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Avoidable deaths from unsafe water

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s recent outcry over high infant mortality rate from unsafe drinking water underscores another context of failure of governance in Nigeria. It is a sad commentary on the country’s socio-economic policy coming on the heels of failure to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions, notably, income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, which include provision of potable water.

Prof. Osinbajo expressed his disgust in the nation’s capital at the unveiling of the National Water Policies and launch of the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH), organised by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. He regretted that Nigeria did not achieve the MDG’s target for water and sanitation because of lack of effective coordination among the stakeholders and inability to harness the required funds.

Consequently, he said, about 150,000 children under the age of five die yearly from diarrhea-related diseases that are traceable to unsafe drinking water. The figure should be higher, though there are no accurate statistics in the country to ascertain the exact figure.

Recalling that successive governments had accelerated access to water by 69 per cent and improved sanitation to 29 per cent, he said that was a far cry from what is needed in view of an ever-increasing population with high demand for water supply and sanitation.

The vice president thanked the Ministry of Water Resources for coming up with the National Water Resources Policy and the National Irrigation Policy, which he said has been approved by the Federal Executive Council.

While the effort of the ministry is commendable, the impression should not be created that there had been no policy to guide the management of the country’s water resources. Certainly, a framework exists at federal and state levels that can be reviewed and improved upon. That is where the ministry’s intervention is needed. Otherwise, what is the purpose of another water sector policy at this time?

Since the 1970s, the country had developed a blueprint for national, state and even urban water supply that must have been abandoned. In 1976, for instance, the Federal Government came up with the idea of River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) meant to serve as a framework for developing the nation’s water resources. Consequently, 11 River Basin Development Authorities were created across the country. What is the status of the RBDAs? What did they achieve despite the huge expenditures on them? The sad reality today is that the RBDAs have been moribund.

Again, what about the national framework for achieving the UNICEF-mandated International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation decade (1981-1990)? Under the programme, Nigeria, like many other nations developed a country plan. What did we achieve from all these antecedents?

Specifically, a former Minister of Water Resources, Chief Obadiah Ando, had under President Goodluck Jonathan, launched a national water sector roadmap, which aimed “to make water available to all by 2015.” Here we are in 2016 launching another policy.

But beyond policy somersault and non-implementation, the lamentation from the State House, Abuja is a sad reminder that the people have been shortchanged and the country is still many decades behind civilisation. That common potable water, a basic necessity of life, is still lacking in Nigeria that has reaped stupendous wealth from oil resources since independence, is an indictment on the country’s leadership at all levels. It is a matter of high regret.

The issue of provision of potable water is one thing that has defied solution over the decades. People suffer preventable debilitating diseases as a result. Thousands are dying. It is high time that the authorities accorded the issue of water provision the high priority it deserves in public interest. A healthy populace is an asset to the nation.

The MDGs lifecycle (2000-2015) should not go without inquisition. What percentage of the population had access to potable water in that dispensation? After all, the $18 billion worth of Debt Relief deal by the Paris Club in April 2006 was partly tied to MDGs adequate funding. Probing the MDGs funds will not be a bad idea. And so, since water is one of the critical issues under the MDGs, what framework is being used to actualise the national cum global water supply objective under the agenda?

Furthermore, over the years, the World Health Organisation (WHO), African Development Bank (AfDB), UNICEF, among other national and multilateral agencies, had partnered the federal and state governments in an effort to provide potable water in the country and yet access to clean water remains a mirage. Billions purportedly expended have been unaccounted for.

Globally, no fewer than 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea out of which 1,800 deaths are linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

UNICEF’s child mortality data show that half of under-five deaths occur in five countries, namely: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan and China. Whereas India accounts for 24 per cent, Nigeria accounts for 11 per cent, which is shameful.

In absolute terms, Nigeria’s under-five deaths supersede India’s considering the huge gap in the population of the two countries. Nigeria’s population (180 million) is far less than that of India (1.2 billion). Moreover, of the more than 783 million people worldwide with no access to safe drinking water, India has 97 million while Nigeria has 66 million.

At this juncture, what the country needs is not a cosmetic water sector policy paper or roadmap but a concrete action plan. More important is the fact that water provision is a responsibility of the state governments through their water boards. The Federal Government should not be acting as a sole administrator on this very important matter. No amount of roadmap developed at the federal level would succeed without constructive involvement of the states. This is one other area where recourse to principle of federalism is a desideratum within the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


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