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World Water Day: Nigeria’s impending water crisis

By Emeka Umejei, Correspondent, Lagos

Scientifically, water is defined as a universal solvent. The implication is that water is arguably the only solvent that can quench taste. Hence, the world depends on water for both living and economic survival.

But coping with the growing water needs of cities is one of the most pressing challenges of this century. Half of the world’s population now live in cities and it’s estimated that within two decades, that proportion will increase to nearly 60% of the population, or 5 billion people. This means that a tremendous amount of water is needed for drinking, sanitation, industry and to produce food. Ensuring reliable access to safe water supplies will make the cities of the future truly sustainable. 

 As part of activities lined up  for the 2011 edition of  World Water Day on Tuesday 22 March,  the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is joining the international community in highlighting this year’s theme, “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge.”

Protecting and conserving healthy watersheds is essential for many of the world’s biggest cities and saves billions of dollars.

But the amount of water in the world is limited. The human race, and the other species which share the planet cannot expect an infinite supply.  About two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered  with water but a fraction of it can be described as safe while most of it is salty.

It is estimated that only 2.5% of the world’s water is not salty, with two-thirds of it domiciled in the icecaps and glaciers. 

Statistics also estimate that human beings consume less than 0.08% of all the Earth’s water. But increase in population has not helped matters because human population is estimated to increase by about 40% in the next two decades.

In Nigeria, the situation is not different. The populace depends on water for survival and sustenance but sustaining water infrastructure across the country has become an issue. According to statistics, it is reported that one person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation. 

The reality on ground is that Nigeria may be hanging on the precipice unless something urgent is done about the water situation in the country. 

To buttress this thinking, residents of the ancient city of Zaria, Kaduna State recently took to the streets to protest what they described as insensitivity on the part of Government to provide water to the populace.
The Zaria experience only points to a familiar trend across the country. For instance, in Lagos State, access to public water has since been relegated to the background with boreholes becoming an acceptable method of providing untreated potable water. 

Within Lagos metropolis, only a few centers can boast of access to public water like Surulere, Ikoyi etc, but the taps have since run dry. 

In fact, within Egbeda, Ikotun axis, public water has become as scarce and boreholes servew as safe drinking water sources.

According to Solomon Emiunu, a resident of Egbeda, he has  not accessed water from public tap as far as he can remember living within the area. “I don’t know there is even public water in Lagos. I have never seen one functional public tap in this Egbeda since I came here. At least, I have been living here for upward of five years,” Emiunu said.

Ademola Olabamji, a resident of Ikotun, corroborated Emiunu, when he said that  he has not seen any functional public tap in Ikotun area. “I have never seen any functional public tap in this Ikotun since I started living here three years ago. I doubt if it exists but it would be a miracle to find any working. We survive on boreholes here,” Ademola noted.

This perceived scarcity of water is believed to have contributed to the thriving of borehole drilling business within the Lagos metropolis.

For instance, in the swampy areas of Lagos like Ajah, Victoria Island, etc it is estimated that manual drilling of boreholes costs about N100,000 while on the mainland, it costs between N150,000-N180,000.
Acknowledging the scarcity of water in Lagos State, Governor Babatunde Fashola reportedly said that his administration has fine-tuned strategies to make water available to residents .

“We have improved water supply by over 150 million gallons in three years. I challenge anybody to match that record. We have developed a plan to ensure that in the next 10 years, every Lagosian can open his tap and get water. We have identified those water plants that need to be built. And we have done a census of the people in all of these communities. We have done a study of where the pipelines will run through,” Fashola disclosed.

 “In three years, we built 15 water plants. But they are small-scale water plants of two million gallons each. We want to do bigger water plants that have a farther outreach; a minimum of 70 million gallons.”
But Lagos is not alone, Abuja bears the same burden. In Abuja, scarcity of water is commonplace in the satellite towns save for the metropolis.

According to some residents of Abuja satellite towns who spoke to Daily Independent, scarcity of water in satellite towns has become a tradition and there appears no hope in sight.

According to Abdul Mohammed, a resident of Gwagwalada, water supply within the metropolis has become a thing of the past. “ I have never seen public water in the last five years. The only way we access water is through boreholes which we pay for in this area. One gallon of water costs five naira and it is not funny,” Abdul stated.

Borehole drilling in Abuja is a lot different from what is obtainable in Lagos. For instance, In Abuja, it takes a minimum of N1,000,000 to drill a borehole which many residents cannot afford hence they continue to grapple with water scarcity.

According to expert opinion, among the 152 million who reside in Nigeria, less than 30 percent have access to water and this has led to the spread of water-borne diseases and deaths of children in the country.
The World Health Organisation stated this much in its 2004 data that 3,900 children die as a result of dirty water or poor hygiene. Research also revealed that diseases transmitted through water or human excrement are the second highest killers worldwide, after respiratory diseases. One person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation. 

According to experts, lack of access to safe water is associated with four billion cases of diarrhoea each year and results in the death of 1.7 billion people globally, most of whom are under the age of 5 years. Research also described diarrhoea as the second biggest killer of children in Nigeria, causing as many as 17 per cent of the deaths of those under the age of 5.

 In 1999, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 200 scientists in 50 countries had identified water shortage as one of the two most worrying problems for the new millennium (the other was global warming). 

Though recently, President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration had launched the roadmap to water with promise to make water available to all Nigerian by 2015.  “In the absence of potable water, people simply drink what is available, and the implication on our peoples’ health has been most devastating. The water crisis is even worse, especially in the northern part of the country, where people trek for several kilometers in search of water,” President Goodluck said.

“No Nigerian child should in the next few years, trek long distances to carry water on their heads before going to school.”

The President emphasised that efforts must be made to ensure that by the year 2015, 75 per cent of Nigerians would have access to safe drinking water, and by the year 2020, it should rise to 90 per cent.
“We should ensure that our hydro power plants are optimally developed,” President Goodluck said. “I am glad that the state governments have shown interest in this matter; we must also collaborate with the local governments.” 

Whether it is achievable remains at best a conjecture.
However, IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lefevre stressed that protecting natural ecosystems is one the best ways to secure water supplies which according to him, makes economic sense.
“Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting natural ecosystems to secure their water supplies makes economic sense,” says Marton-Lefèvre “Rather than chopping down forests or draining marshlands, keeping water catchments healthy saves billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly urban infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere.”
Corroborating Marton-Lefevre, Mark Smith, IUCN Director of Water, noted that cities must also develop their natural water infrastructure.

“Cities are often dependent on surrounding rivers, upstream wetlands and groundwater aquifers. These forms of natural water infrastructure, together with engineered infrastructure, pumping and piping systems, help guarantee water supplies to urban areas as cities grow,” says
 “Yet, many cities are losing precious water resources through leakage or pollution. There is also growing evidence that water resources are significantly affected by climate change, particularly through the impact of floods and droughts.”

The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 of each year as the World Day for water by adopting a resolution. This world’s day for water was to be observed starting in 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development contained in Chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of the Agenda.

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