Sachet Water as a Threat to Public Health

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A child hulking sachet water

Odimegwu Onwumere

Notions are that water is one medium through which pathogenic organisms are spread. The substantiation is that sachet or packaged water, which is the major means of drinking water in Nigeria, is not exempted of deadly organisms, due to its microbial substance. Unsafe water supply and laughable sanitation are fingered as the cause of over 70 per cent diseases in the developing countries.

Miss Eruchi Chinda, a resident of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, is fond of drinking chilled sachet water. She later started experiencing symptoms of fever. She visited her doctor and was diagnosed of typhoid fever, caused by Salmonella typhi and related illnesses.

Professor Amobi Ilika, the Director of Community and Public Medicine at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi, Anambra State, in March 2013, when in a civic presentation, cautioned that sachet water exposed to heat is capable of exposing the drinkers to cancerous materials. Many won’t listen!

Chinda’s doctor informed her that the typhoid fever is unconnected to drinking impure water. The doctor touched sachet or packaged water as the causative factor, cases of people having diseases like cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid fever, and so many others, abound today.

How sachet water gets contaminated
Professor Ilika was of the view that polythene bags made of synthetic petroleum deteriorates water in them, because the polythene bags are weather-susceptible. He averred that some of the sun ray or heat, melt some of the synthetic petroleum into the water. He enthused that the materials that will drop into the water are called carcinogenic. Not only that, the polythene bags also build-up germs and micro organisms.

Chinda’s doctor confirmed that the diseases occur, because of the presence of bacterial features such as Bacillus sp., Pseudomonas sp., Klebsiella sp., Streptococcus sp., and oocysts of Cryptosporidia sp., that have been traced to be present in sachet water.

There are also traces of other microbial pathogens connected with water pollution which include Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, Campylobacter, Yersinia, Cryptosporidium and Giardia species, according to the experts, and they are not farfetched in this type of water.

The highlight of this is that vendors of the sachet water are not technically and scientifically grounded on handling and producing sachet water through storage and handling.

Why Nigerians drink sachet water
Water, which is essential to human lives, has recorded immeasurable years of neglect in Nigeria by the successive governments, hence leaving the supply of drinking water in the country in undependable hands of sachet water producers.

The populace loves this brand of water, which comes in sizes ranging from 60 mL to 2 L, due to its portability. However, many citizens are oblivious of the health hazards that it portends. The citizens may not be blamed, since they need ways to douse their urge for water. And it is cheap to purchase a sachet.

But that is not the least. As a viable business in Nigeria, the sellers of sachet water protested in some parts of the country in February 2016, due to the economic downturn that the country experienced. Their anger was that a bag of the product, with habitually 20 sachets that was sold at N100, had skyrocketed for N150.

A sachet that was sold for N10, jumped for N20. The failure to provide safe, pipe-borne water for human consummation by the successive governments, led to the production of sachet water in Nigeria. The governments’ ineptitude geared the sale of such water by individuals, with many of the producers not having in-depth knowledge of producing quality water.

Re-certification of sachet water producers
The authorities, having earful of complaints on the dangers associated to sachet water proposed a bill in the recent past, to ban this type of water in the country. But the bill later bit the dust.

The Director of Special Duties, Mr. Abubakar Jimoh of National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), on February 10 2014, said the agency, in cooperation with the Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, and the Senate Committee on Health, had put every modality in place towards the re-certification and examining of sachet water producers in the country, with effect from March of the year in quote.

His words were that the agency spurred for the monitoring, because it had newly acquired mobile laboratory kit just like a van, well equipped with latest ultra-modern testing kit. What was intended to be done was for the agency to be moving with the ‘vehicle’ from one factory to another.

That was coming after January,2014, the Federal Ministry of Environment mouthed its plan to phase out light weight non-biodegradable plastics in the country, having collaborated with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), in December 2013, in a workshop, to put Nigerians on notice. Their gesture was that countries like China and South Africa had placed outright ban on light weight plastic bags, likewise some other countries.

Environmental degradation
Sachet water packs are known as major sources of environmental degradation in the country. On June 5, 2013, the authorities made known their plans to ban the use of plastic bags in the country, beginning by January 2014.

The Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, disclosed this then, during the 2013 World Environment Day celebration in Abuja. The statement has not hold water as used sachet packs litre everywhere across the country. In some states of the federation, upon the introduction of waste banks, buy-back programme, to checkmate the nuisance of used sachet packs, orderliness is still elusive.

The country is in a big problem, as synthetic, black bags, polythene bags have crowded the ecosystem, constituting about 70 per cent of Nigeria’s non-biodegradable waste. There are indications that it takes over 20 years for a sachet water bag to get wholly decayed inside the soil.

Its presence decreases the quality of soil texture. The fear among experts is that these bags are in the landscape. And they are not bio-degradable, comprising a pain-in-the-neck. The irony is that the country is in dearth of framework to address the issue.

The wastes block drains, gutters and canals. Not only that, they cause odiferous atmosphere. A new time comer to metropolis and urban centres in the country is greeted with the foul odour. To the residents, the offensive smell has become part of their life. It means nothing to them.

Apart from the foul odour, sachet packs gathered by flood during the rain do not allow easy flow of water, hence causing overflow of erosion into residences. Seeing this, the state governments often introduce levies to residents to help dispose them of their wastes, but this does yield little or no result.

Suggestions on how to get out of the puzzle
Checks revealed that waterborne disease outbreaks can be checkmated by the provision of potable water, which is often regulated to keep public health, owing to the fact that drinking water is an important environmental determinant of health.

In order to rearrange the system, water treatment plants should be provided, such with a capacity over 5,000 m3/d, based on the population. Specialists intoned that poor operation and lack of maintenance that led to the breakdown of the water systems should be reviewed. This will enable the citizens not to rely on unreliable wells, unprocessed water from rivers and streams used in producing sachet water.

Onwumere a poet, writer and consultant, wrote from Port Harcourt