Accessing Safe Water In Nigeria

Opinion

By Musbau Rasak

British politician and novelist, Edwina Currie, once said that, instead of drinking Coca Colas, turn on the tap and drink what the good Lord gave us. Water is a vital resource that constitutes a new strategic issue that mobilises the entire international community in facilitating its access as well as ensuring its rational management. The attention paid to the water issue, as seen in the successive international summits, is an indication of the crucial importance of this precious liquid, which is so great as to be included among the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP.

It is a common knowledge that Nigeria is home to varieties of water sources spread across various locations from the coastal region to the arid zone, yet water and sanitation coverage rates in Nigeria are amongst the lowest in the world. Famous English Poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his famous work, ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ which was written in 1798, fittingly defines our condition: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.

Nigeria is classified a water–short country, whose water resource is likely to reduce from 2,506 cubic meters per year in 1995 to 1,175 cubic meters in 2025, if not properly managed. It is rather unfortunate that instead of turning on the tap and drink what the good Lord gave us (in abundance) as advocated by Edwina Currie, neglect of this all important sector by the federal, states and local governments has made access to safe drinking water a pipe-dream in many households in the country. Responsibility for water supply is shared between three levels of government – federal, state and local. The federal government is in charge of water resources management; state governments have the primary responsibility for urban water supply; and local governments together with communities are responsible for rural water supply.

Plainly put, Nigeria is not on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation. The country’s MDG target of supplying 74 per cent of the population with safe water by 2015 seems far fetched, as at current rate of progress, Nigeria will miss the water target even by 20 years. It is important to stress that UNICEF  has supported rural water supply, sanitation and hygiene in communities and schools across the country since 2002. Its interventions have been financed by DFID and the European Commission. A total of 6,960 new safe water sources (boreholes, dug wells and protected springs) and over 19,100 household latrines have been constructed. Over 400 schools have been provided with latrines with separate provision for boys and girls and hand washing facilities.

In Lagos, despite the closeness to the lagoon and Atlantic ocean, which makes it to be famously referred to as land of aquatic splendor, there are still challenges in respect of access to safe water. Non-Lagosians often believe that residents of the state have un-hindered access to potable water supply. This, however, is not wholly the case. Nevertheless, it is expedient to highlight strides being made by Lagos State government to tackle its water challenge. This is in alignment with Alex Haley’s immortal words, “Find the good and praise it”.

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Lagos State under the leadership of Babatunde Fashola has invested heavily in the water sector. It is cheery that the Lagos water programme which is anchored on 15-year expansion programme is not limited to the urban areas alone as it is the desire of the state government to ensure that every part of the state has unrestricted access to potable water supply. The project entails expanding water supply facilities, transmission and distribution systems, rehabilitation of existing, improved administrative infrastructure and institutional support. The first phase of the projects, co-ordinated by the Lagos State Water Corporation, LSWC, and constructed by  Naston Engineering Limited, involves the construction of 15 mini micro water works that have the capacity of producing  30 million gallons per day across various parts of the state to improve accessibility.

The completion of these mini water works, aside enhancing output and improving water distribution channels in the state, has also reduced the untold hardship experienced by Lagosians while searching for water. However, the long -term plan of the state government is to resuscitate the Adiyan and Iju water works which both have the capacity to produce 230 million gallons daily, if fully operational. Part of the state government’s long term plan is also to encourage private sector participation in the water sector. This explains why it is investing heavily in the sector in order to make it attractive to private investors who will subsequently device creative strategies that will make the sector lucrative for investment.

To ensure that this becomes a reality, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola recently commissioned the N3.8b Independent Power Plant (IPP) for the water works at Iju, Ajuwon and Akute, which has the capacity to generate 12.45 mega watts. The plant would help increase production capacity to about 85% daily and also ensure that the state annually saves about N591 million, being fund spent on the purchase of diesel in the past. The state received about 15 million gallons of water from its water works daily, which could not meet the water demand of its over 18 million population which needed more than 70 million gallons daily. In order to get round this problem,   generating plants were installed to complement power supply from the national grid, an effort  which could not guarantee six hours power supply. However, with the commissioning of the IPP, 70 million gallons of water could be pumped daily.

Even if the water challenge has not been totally solved, Governor Babatunde Fashola and his team in Lagos may have proved to all and sundry that where there is political will, there is always a way especially with the innovative IPP project. With more of such commitments across the country, it is anticipated that the country might soon get over its safe water challenges.

•Musbau is of Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy.