Despite abundant water resources, successive governments have been unable to provide the people with potable water, thereby subjecting Nigerians to untold suffering and diseases
“No Nigerian child should in the next few years trek long distances to carry water on their heads before going to school. Our target is to ensure that by the year 2015, 75 per cent of Nigerians will have access to safe drinking water and that by 2025 the figure will rise to over 90 per cent.” With these words, President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by Namadi Sambo, Vice President, assured Nigerians that lack of water would no longer be a problem in the country. He was speaking at the inauguration of the road map for the Nigerian water sector in Abuja, January 17.
But statements like these no longer excite Nigerians, who have suffered over the years from government’s inability to provide adequate potable water for the growing population despite promises of water for all. As the world prepares to mark this year’s World Water Day, WWD, on March 22, government would once again reiterate its promises to Nigerians. The theme of this year’s WWD, which is, “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge”, focuses on urban population growth, industrialisation, climate change and their impact on water supply and sanitation. Jacques Diouf, director-general, Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, had traced the declining water situation to population growth, urbanisation and the increase in domestic and industrial use. Said he: “As population grows and development needs call for increased allocation of water for cities, agriculture, and industries, the pressure on water resources intensifies, leading to tensions and conflicts among users, and excessive strain on the environment.” In the case of Nigeria, inept leadership and corruption are also some of the factors responsible for the poor water supply and sanitation situation in the country.
The idea of establishing River Basin Development Authority, RBDA, in the 1970s was to have a framework for the development of the nation’s water resources but many of them have become moribund. Many of the dams constructed at huge cost to harness water resources for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes have been abandoned. Successive governments at both federal and state levels have committed huge funds into water projects that are yet to serve their purpose.
The failure of government to provide adequate potable water has forced many Nigerians to rely on boreholes and water vendors for water supply. The problem is even more pronounced in the rural areas where people trek several kilometres to fetch water from streams. World Bank records indicate that water supply to urban dwellers in Nigeria is about 48 per cent while that of rural areas is 35 per cent. But most Nigerians say the percentages could be much lower as taps are often dry. A study conducted by Global Initiative for Women and Children, GIWAC, recently, reveals that 69 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to safe drinking water. Thus the aphorism, “Water, water everywhere but not a single drop to drink”, could not have been more affirmed in the lives of Nigerians than now with the scale of scarcity of water experienced in different parts of the country. The road map developed by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources under Obadiah Ando, is designed to change the situation and achieve the goal of water for all.
Water shortage has become endemic in all the states of the federation, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Austin Obla is a resident of Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State. He told the magazine that the efforts by the state government to provide potable water for residents of the state have not achieved positive results as people still rely more on alternative sources of water. Timipre Sylva, governor of the state, gave positive signals at the inception of his administration, that he would tackle the problem of water headlong. He commenced a water reticulation scheme designed to ensure regular water supply in the capital city and the upgrading of many other water projects across the state.
When he played host to Ando, minister of water resources, in May 2010, Sylva disclosed that the state had spent over N5 billion on water projects across the state within three years. Sadly for the people, public supply of water has remained only a dream, as water vendors are still the main suppliers of water to residents at exorbitant rates. A 25-kilogramme jerry can of water sells for between N20 and N30 and most households require many of them for their daily needs. Obla, for instance, spends about N500 to buy water daily for his family of six. Many residents, who can afford it, drill their own boreholes, which now serve as their only source of water. It is not uncommon to see women, children, and water vendors in a long queue to fetch water from commercial borehole operators.
Rivers State, in South-south Nigeria is in the same mould as Bayelsa. The public water schemes, which ensured regular supply of water in Port Harcourt, the capital city and many other towns and villages in the past have become moribund. The population was growing at a very fast rate without a commensurate upgrade of water facilities in the state. Chibuike Amaechi, Rivers State governor, rightly traced the problem to neglect of the sector by previous regimes in the state, and wondered why the various water projects embarked upon by the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority, NDBDA, were allowed to rot away. But his regime has done little to improve the situation despite his promise to give priority to the provision of potable water. The little hope rekindled in the people when the taps began to run early last year has since evaporated as the taps returned to their state of dryness.
