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THE SCARCITY OF DRINKING WATER
Potable water and improved sanitation services are measures for fighting poverty
For residents of Tinuoye, a small community in the Akinyele local government area of Oyo State, access to potable water is a struggle. About 20 houses in the community depend on two wells for drinking, cooking, and other things. “During the dry season, there’s a reduction in the water quantity and the water quality is often poor, even muddy sometimes,” said Kenneth Anietimfon, a resident. “The water sometimes looks like tea, yet people have no choice but to fetch it like that and allow it to settle down.” Their experience is shared by millions of Nigerians who depend on surface water, unimproved sources of water, or water that can take more than one hour to fetch.
The United Nations General Assembly has long recognised drinking water and sanitation as human rights. But majority of Nigerians still do not have access to either. Indeed, potable water and improved sanitation services are verifiable measures for fighting poverty and diseases. But available statistics reveal that over 70 million Nigerians still cannot get clean water while 110 million lack access to adequate sanitation. As a result of this shortage, about 150,000 children under the age of five die annually from Diarrhea-related diseases that are mostly traceable to unsafe drinking water. “The world’s water crisis is not coming – it is here, and children are its biggest victims,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “When wells dry up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water. When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water is not available in Nigerian communities, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases.”
For several 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. Sadly, that has been the trend even when water is a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people. Indeed, the ministry intends to spend a mere N13m on implementation of water resources master plan out of its 2023 budget.
Instructively, 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, claimed Vice President Yemi 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?
Unfortunately, in the absence of water from piped supplies and protected wells, millions of Nigerians 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.
The federal government and UNICEF not long ago released a Wash Norm study which showed some progress, thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Water Resources and its partners to strengthen the sector’s planning and monitoring. But if there is any progress, it is not reflecting on Nigerians many of whom have no access to adequate and quality water and hygiene services.