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The case for access to water

By Editorial Board
30 May 2018   |   3:55 am
Access to safe water remains a critical challenge in Nigeria as only seven per cent of the country’s population gets its water supply through pipe networks.

Access to safe water remains a critical challenge in Nigeria as only seven per cent of the country’s population gets its water supply through pipe networks. Similarly, an overwhelming 123 million lack basic sanitation. This current figure shows a decline in access to potable water from 31% in 1990 to less than seven per cent in 2017, despite the eThekwini commitments in South Africa and ‘Ngor Declaration in Senegal to affirm and reaffirm improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) by billions of people in Africa. One of the undertakings by African ministers who signed the eThekwini Declaration in Durban, South Africa, is the pledge to create separate budget lines for sanitation and hygiene in their countries and to commit at least 0.5 per cent of GDP to it.

Anyway, looking specifically at Nigeria, the growing exposure to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene is shameful and disturbing because of the socio-economic implications, especially on women and children. Poor water and sanitation services disproportionately affect women and girls, who often bear the burden of the absence of reliable WASH services. Apart from mortality and morbidity, poor access to WASH services also negatively impact on other aspects of the lives of children as they lead to increased absenteeism from schools; high drop-out rate in schools, especially among girls and the non-attainment of high level of developmental potentials. It also retards the physical, cognitive and psycho-social development of young children. Furthermore, doing house work and treating WASH-related illnesses consume a significant share of poor family resources.

Perhaps, realisation of the socio-economic implications of poor WASH services may account for why the Federal Government expressed worry over the decline in access to water and sanitation facilities; and according to the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, who spoke during the celebration of the 2018 World Water Day appears ready to address the gloomy situation with the National Water Resources Master Plan, which gives high priority to the implementation of a series of large, medium and small dam projects across the country. Lofty as it seems, the problem is implementation.

Obviously, the road to improving WASH in Nigeria will be bumpy, if the leaders do not go beyond rhetoric, attending international meetings and signing international documents; or even just throwing money at the issue. Again, having a positive WASH outlook is the collective responsibility of individuals, property/homeowners, families, work groups, unions and associations, civil society organisations, private sector and the media.

Again, even if Nigeria commits at least 0.5 per cent of GDP to WASH as in the eThekwini Declaration, it could improve the provision of the needed facilities, but will not ensure sustainability. So, poor sustainability of previous efforts may account for the disturbing decline from 31% in 1990 to less than seven per cent in 2017 of Nigerians with water supply through pipe networks.

Changing the narrative of poor WASH promoting equity in resource use and management for sustained benefits and long-term impact, which is achievable only by encouraging synergy in the management of WASH resources across all levels of government is the way to go against the backdrop that under the Nigerian Constitution (1999) as amended, water supply and sanitation (WSS) is a responsibility shared by the three tiers of government. Therefore, the present administration could make a distinction and change the narrative on WASH in Nigeria with governments at all levels keying into the National Water Resources Master Plan; meaning that the Nigerian state should follow a decentralised structure in the planning and implementation of water projects.

So, at the federal level, the relevant MDAs should collaborate and rise up to the occasion in a well-coordinated manner. While the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), the lead ministry in the sector, should participate in capital investment and ensure sector policy development, planning, coordination, monitoring and evaluation, the National Water Resources Institute (NWRI), a parastatal under the FMWR, should train relevant personnel, research and manage information on WASH. The Ministry of Environment with sector-related mandates should also live up to its billings. Also, the Ministry of Health should formulate and regulate standards of drinking water quality, as well as policy development, control and prevention programmes for water – and sanitation-related diseases through its Public Health Department. Other ministries, agencies and parastatals with some involvement in the sector including Education, Women’s Affairs, Youth Development, Special Duties, Information, and the National Planning Commission should work with line MDAs.

Also, relevant state and local governments should follow up on the interventions of the FGN for a trickle-down effect. So, at the state level, the relevant MDAs, WASH departments/units at the local government level; and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOM) in the communities are important in having a positive WASH outlook.

Furthermore, having gender-sensitive WASHCOMs with established effective management systems will help in gender-sensitive programming and financing for sustainability. The WASHCOMs would ensure financial contribution from residents for maintenance, and timely repair or replacement of facilities such as hand pumps in rural areas. Also, since WASHCOMs represent communities in the planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of WASH projects, they would ensure the necessary components of community consultation and involvement, which are needed to foster continuity of rural WASH services. In addition, this will make women equal partners with men in planning and management; and afford them the opportunity to directly influence water projects in which they have a major stake.

Since the private sector is generally involved as non-formal small-scale WASH service providers in urban areas, semi-urban (small towns) and communities, state governments should work with private firms to improve WASH outlook.

Civil society organisation (CSOs) should also work and advocate for sector reform processes such as decentralisation and devolution, promotion of accountability and good practices while playing active roles in community mobilisation and sensitisation. As for the media, it should address the socio-cultural prejudices that have fuelled low risk perception of poor WASH through its messages, and also sensitise Nigerians on the linkage between poor WASH situation and poor health including economic health. So, the media should constantly package information to stimulate desired behaviours and social change by bringing to the fore the fact that improving WASH as a nation is the collective responsibility of all.

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