As Scarce As Water

Sarah Ochekpe

A United Nations survey estimates that 66 million people in Nigeria do not have access to potable water

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  Apr. 8, 2013 @ 01:0 GMT

IT takes about one hour’s drive from Lagos to reach the village of Ijemo Fadipe, Odeda Local government of Ogun State. This sleepy, serene, village with a rocky terrain is just about 15 minutes drive to Ibadan, the oldest city in West Africa. Despite its closeness to Lagos and Ibadan, Ijemo Fadipe is unaffected by the development in the two metropolitan cities. It is still very rural and agrarian and the farm settlers are living in solitude. But the greatest worry of the more than 154 farm settlers is lack of potable water.

Their main source of drinking water is a polluted pond where puddles of rainwater gather. The pond is covered by falling brown dry leaves, some of which are still fresh, from tall trees, and the greenish algae, which surround the pond. When Realnews trekked through the bush path that led to the puddle of water, it was shock beyond belief when told that that was where the villagers fetch their drinking water. In the reporter’s mind, no village so close to Lagos and Ibadan should be sourcing water from that pond covered with slimy greenish algae.

But that is the truth. The missionary who invited Realnews to the place explained: “Water is the major problem the people have in addition to poverty”. Not too far from the pond is a relic of a borehole that that some politicians provided for the village. But the borehole has stopped working over the years. Some of the villagers now try to get potable water from a well owned by the Catholic Church in the town. Even the well is deep and does not have sufficient water.  At times it is difficult to pump water from there with a generating set as there is no electricity in the village.

Water scarcity is not peculiar to the inhabitants of the village. Their plight is replicate in the more than 774 local governments in the country and should be of immediate concern to Sarah Ochekpe, Nigeria’s minister of water resources. In Nigeria, many women and children trek miles to fetch water from contaminated streams. Nigeria accounts for 66 million persons out of the 783 million people worldwide living without potable water. There are 109 million people in Nigeria without improved sanitation.

Shortage of clean water
Shortage of clean water

This high number of people without access to potable water places Nigeria third and fourth on the list of countries globally with large populations without access to improved water sources and sanitation, respectively, according to statistics from United Nations Children Education Fund, UNICEF.. “UNICEF child mortality data shows that Nigeria is among the five countries contributing about half of the global under-five deaths. Other countries include India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, Pakistan and China,” Geoffery Njoku, communications specialist of the United Nations Children Fund, said.  He said that diarrhea is more prevalent among children whose households (12 percent) do not have an improved source of drinking water, compared to households (8 percent) that have an improved source of drinking water.

Globally, the United Nations estimates that 783 million people do not have access to clean water while 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. That is why the 20 anniversary of the World Water Day brings the problem of inadequate potable water to the limelight. On this year’s occasion, WaterAid  has called on international leaders to support an ambitious target of providing access to water, sanitation and hygiene for all Africans by 2030. The call came as more than 50,000 people took part in more than 30 mass walking events across Africa to call on their governments to keep their promises on access to clean water and safe sanitation. They joined more than 350,000 people worldwide who also participated in World Walks for Water and Sanitation.

Commenting on a new report published by WaterAid March 21, President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia said: “Addressing the global water and sanitation crisis is not about charity, but opportunity.  According to the World Health Organisation, every $1 invested in water and sanitation produces an average of $4 in increased productivity.  It enables sustainable and equitable economic growth.  In short, it will not be possible to make progress in eradicating poverty, reducing inequality and securing sustainable economic development in the future without improving access.”

WaterAid’s report entitled: ‘Everyone Everywhere’ launched by Sirleaf at a UN event on water in the Hague, the Netherlands, sets out a vision for making safe water and sanitation available to all and reviews the progress that has been made to date in tackling water and sanitation poverty. The report finds that, lack of progress in improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene is acting as a brake on progress in economic and human development particularly in child health, nutrition and education.

Nelson Gomonda
Nelson Gomonda

WaterAid cites World Health Organisation figures that show the economic gains that Africa could make if everyone on the continent has access to water and sanitation. Africa could gain $33 billion every year from everyone having access to water and sanitation. Of this, $4.5 billion would come from reduced healthcare costs; $7.2 billion could be gained from reduced mortality; $2 billion from less time taken off from work; and a staggering $19.5 billion in general time saved.

The benefits for Africa in lives saved from everyone having access to water and sanitation on the continent are also significant. It is estimated by the Institute of Health Metrics that around 550,000 people die of diarrhoeal diseases every year in Sub-Saharan Africa, 88 percent of whom, according to the World Health Organisation, can be attributed to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene; that is equivalent to the 480,000 deaths due to lack of these services on the continent.

Nelson Gomonda, WaterAid Pan-Africa Programme Manager, said: “Nothing could better demonstrate that our continent has truly begun to realise its potential and is coming true on its promise of progress and development, than achieving the fundamental goal of every African having safe drinking water. About 330 million Africans today live without access to clean water, so the road to travel is long, but we can, for the first time see the end in sight.

“With more than 1,000 African children under the age of five dying every day from diseases brought about by lack of water and sanitation, Africans will not accept failure. We have to reach this target. More than 50,000 Africans are taking part in walks to show that that these services are a priority that we want and need.  Africans understand how the lack of water and sanitation affects their health, economic productivity, their children’s education, women’s rights – across every spectrum of development, water and sanitation plays its part. This is why progress on these basic services will have such important consequences for our continent and people.”

Currently in Sub-Sahara Africa, 334 million people (39 percent of the population) lack access to clean drinking water, while under 600 million (70 percent lack access to sanitation). To tackle this problem now, WaterAid is calling on international leaders to:  first, recognise the need for the framework that replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 to reflect the contribution of water, sanitation and hygiene to other areas of poverty reduction, including health, education, gender equality, economic growth and sustainability.

Secondly, it is urging the UN to set a new global target to achieve universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Thirdly, the leaders should identify ways of accelerating future rates of progress on sanitation if the goal of universal access is to be met by 2030.

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