As the world celebrates water day, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday called on the federal government to quickly increase investments in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector to reduce preventable diseases among over 78 million children still at risk of water-related diseases.
UNICEF, in a statement, also called for urgent action to address the water crisis in the country.
The call is coming at a time the country is struggling to overcome some of the challenges facing the water sanitation sector.
The government’s efforts include the declaration of a state of emergency a few years ago by President Muhammadu Buhari in the WASH sector as well as the action plan by the country’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
But to Dr Jane Bevan, UNICEF Nigeria Chief of WASH, a lot needed to be done, warning that if the country continues at the current pace, it would take it 16 years to achieve access to safe water for all nationwide.
UNICEF insists that one-third of children do not have access to even basic water at home, and two-thirds do not have basic sanitation services.
“Hand hygiene is also limited, with three-quarters of children unable to wash their hands due to lack of water and soap at home.
“As a result, Nigeria is one of the 10 countries that carry the heaviest burden of child deaths from diseases caused by inadequate WASH, such as diarrhoeal diseases.
“Nigeria also ranks second out of 163 countries globally with the highest risk of exposure to climate and environmental threats.
“Groundwater levels are also dropping, requiring some communities to dig wells twice as deep only a decade ago.
“At the same time, rainfall has become more erratic and intense, leading to floods that contaminate scarce water supplies.”
Why the world marks water day
World Water Day, an annual United Nations (UN) observance day held on March 22 every year since 1993, highlights the importance of fresh water. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The day is also used to raise awareness and inspire action to tackle the water and sanitation crisis.
For this year, the UN has encouraged people to take action in their own lives to change the way they use, consume and manage water, with the slogan: “Be the change.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted his support for the campaign, saying, “The world is woefully off-course to achieve our goal of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Billions of people still don’t have safe water and toilets. We can all do something to accelerate change.”
The quantity and quality of water that is available for human consumption today has been affected by damaged ecosystems. Now, billions of people live without safe drinking water at home; it affects their health, education and general livelihood.
Due to this knowledge, the UN member states and agencies and various other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have become involved in the promotion of clean water conservation and helped focus the attention of people on all the critical issues of water. They also promote the supply of clean and purified water.
Access to clean water globally is a challenge and Nigeria is not an exception. Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of people, according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on clean water and sanitation, and it is projected to increase. It is projected that at least one in four people will suffer recurring water shortages by 2050.
A report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed that the challenge posed by inadequate potable water is particularly acute in northern Nigeria, where only 30 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.
This contributes to the high prevalence of water-borne diseases that are threatening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and contribute to low levels of school enrollment, especially among girls.
Situation horrible in FCT villages
Daily Trust visited some communities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the locals have to make huge sacrifices due to poor access to potable water.
Zhiko, Ijabisa, Nazamu, Akotapi Pasepa, and Goipe are remote communities located in Bwari Area Council of the FCT. Going by their locations, the communities are difficult to differentiate because of the absence of boundaries.
Besides, as intertwined as they are, they experience different challenges. They are about 40km from Dutse-Alhaji, a satellite town in the FCT. More so, the poor state of the road makes the journey from one community to the other taxing.
Given the experience on the road, it is safe to say, the best means of transportation to the communities is motorcycles.
The Village Head of Zhiko, Mr Bulus Wakili, said the lack of access to potable water is huge as the community suffers, especially during the dry season.
Wakili said an NGO provided the community with a solar-powered borehole, but it didn’t function effectively, adding that four manual boreholes within the community are also not working.
According to him, they rely on a neighbouring community, Ijabisa, where there is a borehole that was dug in 1985. However, the challenge is the distance, particularly during the rainy season.
He said: “The community has existed for so long and I feel the closeness to the nation’s capital should attract some level of development. Unfortunately, the government is far away from us as we don’t feel its impact.
“We only feel their presence during the election and even then, they only come with salt, seasoning, and other cooking ingredients. They make so many promises but end up not fulfilling them as they disappear immediately after they are voted into office. The only help we get is from the non-governmental organisations (NGOs).”
Sadiat Musa, a 45-year-old housewife, said she had been married for about 20 years, adding that the stress she goes through daily made her look older than her age.
“I am seriously suffering. Sometimes when I go to nearby communities to get water, I get tempted to throw the water away because of the hilly nature of the road. I have to endure the pain.
“I have to go to other communities nine times to fill our drum and I don’t get help from my husband because he has to be on the farm. Whenever he has some money to spare, he calls a commercial motorcyclist to assist me.
“I wish I married from another community but my husband married me and brought me here. Honestly, it is love that is keeping me. If not for the love I have for my husband, I would have followed the path of some other women who left their marriages.
“I wish I was married to someone in the town so that I don’t have to go through this water problem.
I would have loved to wake up in the morning, open the shower and take my bath or open the tap, and have running water in my house instead of going to other places to fetch water.
“This water challenge makes most of us look older than our age. What can we do? It is our destiny. Life will be a lot better if we can have a working borehole. Without water, there is no life,” she said.
The secretary of the community, Phillip Yohana, said in an attempt to get water, most households in the community dug wells but they dried up often.
“I have a well in my compound but it dries up, especially during the dry season. We cook with and drink water from the well. The government should please assist us with water.
“The only solar-powered borehole (which doesn’t function effectively) we have in this community was dug by an NGO,” Yohana said.
Providing potable water not FG but state govts’ duty – Water minister
The Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, while fielding questions in an interview with Daily Trust, said it is the sole duty of state governments to provide potable water in their states and not the federal government’s.
He said the duty of the federal government was to provide the framework and other necessary support, which it has been doing by providing water dams in almost every state of the federation.
The minister said many of the state governments have failed in their responsibility of providing potable water for their people, adding that for the country to move forward in WASH, state governments must be alive to their responsibility and embrace every intervention from the federal government.
“The federal government provided water dams in every part of the country, asking the state governments to reticulate water from these dams free of charge but many of them are not taking such advantages,” he said.