Water is essential to life. The authorities could do more to ensure is availability

The United Nations General Assembly has long recognised drinking water and sanitation as human rights. But it is a shame that majority of Nigerians still do not have access to either, as attested to last week by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Available statistics, according to him, revealed that over 66 million Nigerians still cannot get clean water while 110 million lack access to adequate sanitation. As a result of this, about 150,000 children under the age of five die annually from Diarrhea-related diseases that are mostly traceable to unsafe drinking water.

“It is a well-known fact that Nigeria did not achieve the targets of the millennium development goals for water and sanitation. Some of the reasons adduced for these are primarily the lack of effective coordination among the stakeholders and the inability to harness the required funds”, said Osinbajo. Yet without water, sanitation and hygiene, it is difficult, if not impossible, to have sustainable development. But the question remains: What do we do, beyond lamentation, to remedy the situation?

For years, there has been a steady decline in budgetary allocations to water and sanitation in the country. In 2010, for instance, the federal government allocated N112 billion to the sector. This was slashed by almost 50 per cent in the 2011 budget to N62 billion and further slashed to a mere N39 billion in 2012 and that has been the trend even when water is key to life. As Ban Ki–moon, the immediate past United Nations Secretary General described it, water is “a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.” Indeed, potable water and improved sanitation services are verifiable measures for fighting poverty and diseases.

Unfortunately, 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. In many rural communities, 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 recent joint WHO/UNICEF observed, many often resort to using any available space as convenience. For those who can afford it, boreholes are indiscriminately dug. But that too constitutes its own problems as it undermines the water table and threatens future supply of the commodity.

When former President Goodluck Jonathan launched the water road map in January 2011, the administration announced some “quick measures to accelerate water coverage” and released some intervention funds for some projects: drilling of motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts of the country, rehabilitation of 1000 hand pump boreholes in 18 states and installation of some special treatment plants, and completing all abandoned water projects. Sadly, none of those short term measures were met.

The 2012 joint progress report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund on drinking water and sanitation ranked Nigeria third behind China and India in the list of countries with the largest population without access to improved drinking water. The report which covered the decade between 1990 and 2010 noted that about 66 million Nigerians had no access to this most basic of amenities while 20 per cent of our population still indulge in the shameful practice of open defecation.

From the remark last week by the vice-president, it would seem that four years after, nothing has changed. We therefore call on government, at every level, to invest more in this “cheap” commodity in the interest of our people.