28th October, 2013
By Julius Enehikhuere
Some stakeholders and medical experts have raised concern over a recent UNDP report showing that the global availability of safe water at grassroots level was not encouraging.
Rebecca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator, said in the recent report that water was at the heart of a daily crisis faced by millions of the most vulnerable people in the world. In the presentation to the high-level International Conference on Water Cooperation in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 2013, she said that more than 770 million people worldwide still lack access to potable water supply.
Her report further noted that 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to basic sanitation, adding that the development was threatening life and livelihoods, peace and human security around the world. Even as she noted that the world is experiencing explosive growth in the demand for water resources, experts and stakeholders have noted that the situation in Nigeria is no better. Observers of Nigeria’s water sector insist that the contents of the UNDP report should be taken seriously if the nation must achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Water resources minister Sarah Ochekpe said recently at a forum that Nigeria had improved its water coverage from 58 per cent in 2011 to 65 per cent. She insisted that Nigeria would surpass the 75 per cent water coverage and 65 per cent sanitation coverage required to meet MDGs by 2015.
But stakeholders have asked questions over whose responsibility it is to provide potable water for the populace in view of the need to meet the millennium goals. A water engineer, Dr John Odu, said although the Federal Government had done much to support water programmes across the states, the states and local governments should complement such laudable effort.
“The federal government has done enough to provide water by constructing dams in the six geo-political zones, as well as providing water-related equipment. But some of the dams are wasting away because they are not being well utilised,’’ he noted.
Odu said that Nigeria has 264 large and medium dams with a combined storage capacity for 33 billion cubic metres of water for multipurpose usage, including water supply, irrigation, hydropower and fisheries.
“Out of these, 210 dams are owned by the federal government, 34 by the states, and 20 by private organisations,’’ he said.
Supporting Odu’s views, Dr Remi Okosunu, an environmentalist, said rapid population growth had not been accompanied by increase in the delivery of water supply, sewerage and sanitation services.
“The gap between those areas that have reasonably safe access to water supply and sanitation and those without is growing wider. Urban areas experience greater coverage, but semi-urban and rural areas are experiencing stagnation or a decline in service,’’ he said.
But Grynspan insisted that there is the need for effective and inclusive water cooperation at all levels for local, national, regional and international. According to her, this is essential towards achieving key water-related objectives and targets. She said that at the national level, community involvement, women’s voices and participation, as well as private sector cooperation were essential.
“At the regional level, dialogue, information sharing and cooperation on trans-boundary waters to advance peace, security, environmental protection, and regional economic development should be supported,’’ she said.
However, Alhaji Baba Faruk, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, said that low revenue from water customers, weak finances for agencies and neglect of water infrastructure, had worsened water services in Nigeria.
“I wish to call on the state governments to give water agencies the necessary supports including autonomy that will enable them achieve their tasks,’’ he said.
In spite of the challenges, he said that the water sector was growing, and urged governments at all levels to ensure that water supply measured up with the demand of Nigeria’s population growth.
Also, Mr Benson Ajisegiri, Head of Water Sector Reform in the ministry, urged state governments to prioritise water programmes to boost access to clean water and attract increased funding.
As the federal government has restated the need for all state governments to support their water boards and agencies to improve access to safe water in the country, observers have called on all stakeholders, including water consumers to ensure that available supplies are shared equitably and judiciously used.
•Enehikhuere wrote this article for the News Agency of Nigeria