Government must make clean and safe water accessible to all

Safe water is a basic commodity necessary for the survival of humanity. But a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reveals the lack of access to this basic commodity for the mass of the Nigerian population. The UNICEF report, anchored on the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2017, highlighted the fact that access to safe water remains a big challenge for majority of Nigerians.

We cannot be tired of exposing this shame and the absence of the basic commodity for 40 per cent of households that make people vulnerable to health risks in our country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said waterborne diseases account for an estimated 3.6 per cent of the total Disability- Adjusted Life Year (DALY) global burden while about 1.5 million human deaths annually. It also estimates that 58 per cent of that burden, or 842,000 deaths per year, are attributable to a lack of safe drinking water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

This statistic is quite disturbing and can be connected to Nigeria, where lack of access to safe water is causative of waterborne diseases including Cholera, Dysentery, Typhoid Fever, Polio, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Hepatitis A, Scabies and Dengue Fever, among others. It is also responsible for Diarrhoea, the main killer of children under the age of five years in Nigeria, and stunting, an abnormality that hampers a child from reaching their full learning potential.

UNICEF is distraught that access to safe water constitutes a challenge for majority of Nigerians, especially those in the rural communities. It warned that for the country of 195 million people to attain the global goal of providing access to safe water for every citizen by 2030, it needs to make water, together with sanitation and hygiene, a national priority.

It is in this light that we appeal to government, the private sector and development partners with responsibility in the management of water quality to provide safe water and sanitation for all. Government should upgrade non-protected water systems and improve the management of all drinking water systems in line with WHO and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) guidelines on drinking of quality water.

To realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets by 2030, the N85 billion earmarked for the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in the 2017 budget should be fully implemented while governments at all levels should make clean and safe water accessible to all. We are also calling for a policy guideline that will modulate the practice where virtually all Nigerian house owners dig wells and boreholes to meet water requirement. This practice is carried out without considering the impact on the environment and the possibility of seismic shift in the earth crust that could result in earthquake.

Meanwhile, 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.

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 the society, specifically those who experience the greatest burdens of poverty. Access to water is a right, not a privilege.