Access to potable water is a basic human right, writes Wilson Atumeyi

For 25-year-old Jummai Musa and her 30-year-old husband, Samaila, the reality of Nigeria’s water crisis hits extremely close to home. In their community of Rewianku, Plateau State, accessible clean water is hard to come by. As a result, they are forced to use water from a nearby stream to bathe, wash clothing and kitchen utensils. This has taken a heavy toll on the health of their two-year-old daughter, Safiyah, who has contracted a skin infection that community doctors have traced to the stream. As she talks about her daughter’s condition, Jummai explains that the itching makes it difficult for her to sleep.

With the under-five mortality rate at 127 out of 1,000 infants, this little girl’s condition, though worrying, is not isolated in its occurrence. In the community, Jummai and Musa’s daughter is not the only one suffering from a waterborne skin disease. Several other families, who also use the stream as their source of water, have been put in a precarious position. For them, the problem is not solely the lack of access to clean water, but also inadequate sanitation facilities; these two issues, which often come hand-in-hand, have put the residents of Rewianku at a greater risk of waterborne diseases.

Access to potable water is a basic human right. In Nigeria, however, only 67.3% of the population has access to clean drinking water services, according to data available on Takwimu Africa. In rural areas, this figure reduces to 56% because basic water services are unavailable. Globally, a basic water service is drinking water that comes from an improved source (piped water, boreholes, packaged water, protected wells, etc.), which takes no more than 30 minutes for a round trip to and from the source. However, for many communities, the only access to water often comes from unsanitary sources.

The challenges around water access and sanitation in Rewianku are a reflection of the wider challenges of access to clean water access in Nigeria. According to World Bank estimates, there are 123 million people without the basic household toilet and 60 million people are without clean water close to home. For Nigeria, addressing these challenges is a top priority to achieve the SDG 6 target of clean water and sanitation for all. The Nigerian government has come up with a National Plan of Action that aims to address water sanitation and hygiene in order to achieve 100% basic water access by 2030.

For residents of Rewianku, their access to clean water has reduced significantly in the last 20 years. Although the community once had other basic water sources, after years of use and constant repairs, they have been left with only a faulty borehole. The government has made commitments to resolve this problem within the community but in the meantime, Rewianku residents have resigned themselves to sourcing water from the nearby stream. “If that water can cause skin diseases, imagine what it is doing to our internal organs,” says Samaila Musa. As open defecation is the norm in this community, Samaila’s concerns are well-founded. Data from UNICEF have shown that over 56 million Nigerians defecate in the open because of the lack of access to adequate sanitation facilities including toilets with running water.

Despite the seeming insurmountable challenges, Rewianku has not been left completely alone in its fight for clean water access. Not-for-profit organisation, WaterWide, works within and alongside the community, as well as its key stakeholders, to help put an end to its water and sanitation challenges. Waterwide works across Nigeria tracking government and international aid organisations’ spending and involvement in WASH services. For WaterWide, creating avenues for communities to keep their governments accountable is crucial to receiving better public services. To support its citizen engagement efforts, WaterWide also develops advocacy campaigns through which it seeks to influence policy-decisions and practices. In Rewianku, the NGO launched the campaign #WaterRewianku to create awareness about the community’s water issues, while being a driver for government action.

Active citizen engagement ensures governments fulfill their commitments to the people. Citizens can only make their governments accountable when they have access to information. Governments can only make informed decisions about budget allocation and spending when they have access to information. Donor organisations and other development actors can only make good investment decisions when they have access to information. It is this crucial role of providing actionable insights situated within the appropriate political and economic context that platforms like Takwimu Africa and other platforms, continue to play, providing actionable insights for development actors like Waterwide and communities like Rewianku.

  Atumeyi is Founder, WaterWide