In Ekiti State, South-west Nigeria, the issue of water supply has become politicised and the people of the state are bearing the brunt. The previous administration of Olusegun Oni had privatised the dams in the state but there are allegations that the dams were concessioned to his cronies. Kayode Fayemi, the new governor who took over from Oni when his government was terminated last year, has vowed to get the state’s waterworks back on stream. “This administration is not a borehole government and that is why we must get our waterworks back to operation and make sure that the pipes are revived so that water must flow,” he declared. Fayemi who faulted the privatisation of the waterworks, vowed to carry out investigation and if neccessary revoke the exercise, adding that if the four waterworks; Ero, Itapaji, Egbe and Ado operate at full capacity, there would be adequate water supply for domestic use and irrigation purposes. Until then, the people of Ekiti State will continue to rely on wells, boreholes and streams for their water supply.
The residents of neighbouring Ondo State have not fared better either as access to potable water is also a major problem. Olusegun Mimiko, governor of the state, had decried the unfortunate situation and pledged to put an end to the perennial problem of shortage of water. Last year, the governor awarded a N2.8 billion contract for the rehabilitation of three water dams, namely: Awara, Ose/Owo, and Ifon in the northern part of the state to improve water supply. The state also has a rural water supply scheme. However, there are concerns over the abandonment of the Owena Multipurpose Dam awarded at a cost of N14 billion for which the contractor is said to have been paid a mobilisation fee of N4 billion.
Despite its claim of having spent huge sums of money on rehabilitation of water plants in the state, the Ogun State government has very little to show for it. There is acute water shortage in most parts of the state, including Abeokuta, the state capital. Kola Onadipe, the state commissioner for water resources and rural development, had claimed at a stakeholders forum that the state government has constructed six major water plants, which would serve the people for the next 20 years, and rehabilitated many other water projects for several billions of naira. He also mentioned the proposed N688 million micro-waterworks scheme, expected to serve over 30 communities. Onadipe had reiterated that November 2010 would be the beginning of a new era in potable water supply in the state, stressing that a lot of communities, including Abeokuta will enjoy consistent water supply everyday. Those who consider this another failed promise are yet to be proved wrong as shortage of potable water continues to subject people in the state to untold suffering.
Shortage of potable water is even more acute in the northern part of the country . Women and children spend several hours daily in search of water from wells. In some communities, camels and donkeys are used to draw water from wells that could be as deep as 150 metres. Their problems are further compounded during the dry season as most of these wells dry up. In the rural communities, it is not uncommon to find human beings and cattle drinking from the same stream or pond. Governments’ intervention in such communities is to drill boreholes, which often pack up for lack of maintenance. But in many parts of Enugu State, the drilling of boreholes is not an easy task because of the rocky terrain. Yet most government’s water projects designed to utilise surface water to provide drinkable water have been abandoned. In Niger State, the government had to set up a ten-man committee, last August to investigate the cause of water shortage in the state. On why the step was taken, Muhammed Yahaya, secretary to the state government, had expressed worry that despite the huge resources committed to water projects in the state, there is very little to show for it.
The water sector has suffered neglect over the years by various governments, which is why Nigerians provide their own wells and boreholes. Government too has joined in the fray, making boreholes the major source of water supply even in government establishments. There are several abandoned water projects across the country, making nonsense of government’s avowed commitment to providing adequate and quality water for the people. The worrisome situation poses serious health and development implications. Water-related diseases are common in most parts of the country. Even the use of ground water like boreholes is not without its health hazards. Apart from not conforming with the required depth, most owners do not treat water from their boreholes or have it subjected to laboratory analysis before drinking. Medical experts have warned that borehole water could be contaminated with underground pathogens or hazardous metals, especially in areas where mining and oil drilling activities take place.
Nigeria is said to have one of the highest number of water related deaths in the world. There have been cases of waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrhoea in some states. Diarrhoea is said to be the second largest killer of children in Nigeria, causing as many as 17 per cent of deaths of those under the age of five. Guinea worm, River blindness, and cholera are also water-related diseases endemic in parts of the country. There are concerns that the decimation of the country’s population by water-related diseases could have serious socio-economic implications.
A United Nations study had predicted that unless an integrated water resources management and water efficiency strategy is implemented, there would be a water war in Nigeria by 2020. The World Bank has also estimated that Nigeria requires a minimum of $10 billion (N1.5trillion) investment within the next ten years in order to meet its demand for potable water for about 80 per cent of rural and urban dwellers. But the problem of Nigeria is not the lack of investments in the water sector.
Decrying the failure of past efforts to meet the water needs of the Nigerian population, Jonathan’s government had said it would require N575 billion to meet its water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015. He thus canvassed for public-private sector partnership for effective implementation of the water road map, promising that the federal government would provide intervention funds to help realise its slogan of “Water for all, water everywhere”. But many Nigerians want government to put sloganeering aside and tackle the problem of water with all the seriousness it deserves in order to build a wealthy and healthy nation.