Far from speculations and oracular deductions, access to uninterrupted potable water supply across the country has remained a challenge. This is evident in the quotation of the Honourable Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu which reads: “There is no single city in this country that enjoys pipe-borne water 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
UNICEF, in one of its recent statistics, showed that about 70 per cent of Nigerians have access to basic water services even though more than half of them are polluted.
But from all indications, the Honourable Minister’s description of the water situation in Nigeria runs contrary to the UN’s position as evident in the figures from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources whose statistical database shows the following: in 1992, 30 per cent of the Nigerian population enjoyed pipe-borne water which dropped to about 7 per cent in 2015; 50 per cent of the rural population did not have adequate access (if any access at all) to potable water in 2015; currently, the percentage of the population nationwide with access to public water supply is about 7 per cent.
The existing water schemes in the country based on the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) study that the Ministry validated are operating at a disappointing installed capacity.
The study shows that most of the water schemes today are about 30 years old and outdated. Because of population growth, more people are struggling with 30-year-old schemes which are operating at about only 45 per cent capacity.
There has been an abuse of the use of water, and very little effort has been made to revitalise water facilities to keep the systems running.
Records show that the ministry inherited about 116 projects: 43 of them are water supply schemes most of which have been completed, owing to the existing partnerships between the Federal Government and some states, including Kaduna, Niger, Ogun, Katsina, and Nasarawa.
The total number of completed projects seems to suggest that the investments in the water sector have not been commensurate with the trend in population growth.
Potable water is still a mirage to the majority of Nigerians especially those in the rural areas. Some of them drink from the streams and rivers which are polluted and that’s the reason why water-borne diseases are common in those areas.
The urban areas depend largely on boreholes, wells and pomp machines which are projects of individuals without government support or supervision. This calls to question the relevance of the water resources department which many see as nearly non-existent.
Worse still, obstruction of the inflow of water into the reservoirs built in the 70s to conserve water, climate change and environmental degradation have led to pollution and shrinking of rivers even though the ministry has indicated plans to collaborate with the Ministry of Environment to commence tree planting to salvage watershed.
Beyond tree planting investment, is the defacing of roads. Water delivery is not prioritised, and there seems not to be political value reorientation with emphasis on road infrastructure. What happens is that good roads are damaged each time water pipes are laid to achieve reticulation. This can only happen because relevant stakeholders are not engaged at the inception to carry out the necessary impact analysis that will ensure efficient delivery of water to communities.
Water is life and it has a knock-on effect more especially on health. Sadly, water coverage in the country has been stagnant which raises concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic that is hitting the country with the numbers of infected persons going up every day.
Water as a sector is an important component of risk mitigation. People are advised to wash their hands with soap under running water for a minimum of 20 seconds. If people don’t have access to water, such a message will hardly sink.
The potential of dams and water resources has been documented, yet the optimum management and utilisation of these resources have remained below par. This is largely owing to a lack of capacity and governance structure.
Despite the fact that the National Council of Water Resources, the highest water policy body in the country, meets every year with state commissioners of water resources, lack of political will to carry out policy implementation has protracted the problems.
Systems are not functional. Water facilities are dilapidated owing to a lack or mismanagement of funds, even though some stakeholders claim that budgetary allocation in the water sector ranks below average in Africa.
There is the need to realise that sustainability is an integral component of water systems. That way, we protect and perpetuate investments in the water sector. The effort of the Plateau State government in addressing the funding needs of the State Ministry of Water Resources and Energy is commendable. In its 2020 budget, the State Ministry of Water Resources and Energy got the highest budget. About 21.6 per cent of the budget was allocated to the ministry, out of which 18.2 per cent was apportioned to the water sector alone.
The bulk of the contribution to available water is rainfall in Nigeria as well as in some other countries. Statistics show that water is 1,800 cubic meters per person in Nigeria. This shows the volume of water each person will get if the entire water resources are divided by the population nationwide. This is a huge figure compared to the 4 per cent of water that is suitable for drinking globally. But in Nigeria, the problem is a lack of political will to harness and manage water.
