Nigeria, still in search of good water to drink

On 22nd of March, 2017, Nigeria joined the world to celebrate the World Water Day themed: Water and Wastewater. ADETOLA BADEMOSI writes on the increasing demand for fresh water and efforts of the Federal Government to meet Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) on access to safe water and sanitation.

WATER is crucial to all spheres of life. Its importance spans across agriculture:  forestry, fisheries, power, building and transportation, among others. Indeed, water support life.

In Nigeria and the world at large, the importance of water cannot be over emphasised as it contributes immensely to the development of every nation, especially in the areas of hydropower, tourism, agriculture, among others.

The journey to providing sustainable access to safe and sufficient water resources to meet the cultural, social and economic development needs of all Nigerians, for all uses in ways that contribute to enhancing public health, food security, and poverty alleviation, while also maintaining the integrity of freshwater ecosystems of the nation, is one aspect that the country is still grappling with.

Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this, but due to bad economic policies or poor infrastructure, every year, millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity, poor water quality, and inadequate sanitation, negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. Drought afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries, worsening hunger and malnutrition.

Statistics has shown that Nigeria’s water resources potential takes more than the 1,000 m3/per capital/year benchmark for water poor country, while the country has about 1,800 m3/capita/year of renewable water resources available. Nigeria’s surface and ground water resources are also estimated at above 250 billion cubic meters.

Interestingly, despite these numerous potentialities, the country still ranks as one of the Economic Water Scarce Countries, meaning that there is lack of investment and proper management to meet demand.

According to reports by the United Nations on water, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water by 2050.

The statistics also revealed that 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without water. At least 1.8 billion people globally use a contaminated source of drinking water. But water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and its projected to rise.

The report further stated that over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge while 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.

More than 80 per cent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal. Each day,nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related  diarrhoea diseases.

But the unpleasant water situation, Minister of Water Resources, Mr Suleiman Adamu, at a briefing to usher in the 2017 World Water day with the theme: “Water and Wastewater” in Abuja, Mr Adamu said, government was targetting safe water for all Nigerians, highlighting the symbiosis between water and wastewater in the quest for sustainable development, and also create opportunity to consolidate and build upon the previous World Water Days.

He disclosed that the Federal Government was considering adoption of water recycling technology to utilise every waste water in the country as part of sustainable development goal in the water sector.

Although a free gift from God, he said for water to become useful and meet the demands of the people,  it must first be made available from reliable sources, be treated before distribution to various homes.

Adamu also  expressed the FG’s readiness to embrace tunnelling as part of its national development plan on water. According to him, the concept of tunnelling was not new in Nigeria since it had been adapted in some water and other projects, but added that the government would embrace it as integral part of its national development plans when the need arises.

Adamu explained that the technology could be deployed to implement the 2,400km water transfer project from River Congo to the receding Lake Chad by PowerChina International Group Limited; a project aimed at halting  the drying of the lake from the north basin due to climate change.

However, he noted that the country does not have the capacity to immediately deploy the technology  due to paucity of funds, but quickly added it would become imperative overtime because of its effectiveness.

In a message by the Director-General of UNESCO Ms. Irina Bokova, to mark the 2017 World Water Day, it said most human activities produce wastewater and over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released to the environment without treatment.

“Access to safe water and sanitation service is essential to human rights dignity and survival of women and men across the world, especially the most disadvantaged. This is vital for progress across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Water links all 17 Sustainable Development Goals And their interconnected targets,” she said.

Bokova added that in the face of the growing demand, wastewater could be a reliable alternative source of water: “This calls for shifting the paradigm of wastewater management from treatment and disposal to reduce, reuse, recycle and resource recovery. Wastewater should no longer be seen as a problem, but as part of the solution to challenges that all societies are facing.”

Over the years, the gap of lack of access to potable water and sanitation is one aspect the government has, and is still trying to close, but the chunk of the impact falls heavily on rural areas.

For instance, Shishimpe, a community not far from Mpape district in Abuja, still lives without potable water. The only source of water in the community is a small stream down a hilly path. A borehole was constructed in the community in 2010 under the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs), but only worked for few days.

Despite the MDGs on access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Nigeria however, did not meet this target, but was able to reach 65 per cent and 75 per cent coverage in water and sanitation respectively.

According to the 2015 MDG UNICEF and World Health Organisation (WHO) assessment report on Water and Sanitation, it was estimated that nearly half of all people using unimproved drinking water sources live in sub-Saharan Africa, where Nigeria is included.

Nigeria is one of the countries that could not meet the MDGs target on water, but it is working to meet the target of the SDGs 6 on ensuring access to water and sanitation for all.

In a bid to proffer lasting solutions to this menace, the government, in 2016, launched the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene ( PEWASH) programme, which would last from 2016-2030.

PEWASH is a national multi-sector collaboration aimed at improving water supply, particularly in rural and small towns; sanitation in public places with the aim of eradicating open defecation. This involves partnership intervention model between major stakeholders, including the Federal, State, LGAs, communities, donor agencies, development partners and private sector, towards achieving the SDGs in Nigeria.

The Minister of Water Resources has, however, commenced implementation of the RUSHPIN (Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria) project across six LGA’s in Benue State and Cross River State.

RUSHPIN is a five-year sanitation and hygiene project which seeks to stop open defecation through the construction of toilets and shallow wells with hand pump.

The minister, also as part of government’s efforts to provide potable water for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), launched the takeoff of the nationwide construction of borehole. According to him, the construction of the small water supply schemes in various states would boost estimated 69 per cent national access to potable water in Nigeria. In the bid to safeguard the quest for food security and adequate nutrition, and human lives, economic potential.