Lagos Tackles Water Scarcity

08 Jul 2013

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In order to provide adequate water to its teeming population, the Lagos State Government has initiated a process that will deliver at least 900 million litres of portable water to homes in different part of the state, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi 

Favour Ogene stood at the entrance to her residence in Idimu at daybreak. He turned his head many times looking to the east and west of the street where he lives. It took about 30 minutes of waiting time before she decided to go back into her room in her tenement bungalow.

“It has been a wasted time and the children would be late to their schools,” she said as she walked inside.
A moment after, the water vendor, Sadiq Yero from Niger Republic appeared with disappointing news. He told Ogene that he had tried very hard, but he would not be able to supply water needed by Ogene’s household for the day. “It has been a difficult day,” he groaned.
Already, Ogene was fast running out of time to prepare her children for school and set out for the day’s activities. But she understood that Ibrahim normally has several commitments, because of the rising demand for water supply within her neighbourhood in Idimu, a rustic suburb of the Lagos metropolis.

But while Yero was yet done with the disappointing news, Ogene was quick to sight another water vendor that emerged from the end of the street, pushing his cart towards her, gasping for breath and visibly fatigued by the burden of moving from one household to the other, supplying the essential need that no creature can do without on a daily basis.

In ecstasy, Ogene rushed out to meet him. She negotiated the price and immediately pulled out a 50-litre keg of water, enough for her household for the day.

Ogene, a middle-age woman and mother of two, explained what she faces daily to get water for her household. She gave her account recently when this reporter spoke with her at her residence on Osawe Street, off Liasu Road, in the Idimu area of Lagos. Since she moved into the neighbourhood three years ago, Ogene claimed that her household depends on water vendors like Yero “to get regular supply of water because door-to-door water supply operated by the Mallams saves us the stress of walking some distance to purchase water at the nearest selling point, which is more than 250 metres away from our residence. That is in addition to the long queue.”

Ogene’s account depicts the picture of what more than two-thirds of the Lagos populace undergoes every day to get water for their basic use. Expectedly, the lack of portable water has compelled several residents of the metropolis to resort to self-help.

According to residents who spoke on the issue, nearly every household in the state either digs well or sinks boreholes within their premises despite the grave consequences of such measures on the environment and an ominous trend even the state’s Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello acknowledged.

He agreed that water scarcity has become a major challenge in Lagos State because of the growing population. But Bello said the challenge is not peculiar to the Lagos metropolis and does not translate into the state lacking in capacity to deliver portable water to households across the state.

According to him, it is characteristic of the world’s mega cities due to increasing population that such cities often attract globally. In the case of Lagos, the commissioner observed that insufficient access to water resources is not due to scarcity, blaming it on the pressure of demand.

He agreed that the population in Lagos is huge and providing water for a population of 20.19 million requires critical infrastructure, which according to him, includes regular power supply and installation of water pipelines across the state.

He disclosed that the challenge of providing portable water has led the governor, Babatunde Fashola, to set up a technical committee to nip the problem in the bud. He added that the committee’s agenda is crucial to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by Nigeria before 2015.

Accordingly, the committee under the chairmanship of the commissioner has a mandate to aggressively develop an effective and people-oriented water supply and sanitation policy for Lagos State. To develop the policy, the commissioner said stakeholders’ meetings had been held in three senatorial districts, which he said, were organised to get the input and views of the state’s residents across the local councils.  

He explained that the committee was inaugurated on June 12, 2012 and its objective was “to provide a lasting solution to the challenge posed by the increasing need for water supply and address sanitation awareness within the state.”

He said the committee has been working with the Lagos State Water Corporation and Lagos Waste Management Authority, among others agencies, to develop an effective water and sanitation policy. 

Bello gave a little background to the water supply and sanitation challenges in the state, which he said, informed the need for a people-oriented policy. He first pointed out that only 2.1 million out of about 20.19 million residents of the state “have access to portable water daily”, a situation which he said, has compelled the bulk of residents in Lagos to find portable water either by sinking boreholes or by patronising water vendors.  

The commissioner explained that the huge unaccounted for water was put at about 80 per cent daily in the state. But he acknowledged that poor access “to water resources is often not driven by water scarcity, but by fragmented institutions, poor management system and investment and insufficient human resources,” which are the challenges the state government has been addressing one after the other.
“Also, increasing economic activities, population and industrialisation, have made increased demand for water. Due to increasing wastage and need for water, the quality and quantity of available surface water and underground water have continued to dwindle and deteriorate,” Bello said.

He argued that the deterioration of underground water is unconnected to the over-use and over-abstraction of the water resources without a corresponding water conservation strategy. Principally, he said the primary objective of the state government was to achieve the MGDs, and the plan is to put all the machinery in place in order to meet the goals within the specified time.

The commissioner said in the next two years, “it is hoped that one of the Millennium Development Goals, which aims at increasing the proportion of people within sustainable access to safe drinking water should have been attained. This would be attained with the ability to allocate water for domestic consumption, agricultural, industrial and environmental needs, which will be dependent on better management of water resources and more efficient use of water for productive purposes.”

The consultant to the committee, Mr. Adesoji Adeyemi, further observed that despite the huge financial commitment of the state government in the provision of water, the situation has not improved. “The state government through its water corporation has three major water works, namely: Iju, Adiyan and Isasi water works and 48 mini-water schemes,” which were built across the state for adequate water supply.

The consultant explained that the state government completed the construction of the Ota-ikosi water works, which is expected to add to the current available portable water, 900 million litres. He added that these are expected to provide water to 8 million residents in the state.
However, the consultant said the problem of water shortage in the state would not be solved when there is a limited distribution network due to limited right of way in the state. The state has network coverage of about 44 per cent and aged infrastructure. Actual production capacity, which was roughly put at 21.6 per cent before the installation of the independent power project has gone up to about 57.2 per cent.
But the Lagos State Water Corporation’s General Manager, Mr. Disun Holloway gave some more insight into the state’s water production capacity, which he said, was about 20 per cent which the media had repeatedly reported. He said: “It does not mean that only 20 per cent of water gets to the consumers in the state. It is far from the truth. It has to do with what the corporation is currently charging.”
He said what it means is that the corporation “is only able to recover 20 per cent of the cost. The reason is that the corporation has been charging a flat rate for its water supply for years irrespective of the quantity of water a resident consumes. The corporation has been charging between N50 to about N2,400 per month. Even at this rate, residents of the state are still reluctant to pay.”

He insisted that his team has been working to make life easy for the residents, especially with regards to their bills. “We have been working to ensure that we reduce the rate of the unaccounted water. The corporation has commenced the installation of water metres.
We started with Ikeja Local Government Area. Currently, we are in the Lekki axis fixing the metres. We have fixed over 3,000 water metres since the commencement of the exercise. This is aimed at ensuring that more residents of the state have access to water and pay for only what they consume.

“If one has a leaking tap in his bathroom, he or she will ensure that the tap is repaired immediately because he knows that he would pay for that used water,” he explained.

Holloway noted that provision of portable water to residents of the state “cannot be achieved by the corporation alone. Part of the measures which we believe can help solve the challenge is that we want the private sector to partner with the corporation, to improve service delivery.”

He said the role of private sector in meeting the water requirements of the state, which he puts at 500 million gallons per day, was important. But according to him, the state production capacity currently stands at 210 million gallon. However, the medium-term plan of the state government is to develop capacity that can deliver 900 million gallons to homes.

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