Scarcity of clean water in Nigeria

This blog post intends to revisit the issue of water and sanitation beaming the light on Nigeria, a country blessed with enormous human and natural resources but rated top most in terms of corruption by the transparency international due to misuse of its capital resources. It is pitiful to learn that more than half the Nigerian population are lacking clean water. In virtually all urban Nigerian cities (with worst picture seen in rural areas), it has now become a routine to see most women and children roaming the streets in search for clean water; this recalcitrant situation has lead to women wasting their valuable time and energy in search of water which ordinarily they would have spent either cooking, caring for the family or helping their children read their books or do their assignments.
Interestingly, I read an online editorial of the Daily Trust Newspaper (1st Dec. 2010) with a caption: “69m Nigerians lack safe drinking water – Survey” and found that piece interesting. The survey was carried out by Global Initiative for Women and Children (GIWAC), an NGO operating in the country. The group further revealed that in addition to the 69 million people who do not have access to safe drinking water, there are also 103 million people who do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities in Nigeria. Very pathetic in all senses! It is a result of this development that the group spokesperson at a workshop in Kaduna said GIWAC would partner with the Women Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA, an NGO) seeks to provide those communities who lack access to drinking water and sanitation to be able to prevent water and sanitation related diseases. This is through provision of boreholes before the end of the 9 months project’s duration period in which the European Union would provide fund for the project.
In Nigeria, the cost of managing water related diseases is adding more burden to the already strained health sector, a situation which is completely preventable if there is due diligence and commitment on the part of the government.
In a UNICEF report which I read on the web, water related diseases are among the most common cause of illnesses and death affecting mainly the poor in developing countries. It further stated that there are about 4 billion cases of diarrhoeal diseases per year causing 1.8 million deaths with over 90 per cent among children of under-fives.
In another report which I read WHO, 2004, diarrhoeal diseases accounts for an estimated 4.1% of the total DALY global disease burden and is responsible for the deaths of about 1.8 million people yearly. Interestingly, 88% of this is as a result of unsafe water supply, and poor sanitation and hygiene a condition which is mostly seen in children of developing countries.
It is disheartening to note that despite 50 years of independence and billions of dollars as annual budgetary allocation to the ministry of water resources, the Nigerian government is still unable to provide its citizenry with clean drinking water in this 21st century.
I came across another interesting article on the web titled Water in Nigeria: valuable yet unavailable, in 1999 through 2007, over N357.86 billion was allocated by Nigerian government to the provision of safe drinking water and to date the problem is far from over a clear indication that the elected officials have totally failed their electorates.
It is puzzling the fact that several developing countries especially those neighbouring Nigeria (eg Chad, Ghana, Togo etc) whose GDP is far below that of Nigeria, are able to provide adequate and clean water supply to its populace.
In an ideal situation, a country like Nigeria shouldn’t experience any scarcity of clean drinking water considering the fact that the rivers, lakes and streams in Nigeria have not disappeared. We have abundant fresh water that can be channelled to various water treatment plants to undergo the due process of filtration and chlorinated (and other processes which are not technically complex to run) and then subsequently get distributed through its supply network to reach its end-users. Considering the billions spent by successive governments since independence trying to provide clean water supply, it is right to say that corruption has taken toll in the country and now spreading from the top to those at the bottom of the managerial pyramid.
In hindsight, Nigeria of 60’s through 80’s was able to provide its citizenry with clean drinking water despite the fact that it was a period of rather low technological advancement globally. It is right to say that the level of corruption during that era was low and dedication to service to the fatherland was still in the minds of our leaders.
As a result of failure of Nigerian government to attend to their responsibilities to the citizenry, the affluent ones have resorted to the business of drilling boreholes and manufacturing water in a sealed PVC popularly known as ”pure or sachet water”; this is with a view to provide clean water to their households and also make some extra money from sale of “sachet water” to the community. Drilling of boreholes and manufacturing of “sachet water” has now become a thriving business in Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999, also considered by some narrow minded politicians as another ”dividend of democracy”.
In view of the enormous benefits which politicians derive from borehole drilling, governments (at both federal and state levels) are now contracting politicians to do the job: another way of ‘paying’ the politicians as well as making water available to the community for couple of months before the borehole fails eventually.
It is logical to say that the resources allocated by governments to drilling of bore holes, buying generators and diesel to run them should rather be channelled to overhaul the dilapidated water works and also create additional employment to the large number of unemployed graduates roaming the streets (indulging themselves into all sorts of vices).
In the short term, boreholes and PVC sealed ‘sachet’ water are of help to the populace but on the long term, there are enormous consequences. It is advisable that governments should rehabilitate the dilapidated water works to regain back their past functional status and start supplying the citizenry with the required clean water.
In addition to the ailments which water scarcity brings in life (as mentioned in my earlier write-up), there are additional complications associated with the use of both boreholes and PVC sealed ‘sachet’ water often as a result of some toxic elements, possible bacterial contamination due to poor sighting of boreholes and carcinogenic substances found in some underground water as summarized below:
• Carcinogenic substances due to some toxic substances eg PCBs found in some water
• Presence of natural radionuclide in the underground water
• Presence of other occurring hazardous metals eg Cadmium, Arsenal, Lead, Mercury, Manganese, Chromium, Copper, Fluoride etc in the underground water
• Environmental issues associated with use of PVCs (from manufacturing to their disposal) especially considering the fact they are not biodegradable.
Since Nigerian governments have failed its citizenry in this regard and some few able ones have resorted to the use of borehole water as the best alternative, it is advisable that sampling and analysis of the borehole water be adopted with a view to check the chemical composition and also for presence of any possible pathogenic contaminant. A set standard should also be in place with regards to manufacturing ‘sachet’ water and where possible bottled water should be encouraged and supported.
I would like to round up by calling on our policy makers to use their technical expertise and good office to give constructive advice to those at the helm of affairs for the good of every Nigerian.

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