Towards addressing Nigeria’s water crisis

Despite the abundant underground water in almost every part of the country, it is still difficult for the citizens to have clean water in line with the SDGs recommendations. In this report, ELEOJO IDACHABA examines the nation’s recent water crisis amidst several others in the past and what must be done.

For over two weeks running, residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been grappling with the challenge of water scarcity in many areas. Before now, it was not unusual to see dry taps in rural areas like Durumi village, Paduma village, Dutsen Alhaji, Karu, Kubwa, Zuba, Giri and other areas connected to the territory’s water source from Ushafa. It is a huge surprise when residents of high-brow areas like Maitama, Wuse II, Asokoro and parts of Garki were also affected with many resorting to buying from water vendors. For others, gallons of water are seen on the backs of trucks for delivery to homes in high-brow Maitama and parts of Wuse and Garki districts.

Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that the immediate cause of the current water scarcity is as a result of a major fault in Ushafa where the territory’s water reservoir is located. According to the Federal Capital Territory Water Board, the inability of the board to pump water to all parts of the territory is as a result of damaged equipment and inability to procure the machine from France. Painfully, this is not the first time that water scarcity would hit the nation’s capital over sundry issues. Coincidentally, it is happening when the whole world is marking World Water Day. This year’s commemoration which was held on March 22 is seen by many as a bad commentary for Nigeria. That day is usually set aside by the United Nations to commemorate the importance of freshwater to inhabitants around the world and it is also to identify challenges experienced by people regarding access to water.

Independent poll

In commemoration of the event in Abuja, a survey firm, NOI Polls, conducted a public opinion poll about water-related challenges in the country by exploring the accessibility of water to Nigerians, treatment of drinking water and challenges faced in accessing it.

According to the findings, 57 per cent of Nigerians disclosed that their primary source of water for household use is borehole with the South-east of the country having more respondents who spoke in the affirmative. However, 25 per cent of the respondents mentioned well water especially in the North-central zone with 34 per cent. Only 14 per cent said they utilise tap water for household use.

Further findings revealed that 62 per cent of Nigerian households reported that they have challenges in accessing water both for drinking and household use and the North-central zone (71 per cent) had more respondents who stated this. The trend analysis reveals a significant 23 percent increase in the proportion of Nigerians who affirmed having challenges in accessing water in their community when the current finding is compared to the result obtained in 2020.

According to the poll, “A major proportion of Nigerians (56 per cent) rely on sachet water popularly known as pure water as the primary source of drinking water. The South-south zone (66 per cent) represented the larger proportion of Nigerians who asserted this. Only 14 per cent of Nigerians disclosed that there are ongoing water projects in their various communities.

“The majority of Nigerians (69 per cent) indicated that they use more water since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the top three reasons cited are health conditions (31 percent), increased washing (19 percent) and frequent showers/bath (17 percent).”

More findings from the poll revealed that borehole (57 per cent) and well water (25 per cent) are the primary sources of water for Nigerians for domestic use. According to the World Health Organization (WHO)/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), this source of water supply is mainly classified as an improved source of water supply in major homes in Nigeria. While this source of drinking water might be affordable and easily accessible to Nigerians, its hygiene and quality has been questioned by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) especially due to the process of packaging. This has led to the closure of several sachet water factories by NAFDAC in the past.

The result stated further that, “With regards to ongoing water projects, a larger proportion of Nigerians (86 per cent) disclosed that there are no water projects currently being implemented in their various communities. Therefore, in order to meet the 6th Goal of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all, the government at all levels needs to urgently work towards the provision of improved quality of water and water sources to the citizenry. For instance, the three tiers of the government, stakeholders and international support agencies should synergise their plans and strategies towards ensuring that all Nigerians have access to clean potable water in their homes by reviving all water boards across all states in the country and resuscitating dormant water plants. These are the key highlights from the Access To Water Poll conducted by NOI POLL in March 2021.”

Population surge

What compounds the current territory’s water crisis, according to investigations, is the recent unprecedented surge in population growth of the territory which in the last 10 to 15 years was put at 9.3 per cent, the highest rate in the country and way above what the city’s planners envisaged.

Jibril Ibrahim, a former director of the FCT water board, had admitted way back in 2012 that the authorities did not see this coming. He said “this unexpected population growth has overwhelmed existing water infrastructure and ruined the careful plans for water service delivery in the territory.”

