Millions of Nigerian, who have no access to potable water, are at risk of water-related diseases, medical experts have warned as the world marks Water Day today.
Statistics from relevant bodies, including the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, have shown that more than 60 million Nigerians still cannot access water that can be relatively described as safe for human health.
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The Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Hussein Adamu, has severally warned that the task of providing potable water for the public remains the responsibility of the state governments through the state water boards.
This responsibility, stakeholders in the sector observe, has not received necessary attention from the state governments, hence the pathetic nature of water supply systems across the country.
Now, medical experts are warning that many Nigerians, especially those in rural communities, will continue to battle water-related ailments if decisive actions are not taken to fix the country’s water supply system.
The United Nations Children and Education Fund (UNICEF) said over 100,000 children under-five die from water-borne diseases annually in the country. Adults are not exempted from cholera outbreaks and other water-related diseases that have claimed scores of people.
Despite the scourge of these water-related diseases, safe drinking water is still a luxury that only a few can afford.
Dr E. Clement of Bolpraize Hospital, Garam, Niger State, has warned against this unsafe water situation, saying water-borne diseases are illnesses caused by microscopic organisms, like viruses and bacteria, that are ingested through contaminated water or by coming in contact with faeces.
He said people who drink from ponds, as is usually the case in some rural communities, are likely to suffer schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic flatworms called schistosomiasis.
According to him, the urinary tract or intestines may be infected, adding that the symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine.
The doctor also warned that those who drink from the stream, or untreated water, which is also common in some settlements in Nigeria, may suffer cholera, which he described as an infectious disease that causes severe watery diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if untreated.
He said sources of water for settlements close to mountains may be exposed to fluoride, which may cause an illness known as fluorosis, which causes the teeth of its victims to be yellow. Dr. Clement listed other water-related ailments to include typhoid fever, giardiasis, dysentery, salmonella among others.
Why providing potable water remains a challenge in Nigeria
Nigeria is surrounded by water bodies. The country has more than eight rivers, over 13 lakes including Shiroro and Kainji, and over 11 freshwaters. Despite these, there is an abundant shortage of safe drinking water for over 160 million people in the country.
This year’s World Water Day, themed ‘Valuing water’, celebrated on March 22 is to raise awareness of the global crisis.
“The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex values for our households, food, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource,” a statement released ahead of the celebration by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations read.
There are several plans for the provision of safe water for Nigerians. The Vision 20:2020 and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a few of these plans that are yet to meet the water needs of Nigerians.
The unavailability of safe water makes residents resort to streams, rivers and other unsafe means. This has led to the death of many Nigerians while the over 60 million Nigerians who do not have access to clean water might be at risk.
Giving insight into why water supply has remained a challenge in the country, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said there has not been enough collaboration between the federal and state governments.
In one of the exclusive interviews he granted Daily Trust, the minister gave an instance where the federal government would provide the body of water in the dams and ask the state governments to reticulate it to their communities free of charge but that was not done.
“It is the responsibility of the state governments to provide potable water to the households. We are to provide policy framework, and now we even provide the dams, where they can go and take water to the houses but many of the states are not taking up this opportunity, so what do we do,’’ he asked at the said interview.
Stakeholders in the water sector asked the various state governments to declare a state of emergency in the water sector to address the crisis.
Many resort to boreholes in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, others
In Abuja, the nation’s capital, while the wealthy resort to boreholes, the poor rely on water vendors and some rural dwellers drink from streams. There are over 3.2 million residents in Abuja metropolis. This number increases as Nigerians from troubled states rush into the FCT for safety and greener pastures, over-stretching the infrastructures.
The inability of the government to follow through with the planned phases of the development and provision of infrastructures has affected the reticulation of water pipes to supply water from the FCT Water Board to residents.
There are 13 water tanks within the territory that supply water to residents at various locations and 17 area offices, including one in Abaji, to ensure the continued distribution of water to residents.
Despite these efforts, millions of FCT residents do not have access to safe drinking water.
The FCT Water Board has on several occasions said it could only provide water to residents if there is infrastructure in line with the Abuja Master Plan.
An Abuja resident, John Andrew, said the residents would have to wait “forever” as the government seems to have derailed from the provision of infrastructure in the territory.
A resident of Lugbe, Hajara Danladi, said she relied on water vendors where she resided – which is around the ‘village’ area in the community. She said she spent about N30,000 monthly on water, while she earned N50,000 where she worked as a front desk officer in a private organisation.
