Nigeria’s perennial failure to reverse critical negative human development indices was underlined recently by UNICEF. It agonised over the lack of access of two-thirds of the country’s population to potable water, translating to 133 million persons denied clean and uncontaminated water sources. Undoubtedly, the national and sub-national governments need to map out effective strategies to reverse this trend and improve the lives of citizens.
While most of the world has signed on to the UN’s adoption of water as “the core of sustainable development,” and as a “finite and irreplaceable resource that is fundamental to human well-being,” Nigeria has over the years missed both national, and globally-set water supply targets.
UNICEF’s Chief of Water, Sanitation and Health, Jane Bevan, told a news conference to commemorate the 2023 World Water Day in Abuja that “unfortunately in Nigeria, the progress is static, in which two-thirds of the Nigerian population do not have access and that’s a lot of people if you think about the population.”
By devising policies at each level and collaborating for national programmes, the federal and state governments must create sustainable channels to tackle headlong the prevalence of water poverty and acculturate citizens in sanitation and hygiene practices. This is salient in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6, “clean water and sanitation for all.”
Water poverty, according to experts, is a state of being without clean and potable water, which adversely affects water consumption and quality hygiene culture in a country. This deserves urgent attention as the lack of, inadequately managed or the presence of contaminated water contributes to health risks such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, polio, E. coli, and death.
When it launched the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life’ 2005–2015, the UN stressed that “water is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems, and for human survival itself.”
Nigeria should take this message seriously to address the scarcity that contributes significantly to the country’s over 60 per cent poverty prevalence and diseases. Without access to clean water sources, many are forced to rely on unsanitary sources that have adverse health consequences.
Alarmingly,70,000 Nigerian children under the age of five years die annually due to water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, says UNICEF. Lack of potable water among children also affects school turnout and malnutrition levels. The 2021 WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene report noted that schools in rural and urban areas lacked the three basic WASH services; drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Governments therefore need to provide functional and accessible water supply sources and toilets to all public schools,while also involving social-cause NGOs to engage schoolteachers in the WASH Norm.
Meanwhile, the UN2023 Global Water Security Assessment placed Nigeria among the top five 25 countries with high WASH-attributed mortality. Nigeria also straddles between “critically insecure” and “insecure” criteria in its evaluation of drinking water quality, availability, sanitation, good health and governance and other water sustainability outlooks in Africa.
Experts emphasise popular buy-in in remediation programmes, and urge governments to build trust with communities, enhance the primary health centres, and monitor both their health campaigns and health management systems effectively to reduce health-related deaths.
To reverse water poverty, many developing and advanced economies have improved access to clean water and enhanced the citizens’ environmental well-being. Statistics by Macro Trends showed that the percentage of persons with access to clean drinking water from an improved source as of 2020 in Nigeria was 21.6 per cent. It shares such a poor rating with Madagascar 20.54 percent, Togo19.96 percent, DR Congo 18.99 percent, and Laos 17.68 per cent. In contrast, Brazil hit 85.77 per cent, and Russia 76 per cent. Singapore has an exemplary 100 percent.
Nigeria should return to the tested and proven way. In the past, the defunct regions and the successor states invested heavily in water supply projects, building dams, large and small water works and channelisation schemes, while the central government built bigger projects for hydropower, irrigation, fishing and drinking water.
But today’s 36 states are indolent, lack vision and perpetually neglect their responsibilities as primary instigators of development as autonomous sub-national units. They should change; embark on water supply projects, rural infrastructure provision, job-stimulation schemes and investment promotion.
Local governments too should provide earth dams, boreholes, and wells in the remote areas. They should build mini and micro waterworks. Contiguous LG areas can combine, raise funds, and build major water works.
Nigeria will do much better when it operates as a true federation. In India, like other federal jurisdictions, provision of drinking water is constitutionally the responsibility of the states, which have the power to design, approve, implement, and operate water supply schemes, while the central government provides support by way of funding, expertise and facilitating foreign funding and other firms of aid. With this, its states have many established, and ongoing projects, while the central government supports all 28 states and eight union territories; including a “water for the people” initiative to benefit six of its biggest states.
Nigeria needs to optimise functional water dams at the federal and state levels, improve the management and recycling of wastewater, and effectively monitor the disposal of chemical water, in accordance with international best practices. It needs to deepen its investment in building local capacity for engineers and scientists with the aim of improving environmental sustainability.
Most crucial to success however is the commitment and consistency in pursuing the goal of eradicating water poverty by the various governments; current and in-coming leaders should commit strongly to this noble objective.