He said; “This is what has made nonsense of the design we have in the city. Nobody believed that we were going to have this huge number of people and not even within this space of time.”

Blueprint Weekend gathered further that in the last three weeks, residents gathered around wells in affected communities while many others resorted to scooping water from available, but dirty flowing, streams especially at Durumi and Giri.

In Kubwa, for instance, which had enjoyed uninterrupted water supply, women, children and commercial water vendors were last week seen crowding around a few water boreholes and wells in the areas. In many instances, those women and children leave their houses with several buckets and containers early in the morning in order to wait in long queues for their turns to fetch from any available well or borehole.

As crucial as water is to human beings, it is important to state that the management of water falls under what is called a tripartite arrangement among the three tiers of government. It is the responsibility of the federal, state and local government to supply water to Nigerians. That is why it is a major concern that in the 21st century, Nigerians still groan under the burden of water scarcity.

The Ibadan debacle

As all these are going on in the nation’s capital, water scarcity has reportedly hit the University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan, a development that caused the postponement of some major surgeries in that premier institution.

A staff member who does not want her name in print said, “In fact, surgeries are currently being postponed as a result of this development.”

Another patient who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “I was supposed to be in theatre this week but the surgery has now been postponed by two days because of this water crisis. It is so bad that patients now buy sachets of water to have their bath and defecate.”

Blueprint Weekend investigation reveals that it is not uncommon to hear about water crises in UCH as it is a frequent occurrence even though it happens in parts of the hospital rather than the whole.

Agency report

According to the Voice of America report about the water crisis in Nigeria in 2019, millions of Nigerians still lack access to clean water. Making reference to a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF, it stated that millions of households in Nigeria do not have access to clean water sources.

“While the supply of clean water in Nigeria has improved recently, 3 in 10 people still lack access,” it stated.

The VOA report also noted that foreign aid agencies are concerned that nearly 60 million Nigerians or 33 per cent of the population do not have access to clean water.

A water and environmental expert, Joseph Ibrahim, in his view said the figure might have been under-estimated.

“I think that figure is a little bit conservative in the sense that as Nigerians, we know that more of our population lives in the rural areas. I think the World Bank’s statistics tells us that about 51 per cent of our population resides in the rural areas and it is common knowledge that the rural population doesn’t have access to clean water,” he said.

On the way forward, he said, “I think it’s high time we started recycling our water through channelling it to waste treatment plants. From there, we separate the water as it is done in other developed countries of the world.”

An expert’s take

Also, writing on ‘Water crisis: A Triple Stress in Nigeria,’ an associate professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, Marcus DuBois King, said Nigeria is ranked among the most fragile states in the world as she faces significant water challenges which vary greatly from one state to another.

He said, “In a vicious cycle, weak governance exacerbates these water challenges and in turn, conflicts over water resources make governance more difficult. Nigeria spans a breadth of ecosystem types, each with distinctive weather and precipitation patterns that pose unique challenges.

“Availability and quantity of water are insufficient in most areas. Even more than physical water scarcity, economic water scarcity is widespread, meaning that there are insufficient technical and financial resources to access existing freshwater supplies. Climate change is a key factor in increasing water stress. Because of its already-small agricultural yields, political instability, and poor governance, Nigeria is ranked as the 22nd least- ready country to deal with the impacts of climate change by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. These effects are vivid in many parts of the country.

“Average temperatures across Nigeria are rising. In the north, more extreme heat and decreasing precipitation are causing the desert to encroach on valuable farmlands. Because of this, water-related violence has been responsible for more casualties than the violent insurgency waged by Boko Haram.

“To that extent, therefore the availability of safe drinking water is very limited in Nigeria and supplying sufficient water grows increasingly challenging as urban populations grow. “Poor sanitation and hygiene would lead to high rates of diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, trachoma, and worm-related illnesses with diarrhea as the second largest direct cause of child mortality.

“Water allocation is also a significant problem. Water governance is very fragmented and the Nigerian government generally lacks the resources and expertise to operate effectively. The existing infrastructure is not only insufficient, but also poorly maintained. In response to the Nigerian government’s failure to provide basic services like safe water, several insurgent groups have arisen to take matters into their own hands.”

As the water crisis continues to bite harder in many areas without any respite especially in rural areas, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is when will Nigerians finally heave a sigh of relief.

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