Third Lagos International Water Conference: A postscript
Water is one of the most important substances on earth. It is so important that both plants and animals need water to survive.
It is, however, essential that the water people drink and use for other purposes is clean and free from germs and pathogens. Therefore, to make water potable, its production must conform to the World Health Organization’s standards.
Producing sufficient water for the world population has been a great challenge as many countries are currently grappling with water stress.
According to the journal on livable cities by the State of Green, Denmark, Water plays into many of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, it is difficult to imagine achieving SDG II on Sustainable Cities and Communities without also implementing solutions for sustainable urban water management.
In developing nations, urban population growth is increasingly putting pressure on urban water supply. It also means wastewater treatment plants must treat an increasing volume of wastewater, sewage collection, and treatment systems in creating livable cities.
Without proper sanitation, sewerage, and clean water supply, there is no livable city. Therefore, placing water at the center of the city’s urban planning and investments creates a strong foundation for sustainable growth. It increases chances of developing long-term solutions, which successfully integrate the role of water with the needs of both local citizens and nature. The Challenges facing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) could also represent opportunities.
There is no gain in saying that limited access to water supply and sanitation has a number of damaging effects on developmental outcomes. It negatively affects the health sector, affects education and economic activities, and hampers work efficiency and productivity.
Confronted by the reality of a global water challenge, the Lagos State Government in its characteristic style of setting the agenda for the rest of the continent on critical global issues initiated the annual Lagos International Water Conference (LIWAC).
A brainchild of the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LASWARCO), the conference, which has become an annual event since 2020, intends to encourage exchanging transformational and innovative ideas toward finding lasting solutions to water supply and sanitation challenges, especially in a megacity as Lagos with a projected annual growth rate of 3.2%.
Highlights of past editions have already attracted investment through a partnership with WaterAid to strengthen capacity building and promotion of water sector regulation in Lagos.
The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the LUWASH programme is also part of the major outcomes of previous editions of the conference.
Other notable highlights of past conferences include enhancing urban water service delivery in Lagos by improving infrastructure and accountability, strengthening regulatory oversight of the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission, and strengthening the financial, and technical capabilities of Lagos Water utilities and private water vendors among others.
The 3rd edition of the conference, a 2-day event, was held last June at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island. A gathering of global water leaders, it sought to unlock great opportunities for private sector investment to promote access, efficiency, and sustainability for water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
The Theme for LIWAC 2022, “unlocking investments and sustainable access to clean water and sanitation services: The Regulatory Imperative”, focused primarily on knowledge sharing, facilitating efficiency through regulation and how regulation can pave the way for investment opportunities.
It also dwelled on women in focus, Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for sustainable WASH services as well as maximizing localized and global investment opportunities for WASH.
In Lagos, challenges to water supply include a limited distribution network (coverage is only about 44%), inadequate power supply from the National grid, obsolete equipment, and technology, a high level of unaccounted-for-water due to illegal connections, pipes leakages, pipeline destructions due to road construction and the public perception that water should be provided free of charge, which was the case until 1997
Others include poor revenue collection, low capacity utilization within the corporation, current flat-rate billing system, water pricing and cost recovery challenges, inadequate household metering systems and aged infrastructure
These are, no doubt, daunting challenges. However, the Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration clearly understands the enormity of the challenges of delivering potable water to Lagos residents. Not only this, it has what it takes to tackle the daunting task in the best interest of Lagosians.
The government recognizes that water is critical, not just for the sustenance of human life, but also for sustainable development, and that no effort would be spared in improving access for a huge number of residents.
Thus, it is making concrete efforts to address the state’s water challenge. Currently, work is at the final stage of completing the second phase of the 70MGD Adiyan Water Scheme. This will be the second-largest water infrastructure in the state.
The last one was built back in 1974/75, which was the Adiyan 1 and Akute water project. The current administration inherited that project and infrastructure and it had committed more funds into making it a reality.
Plans are also underway to embark on extensive rehabilitation and turnaround maintenance of the Adiyan phase one water project, which was built over 40 years ago.
Similarly, work has reached an advanced stage on the 4MGD Ishashi water project as well as maintenance and upgrade of the mini waterworks across the state.
Presently, the government is dredging the Ogun River, which will add major raw water intake into the Iju and Adiyan water plants.
Perhaps, the most crucial takeaway from the 2022 conference is that the plans for the sector requires huge investment that the government alone might not be able to bear. Thus, as it is doing in other sectors, the government is open for business and partnership with investors.
Indeed, Governor Babajide used the occasion to assure prospective investors in the sector that his government had made significant progress in ensuring that relevant policies, legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks are strengthened in line with best practices.
“Our main goal is to deliver potable water and provide safely managed sanitation services for all Lagosians. We have the political will and a groundswell of support from critical stakeholders, and we welcome investors to open up lines of engagement and conversation with us.” The governor asserted.
The state’s ever-growing population, the governor said, should give every investor an assurance of quick returns on their investments.
Hopefully, before the next edition of LIWAC, there would have been improved private sector involvement. This will help in promoting and regulating effective containment, emptying, transport, treatment and disposal and/or reuse of fecal sludge. This includes conversion of sewerage into profitable outputs, such as cooking gas and organic fertilizer. The private sector participation will also enhance the re-designing and construction of the Odo lya-Alaro Septage Treatment Plant.
With concerted efforts and synergy of both the public and private sectors, Lagosians would have better access to sustainable and safely managed water supply and sanitation services by Y2030 in compliance with SDG 6.1 (Water) and 6.2 (Sanitation).
Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.