There are governors who are seen as emperors at the state level, and whose actions emasculate the powers of local government authorities. If a state government does not see water and sanitation as a priority, little or nothing can be done to make adequate provision for funds for water.
Nevertheless, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources takes care of the bulk of water supply and management, while the sub-national entities (states and local governments) are responsible for treating and distributing water. But the activities of the sub-national governments in the provision of water have been described as lethargic responses.
In other words, states and local governments seem not to guarantee end-user satisfaction. This has resulted in the failure of the downstream sector of the water supply agenda in exploiting bulk water supplied by the Federal Government and channelling it for domestic and industrial purposes.
As part of the policy framework or new agenda of managing the water sector, authorities in the water sector are making a case for the economics of water. They see water as an economic commodity that must be paid for. The authorities claim that in the water policy document, states are supposed to be paying for the bulk water that they tap, and recover their cost, which has not taken the due course.
Such remittance by the states must be backed by strong regulations. That is the reason the authorities are pushing for Water Resources Bill to be passed into law. The wider implication is to promote corporatisation of state water agencies in view of the fact that the Federal Government does not have a water board. The only water board which people erroneously believe belongs to the Federal Government is the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) water board that is under a city’s administration.
The National Urban Water Sector Reform Programme, which is in its third phase, is supporting states to corporatise, and to improve their capacity to do proper billing towards effective cost recovery. It is hoped that investors will be encouraged to run water schemes and ensure that people have the capacity to run water plants efficiently. Such could provide the opportunity for water availability and sustainability.
However, the commercial approach to water has met a great deal of resistance. Consumers and some human right organisations do not see any justification to pay for water because they see water provision as a social service and a gift from the heavens. They are promoting a crusade against any aspect of privatisation and commercialisation of water as they regard water as a basic human right.
Filling the gaps in the coverage of water is important. Perhaps now is the time to look at the opportunities of reform available and seek ways to institutionalise them. Planning is critical and it requires a comprehensive and integrated approach. Planning for sustainable water supply is not only about infrastructure, it is also about urban planning. If the environment is not planned, water systems will be difficult to plan.
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The country needs effective planning to map water assets in order to identify what needs to be replaced, expanded, and the budget needed for operation and maintenance.
A WaterAid initiative called Political Economy Analysis (PEA) is laudable. It helps to identify entry points in terms of knowing where the power base lies or those that sabotage the water sector.
In 2018, the country declared a state of emergency on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) with the chief aim of mobilising the sub-national entities, as well as development partners for a total turnaround of the water sector.
It is a way of ensuring that the entire value chain and the benefits due to the end-users take proper hold in view of the UN’s study that reveals that almost 70 per cent of the jobs in the world are associated with water.
But in achieving equitable provision of the WASH services, the WASH sector should be seen as the responsibility of every Nigerian, not just the federal and state governments. Resources should be redirected to focus more on the provision of WASH facilities and the need to continue to subsidise these services, especially in rural areas.
The Partnership for Expanding Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme has been introduced to create a coordination platform in order to ensure key actors are integrated effectively.
The Federal Government is in discussions with the World Bank under the PEWASH programme to make a provision for about $700m to support rural and urban water supply initiatives. A portion of this fund will be competed for by the states.
As a matter of fact, part of the conditions to partake in the World Bank facility is for states to produce at least 15-30 years water supply plans that will accommodate baseline data and population projection. This is in line with the Buhari administration which has declared that federal government investment in WASH programme must be accompanied by commensurate efforts on the part of the states.
In addition, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources hinted that the fund would be deployed for the creation of model cities. Six model cities are being proposed, and they will take into account the entire water supply requirements from source to treatment, transmission, including storage and distribution.
The PEWASH programme also has a component of what is called Water and Sanitation Entrepreneurship. This is partly aimed at developing a sanitation market economy where people, as part of pollution safeguards, can produce cheap toilets in tandem with Order 009 signed by the Federal Government to end open defecation by 2025.
These numerous measures are meant to provide the enabling environment for efficiency and effectiveness so that the country can progress steadily to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which focus on clean water and sanitation, as well as equal distribution of water.