potable water to Nigerians, to prevent water-borne diseases. UNICEF Nigeria Acting Representative, Pernille Ironside and Mr Jurji Zaid, UNICEF Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Nigeria, made the appeal at a media dialogue on Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Project, Phase III. According to NAN, the forum was supported by the European Union in Jos, Plateau State. Qualifying the appeal with “more” was just a political pie. There has to a provision of “quality potable water” first, before talking of “more”.

However, Zaid alerted that about 160 million Nigerians lack access to potable water. The UN official quoted the figure from the 2016 to 2017 Multiple Indicator and Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in conjunction with UNICEF, among other stakeholders. Not only that the figure is authentic it was actually under-stated, the ugly truth is that the number has certainly spiked in the last two years, despite the fact that the bulk of the remaining 20 million Nigerians depend on private water supply. This accounts for the popularity of the impure “pure water”, which is today Nigeria’s most popular source of drinking water, with its attendant health risk confirmed by medical doctors.

Much as corporate social responsibility is commendable – truth remains that for a company like Guinness to install water projects in small (privileged) communities across14 states – is a confirmation of the failure of federal and state governments in this area. At the commissioning of a water project in Adigbe community of Ogun State in 2016, Corporate Relations Director, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Mr Sesan Sobowale had said:

“Many Nigerians still do not have access to clean drinking water; in response to this situation, we have leveraged our flagship ‘Water of Life’ programme to increase the number of Nigerians who have access to clean and safe water. Under the aegis of the ‘Water of Life’ programme, Guinness Nigeria has so far constructed water facilities in 22 communities across 14 states of the country. We are pleased to note that through these water projects, we have helped thousands of Nigerian families to access clean water, and ultimately improve their overall health and wellbeing.”     

One curious aspect of UN and World Bank financial aids to Nigeria and other African nations that bother pundits is this: Do they really insist on seeing how and where earlier multi-million dollar projects were invested? Often times, one wonders if they do not covertly support the corruption they openly condemn.

And the rhythm continues. Last week, the Federal Government disclosed the World Bank will invest $350 million to support the Partnership of Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme in Nigeria. Mr Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources, stated this at the National Stakeholders’ Consultation workshop on Nigeria Rural WASH Project on September 12, 2019 in Abuja.

“The World Bank has graciously considered our request, and is preparing a project in support of the PEWASH programme in the country. This is with an investment worth $350 million, to deliver sustainable and safe water and sanitation to millions of Nigerians, and to support our efforts to end open defecation.”

Mr Rachid Benmessaoud, the World Bank’s Representative said: “Lack of WASH services has led to high infant mortality, deteriorates lifelong health and reduces educational attainment that has in turn diminished labour productivity.

“The World Bank is proud to offer continued support as you embark on implementing the National Action Plan for the Revitalisation of Nigeria’s WASH sector. That is why this year, at the request of your government, our team has begun preparing a new $350 million lending operation in support of rural communities and small towns.”

Since this is only one of hundreds of such million dollar-aids, let’s hope the rural communities and small towns will this time around have reason to acknowledge delivery of such service, for a change.

Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express/Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: chi_dafo@yahoo.com; 0802 933 4754.

Source: News Express

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