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Sachet water syndrome takes roots among Nigerians, says report

By Marcel Mbamalu
13 March 2015   |   10:27 am
A poll conducted early this month by NOI Polls Limited, a country-specific polling services agency in West Africa (that partners Gallup USA to develop opinion research in Nigeria),
A man at Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, Ekiti State. See related story on page 5.

A man at Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, Ekiti State. See related story on page 5.

• Poor access to clean water threatens commitment to sanitation

NOTWITHSTANDING the much touted success in attaining the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), access to clean water remains a major challenge to many Nigerian households.

A poll conducted early this month by NOI Polls Limited, a country-specific polling services agency in West Africa (that partners Gallup USA to develop opinion research in Nigeria), found that sachet water remains the major source of drinking water in Nigerian homes, as 48 per cent of households depend on it.

But the trend, if unchecked, may jeopardise national commitment to sanitation in Africa. According to a previous report by The Guardian, sub-Saharan African leaders, including Nigeria’s, had in April last year, pledged to work harder to reach 325 million people on the continent without safe water, and 644 million without basic toilets. Nigeria, specifically, pledged to end open defecation and achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2025.

Twenty countries, including 14 from sub-Saharan Africa, who participated at the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting in Washington DC, in April 2014, promised to provide all citizens with access to safe water, basic toilets and hygiene by 2030.

Representatives of 50 governments in Washington attended the event, which was opened by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim.

Nigeria reportedly promised to deliver safe water, basic toilets and hygiene in the next 11 years, even as 16 sub-Saharan African leaders pledged to eliminate open defecation in their countries by 2030. Ten other sub-Saharan African governments made separate commitments towards universal access.

Ban Ki-moon reportedly warned that the crisis in water and sanitation would hold back efforts to eradicate poverty.

“Achieving sanitation and water for all may not be cost-free – but it will set people free. Access to sanitation and water means a child free of disease, a woman free of the back-breaking chore to fetch water, a girl free to attend school without fear, a village free of cholera, and a world of greater equality and dignity for all,” he said.

Former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, chair of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, told participants that he would hold them to their promises. “Sanitation and Water for All is an important mechanism to not just learn from each other, but to hold ourselves accountable for results — results that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable people,” he said.

In total, government ministers from 44 developing countries made 265 commitments to increase access to water and sanitation, including promises to address massive inequalities in access, including between urban and rural residents, rich and poor, and among ethnic groups and regions.

WaterAid made its own commitments toward a vision of reaching everyone, everywhere by 2030 with safe water and sanitation, as a founding partner in the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership of more than 90 country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

However, through a random nationwide sample, the NOI Polls interviewed 1,000 phone-owning Nigerians of 18 years and above across the six geo-political zones (Southeast, Southwest, Southsouth, Northeast, Northwest and North Central) of the country asking questions in which the researchers also found that 29 per cent of Nigerians actually rely on pure water as major source of drinking water in their homes, while 18 per cent use ‘tap water.’

According to a statement from the NOI Polls, private boreholes are patronised by 17 per cent of Nigerians. According to the researchers, “almost half of the respondents (48 per cent) stated that access to clean water is a challenge to them and their households, out of which 72 per cent of respondents claimed that this challenge is to a large extent.”

It was also found that “toilets connected to private septic tanks are the most used sanitation facility as reported by majority (74 per cent) of Nigerians, moreover, a significant proportion of Nigerians (22 per cent) use pit latrine in their homes among other facilities.” Only 19 per cent of the respondents that were surveyed claimed that they are aware of water and sanitation related projects going on in their locality.

NOI Polls also observed that 48 per cent of Nigerian households, including the 69 per cent found in the Northeast, a zone that reported poor accessibility to clean water represents a one-point “increase in this proportion of Nigerians from 2013 (47 per cent), showing that in a span of two years (February 2013- March 2015), there has been no tangible improvement in the accessibility of water to Nigerians.”

The significant proportion of Nigerians (29 per cent) that identified sachet water as major source of drinking water in their homes represents a two-point increase from the 2013 figures.

NOI Polls, in presenting its research findings, noted that notwithstanding the fact that sachet water might be affordable and easily accessible to Nigerians, its hygiene and quality had been questioned by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), especially due to the process of packaging. “This has led to the closure of several sachet water factories by NAFDAC; for instance, in 2013, 54 sachet water factories were closed in Suleja and Minna, Niger State due to quality of production.”

Other sources of drinking water, as cited by the respondents include ‘tap water’ (18 per cent) ‘private borehole’ (17 per cent), and ‘public borehole’ (14 per cent), among other sources. These figures represent an increase in the proportion of Nigerians who have access to tap water (seven points) and public bore holes (eight-points) in 2015 from 2013; thus indicating a progress in the Federal Government’s efforts through its ministry for water resources in providing potable water to Nigerians through transformation programmes and several commissioned projects in various states.

“Nevertheless, access to clean water still remains a major issue to Nigerians to some extent as indicated by a high proportion (72 per cent: 47 per cent plus 25 per cent) of respondents in this category,” explained the researchers in a statement.

A 2014 data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) on Water Supply and Sanitation shows massive and growing inequalities in access to safe water and toilets around the world: 748 million globally without safe water and 2.5 billion without proper sanitation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there remain 325 million without safe water and 644 million without basic sanitation.

Of the one billion people around the world still practising open defecation, 227 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, even as nine in 10 of them live in rural areas.

Safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene can prevent illness and make a community healthier and more productive. They can also prevent infant and child mortality, improve rates of education, and prevent the vulnerability that comes when women and girls tasked with fetching water must walk long distances to do so, or when they do not have a safe place to relieve themselves.

According to Nelson Gomonda, the Pan-African programme manager for WaterAid, an NGO committed to enhancing water and sanitation conditions in the world, “this crisis has had a devastating impact on sub-Saharan Africa’s economy, development, and families. But sanitation is now recognised as essential in ending extreme poverty. Our challenge is to reach our poorest and most excluded and ensure that everyone’s right to water and sanitation is met in our lifetime. These pledges from African governments are a big step towards realising a healthier and more prosperous future for our continent.”