THE CHALLENGE OF CLEAN WATER

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MONDAY EDITORIAL

The authorities may do well to address the shortcomings in water supply

 
No fewer than 663 million people across the globe live without access to clean water, and the vast majority of them are in rural areas, according to a new World Bank report. In Nigeria, the numbers of those without access to safe water and sanitation are also huge. The report, launched on August 28 at the World Water Week in Sweden, further revealed that in many countries, services did not reach the poor while children have continued to suffer as a result. And to the extent that improving access to clean water will have significant implications for poverty reduction and human development outcomes, this is a report that the authorities cannot ignore.
 
It is rather unfortunate that Nigeria’s level of access to clean water is markedly lower than those of other peer countries in the region. That 57 million people in Nigeria continue to live without access to improved water while 130 million people use unimproved sanitation facilities is unacceptable. A research conducted by the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank revealed that the socioeconomic impacts of poor sanitation alone cost the country about $2 billion each year.
 
A section of the 185-page report titled ‘Nigeria: A Wake-up Call’ provided a glimpse at the water and sanitation sector in the country. Under the Nigeria Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Poverty Diagnostic, the report revealed that only 29 per cent of Nigerians have access to improved sanitation. The report noted further that 130 million Nigerians did not meet the MDG standards for sanitation, while Nigeria’s water sector faced significant challenges. Even when 61 per cent of Nigerians have access to improved water, only 31 per cent have access to improved water on premises.
 
 Potable water and improved sanitation services are verifiable measures for fighting poverty and diseases. Yet, 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 contaminated streams and ponds. For those who can afford it, especially in the major cities and towns, boreholes are indiscriminately dug. But that too constitutes its own problems as it undermines the water table and threatens future supply of the commodity.
 
Altogether, the report painted a gloomy picture of the Nigerian condition that is all too evident, especially with poor children said to be about four times more likely to get diarrheal disease than rich children and that public expenditure in water and sanitation was limited and of poor quality. Besides, across most water-utility indicators, Nigeria under-performed in comparison to African and global averages, according to the report which noted that nearly 30 per cent of water points and water schemes failed within their first year of operation in our country.
 
What the foregoing says is that public officials, at all levels, as well as key stakeholders must begin to develop effective policies and interventions to address shortcomings in access to clean water. Such efforts should be targeted at the most vulnerable in society, specifically those who experience the greatest burden of poverty. But to generate a sustained impact, there must be a synergy in what the various actors are doing so that a combination of such interventions will have more impact than the sum of their parts.
 
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that access to piped water on premises in urban areas declined from 32 per cent in 1990 to 7 per cent in 2015. Yet until we make access to water in Nigeria a right and not a privilege as it currently appears to be,  it will be difficult to get many things right.