Another resident who stays in Lokogoma, Marcus Philip, said a jerrycan of water in one of the estates he resides in is sold at between N30 and N40 depending on the distance of the bore-hole to the house.
“Imagine buying N4,000 worth of water in two weeks! It is even more painful that you can only use this water for domestic purposes and not drinking,” he lamented.
A Gwarimpa resident, a retired civil servant who pleaded anonymity, said his house on Third Avenue was not connected to the water board as such he drilled a bore-hole. The sexagenarian said while he was in service, he relied on bottled water but had a rethink when he retired four years ago.
“Now I drink from the bore-hole in my house. I believe the water is safe enough. I ensure I get someone to clean my water tank regularly. At first I used water purifier but now I just take my water from the tap and drink. It costs less,” he said.
While the drilling of bore-holes poses challenges for the urban dwellers, not having them is cause for worry for rural dwellers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Residents in the over 200 villages in the FCT pay a great deal for water. While the area council administrations helped with the provision of mechanised, electric, or solar boreholes, residents still grapple with the availability of safe water.
The FCT Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (FCT RUWASSA) however, said 45 per cent of the hand-pump boreholes have broken down.
Monday Ishaku, a resident of Damgbma, a community in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) situated a few kilometres to the Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua Road, said his community has broken-down hand-pump boreholes. He said residents spend several hours scooping water from crab holes.
Ishaku said residents still contract infections from the water, “but now we take the patients quickly to hospital,” he said while explaining measures put in place to remedy the situation.
In Kano, the state government had invested billions in ensuring that people have access to potable water.
This is evident in the turnaround activities at the Tamburawa Water Treatment Plant; reticulation in some new layouts and drilling of boreholes in others.
However, the increasing influx of people from all the states in the North, coupled with establishment of new industrial and residential area forced some privileged people in Kano city and other major towns to rely on boreholes while many others buy from water vendors.
In communities of Sabon Gari, Brigade, Gama, Fagge, Rijiyar Lemo, Kurnar Asabe, Gwammaja and many parts of the old city, residents called on the government to provide them with potable water.
In Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, bore-holes also came to the rescue.
An adequate supply of potable water to homes of Lagosians has remained a challenge as many have continued to rely on boreholes. Those who cannot afford to drill boreholes rely on water from shallow wells and water vendors due to lack of treated public water.
This has been the situation in many parts of the state including Abule-Egba, Ikorodu, Mafoluku, Oshodi, Agege, Egbeda, Ejigbo, Surulere and Ipaja, among others, though the Lagos State Water Corporation said it supplied water to parts of Lagos Island, Mainland, Festac, Ikeja, Iyana Ipaja, Oshodi, Victoria Island and Lekki among others.
According to the spokesman of Lagos Water Corporation Anifowose Rasaq, the corporation presently supplies 210 million gallons of water per day, which is far below the 540 million gallons demand for water per day in the nation’s commercial capital.
Rasaq blamed the inadequate supply of water on the explosive population in the state. He also identified poor power supply and ageing infrastructure as challenges impeding the supply of water to the people.
In some areas, people, especially women and children, travel far distances in search of water and in some cases queued for long to fetch water from houses where boreholes are available.
Indiscriminate digging of bore-holes dangerous -Expert
While residents depend on boreholes for water, they seem to overlook its dangers, experts have said.
Speaking to Daily Trust on the environmental implication of the uncontrolled drilling of boreholes, Dr Yusuf I. Garba, a lecturer with the Department of Environmental Science of Bayero University Kano (BUK), said the practice reduced the quantity of underground water in the affected areas.
According to him, “The level of water in the soil increases by an aquifer. There is an impervious surface in the soil where the water penetrating into the soil forms, just the way you see it in ponds, that is exactly how water is in the soil.
“So, when bore-holes are rampantly drilled in a particular area, depending on its water level, it usually decreases and makes it to always go down.
“Excessive drilling makes the water level to be going down every day and in some cases to even dry up. That is why in areas where a lot of boreholes are sunk, like Janbulo in Kano for instance if you drill a small bore-hole you won’t even get water.
“What is recommended instead is the construction of dams as alternatives to the excessive boreholes drilling,” he advised.
By Hussein Yahaya, Taiwo Adeniyi (Abuja), Sani I. Paki (Kano) & Christiana T. Alabi (Lagos)