There is need to invest more in the provision of potable water

While the United Nations General Assembly has recognised drinking water and sanitation as human rights, meaning that everyone must have access to them, the former still remains a serious problem for majority of Nigerians. That reality was underscored last week by no less an official than the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, who said that over 54 million Nigerians cannot get potable water to drink. Yet without water, sanitation and hygiene, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have sustainable development.

In many rural communities in our country today, the challenge is critical as women and children trek long distances to fetch water from streams and ponds, some of which are contaminated. Even in the so-called modern cities like Lagos and Abuja, the federal capital, a large proportion of people have no access to drinking water and, as a joint WHO/UNICEF report recently observed, many often resort to using any available space for their convenience. For those who can afford it, boreholes are indiscriminately dug. But that too constitutes its own problem as it undermines the water table and threatens future supply of the commodity.

In the absence of water from piped supplies and protected wells, millions of Nigerians living in both rural and urban areas consume what is available. The 2012 joint progress report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on drinking water and sanitation is not only depressing but indeed very embarrassing. It ranked Nigeria third behind China and India in the list of countries with the largest population without access to improved drinking water.

“Water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth and stability around the world, and climate change is making the problem worse,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim last week. “If countries do not take action to better manage water resources, some regions with large populations could be living with long periods of negative economic growth. But countries can enact policies now that will help them manage water sustainably for the years ahead.”

Incidentally, when the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan launched the water road map in January 2011, the administration announced some “quick measures to accelerate water coverage”, after releasing some intervention funds for some projects: drilling of motorised boreholes in each of the 109 senatorial districts of the country, rehabilitation of 1,000 hand pump boreholes in 18 states and installation of some special treatment plants, and the completion of all abandoned water projects. Unfortunately, none of these short term measures have been met.

In a report entitled “High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy” released last week, the World Bank said: “Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to six per cent of their GDP, spur migration and spark conflict.” The report claimed that the combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes and expanding cities would see demand for water rising exponentially, “while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.”
However, what makes the report compelling for the Nigerian authorities is that it contains a serious warning that acute water shortage could deepen the clash between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria.

“Food price spikes caused by droughts can inflame latent conflicts and drive migration. Where economic growth is impacted by rainfall, episodes of droughts and floods have generated waves of migration and spikes in violence within countries,” it said.

What the foregoing says most eloquently is that access to water is a serious issue that must be tackled in Nigeria. We therefore call on government, at every level, to invest more in the provision of drinking water for the people.