Makoko: Where people live on acidic water dangerous for human consumption

In Makoko area of Yaba, Lagos State, dwellers  shower and defecate on the water from which they drink. VICTOR OGUNYINKA, curious about the effect of this on their health, embarked on an investigative mission to the community and took various water samples from the community to the laboratory, and the results explain the danger which lack of potable water exposes Makoko people to in a community surrounded by water.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), article 24 on the convention on the right of children states that “Children have the right to the best health care possible, to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment and the information to stay healthy.”

Somewhere in Lagos State, precisely in Makoko, Yaba, over 10,000 Nigerians, including children are living in a condition that negates this child right act.

The first sight at the river bank of the community was that of a toddler, about three years old, squatting at the edge of a floating boat, defecating inside the lagoon.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that that was a way of life and common practice as another boy, not more than 10 years, was also using the water for convenience.

For more than five decades, the only life people living in a part of Makoko know is the life on water; they have managed to embrace, procreate, do their various businesses on the lagoon water, which is less than one kilometre from the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos.

One cannot talk about the story of Makoko water community without mentioning the popular floating school (now demolished by rainfall), which as a result, leaves thousands of children with the option of only one other school left in the whole community.

The interesting and startling fact about these beautiful people is that they are not complaining about the life they live.

With very little government presence, if there is none at all, the people are structured to provide everything they have and need for themselves.

The black, stench water in which they are surrounded with serves as their major road, which is flooded by fleets of canoes owned by almost everybody dwelling in the community. The canoes, paddled by both young and old, are used as a tool for hawking, transportation and other commercial activities, but what is more striking are not the activities on the water, but also the condition of the water where all these activities are carried out.

On a curious investigative tour of the Makoko community on how healthy the water body is to carry out any kind of activities at all, it was discovered that the condition of the water is capable of causing an epidemic of water-borne disease on the long run.

Residents walk, sometimes barefooted on the waterways, filled with urine and floating molecules of faeces.

Speaking with a couple of residents, including children who mostly spoke on a condition of anonymity, it was learnt that with the ‘unhealthy’ condition of the water, surprisingly, malaria and typhoid are still not a common place for the dwellers living in that community.

Speaking with Ecoscope, the director of the only school in the settlement, Whanyinna Nursery and Primary School, Mr Shemede Noah, who was born and bred on the waterfront, he explained that children in that community rarely fall sick to malaria or typhoid than others living on the mainland.

Also, another dweller, a transporter and our tour guide during the visit, simply identified as ‘D Boy’ revealed that there are different sources of water for drinking in the community and there is a source of pipe borne water, where majority depend on for consumption.

In the quest for getting the health condition of these waters, samples of the black water, sachet water and the pipe borne water labelled samples A, B and C respectively were collected and tested in the laboratory.

The chemical and microbiological analysis of the water was carried out at the Faculty of Science, Leads City University, Ibadan, Oyo State.

The parameters tested for include the pH (from potential of Hydrogen), Dissolved Oxygen (DO), total hardness, acidity, total alkalinity and total bacterial count.

While analysing the result of the samples, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Lead City University and professor of nutritional biochemistry, Professor Olusola Ladokun-Okunola, concluded that all the samples needed treatment before they could be consumed.

Professor Ladokun-Okunola explained that the pH indicates the intensity of the acidic or basic character of a solution and is controlled by the dissolved chemical compounds and biochemical processes in the solution.

“The pH of most natural waters is between 6.0 and 8.5, although lower values can occur in dilute waters high in organic content and higher values in eutrophic water (rich in nutrients and so supporting a dense plant population, the decomposition of which kills animal life by depriving it of oxygen).

“The pH of the three samples ranged from 5.9 to 6.6, showing that the water is mildly acidic; Sample C has a pH of 5.9, which is outside the range expected for most natural water, this could be due to high organic content present in the water sample.

“The acidity of the water samples ranged from 133mg/l to 175mg/l, which is high compared to the total alkalinity, which ranged from 32mg/l to 58mg/l,” she said.

While analysing the result of the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) on the samples, Professor Ladokun-Okunola stated that oxygen is essential to all forms of aquatic life, including organisms responsible for the self-purification processes in natural waters.

“The oxygen content of natural waters varies with temperature, salinity, turbulence, the photosynthetic activity of algae and plants and atmospheric pressure.

“The solubility of oxygen decreases as temperature and salinity increase. In fresh water, the DO at sea level ranges from 15mg/l at 0oC to 8mg/l at 25oC. None of the samples under study have Dissolved Oxygen up to 8mg/l at 25oC. The DO for these samples ranged from 6.7 to 7.2mg/l, which shows that the water bodies in that community is high on organic content, which used up its oxygen. The organic content may have come into the water through waste disposal (domestic and human waste), presence of algae and plants.”

Furthermore, it was also discovered that the total hardness of the water ranged from 27 to 98mg/l.

Professor Ladokun-Okunola stated that based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations on consumable water, the water samples ranged from slightly hard to moderately hard. Soft water with a hardness of less than 100mg/l may, in contrast, have a low buffering capacity and so be more corrosive for water pipes. There are some health benefits associated with drinking hard water due to the presence of calcium, magnessium and iron, which is not likely in soft water.

She also added that “there are presence of bacteria in samples B (6cfu/ml) and C (32cfu/ml), with the Total Bacteria Count of sample A too numerous to count.

“The presence of bacteria in Sample C is quite high and this is not suitable for drinking,” she advised.

The professor further stated that Sample A (black water) requires extensive chemical treatment before it can be fit for drinking, Sample B (Sachet water) requires Ultra Violet (UV) light treatment and Sample C (pipe borne) is acidic and also requires UV light treatment.