World Water Week: How two thirds of Nigerians survive without potable water

Children of Ikot Nkpenne community, in Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, fetching water from the borehole constructed by UNICEF and EU [Nike Adebowale]
Children of Ikot Nkpenne community, in Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, fetching water from the borehole constructed by UNICEF and EU [Nike Adebowale]

Lola Owoade spends about N1,500 monthly on sachet water. This is because she is not sure if the water in her residence is safe for drinking. Mrs Owoade’s house has a borehole.

On Arab Road in Kubwa, a suburb of Abuja, where she lives, most houses do not have public water supply and depend on private boreholes, wells or water vendors known as Mai ruwa.

“We use electric pump for our borehole. Though the water runs round the clock daily, we are not sure it is clean enough for drinking so I buy ‘pure water’ (sachet water). We use the water from the borehole only for cooking, bathing and other house chores,” she said.

Ms Owoade only patronises Mai-ruwa, when their borehole is faulty.

Victoria Fasadare, who lives in the same neighbourhood, said her family too has a borehole but also do not drink it because they cannot attest that its water is safe for drinking.

“I use the (borehole) water for washing and cooking. We drink only bottled and sachet water, though I’m not sure if that is clean either. Once it does not smell and does not have sediment, I can drink the water.”

Water Vendors

Unlike the Owoades and Fasadares, Emmanuela Njoku in Jikwoyi, another suburb of Abuja, said she entirely relies on water vendors.

According to Mrs Njoku, she spends about N6,500 monthly on water from the water vendors for other uses and sachet water for drinking.

“There is no borehole or well in my house, I rely on Mai-ruwa. I have a big drum and they supply me water every two days. I do not drink their water because I don’t trust the source and how clean the jerrycans they use are. Though the vendors say they buy their water from boreholes, one cannot be too sure.

“It is ‘pure water’ or dispenser water we buy for drinking. I prefer pure water and to cut cost, I buy directly from suppliers,” she said.

Lamenting her ordeal at times when the water vendors fail her or she is short of money for their services, Mrs Njoku said she walks about 100 metres to a mosques in her area to fetch water.

“This, you have to do very early in the morning around 5 a.m. because neighbours with boreholes do not allow others access to them,” she said.

In Nigeria, potable water supply is a familiar challenge of households. For the capital, Abuja, the challenge would have been expected to be minimal. Unfortunately, that is not the case especially in the suburbs.

Messrs Owoade and Fasadare are few of the residents of Kubwa with private source of water where they live. Most of their neighbours rely on Mai-ruwa.

Water vendors are ubiquitous, often seen pushing carts with 10 to 12 kegs, seeking buyers. A keg of water costs between N25 and N50.

Aminat Attah said water for household use is one of the major challenges facing residents of Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State in North-central Nigeria. Ironically, the town is located at the bank of the confluence of Niger and Benue, the two major rivers in Nigeria.

“If you are not lucky to live in a place where they have boreholes or wells, you buy water or find somewhere to fetch it yourself. I am used to fetching water, it is something I do every morning,” she said.

Global Concern

Lack of access to potable water is a global concern. About 2.1 billion people worldwide, according to World Bank statistics, do not have access to safe drinking water services and 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation.

This week, the world is celebrating the World Water Week, which started August 26, at Stockholm with the aim to find a new solution to pressing water issues globally.

The theme for this year’s World Water Week annual celebration is “Water, Ecosystem and Human Development.”

Many civil society organisations have taken to twitter to join the celebration and raise awareness on the need to provide access to potable water to most people across the globe.

“Unless we shift to more pragmatic WASH investment addressing people’s complex needs, many will still be drinking dirty water in 2030.” @Wateraid tweeted.

“Annually, girls and women spend 73 billion hours fetching water. Accelerating access to water can help give them this time back. Investing in #WASH resources improves the health, education and livelihood of girls and women everywhere,” @WowenDeliver also tweeted.

Tackling Water Challenge In Nigeria

Nigerian households mainly depend on external sources for their drinking water as most homes do not have potable water within their premises, the Multiple Indicator Cluster survey 2017 indicated.

This has put the quality of water Nigerians drink into question, reflected in the incessant outbreak of cholera in the country.

A report by the World Bank in 2017 said Nigeria provided clean water to fewer than 10 per cent of its city dwellers in 2015.This represented a four per cent fall from 1990.

The 2017 MICS survey stated that 68 per cent of Nigerians buy or source water from locations outside their homes. Most of the water they drink is from sachet, bottle water, taps, wells and boreholes, depending on the location.

According to the survey, women constitute the highest per cent (40 per cent) of persons who go out looking for water.

This situation is far worse in the Northeastern part of the country as 83 per cent of homes have no drinking water on their premises. This is followed by the South-south with 71 per cent and the North-central with 70 per cent with drinking water burden.

The burden is also heavier on the rural areas with 74 per cent, compared to 59 per cent in the urban areas. In most cases, those who go looking for water spend about 30 minutes away from their homes.

Solving The Problem

Nigeria needs to invest about $8 billion in providing potable water for the country to achieve Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

SDG Goal 6 aims at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

An official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Zaid Jurgi, in March said over 60 million Nigerians still lack access to potable water and more funds must be invested to ensure the access.

He said if the country continues at the present rate of development in the water sector, only about 72 per cent of Nigerians will have access to potable water supply by 2030.

Mr Jurgi said access to safe water can save most of the under five children who die from preventable diseases, as most of the diseases are caused by poor access to water.

He noted that about 88 per cent of diarrhoea cases in Nigeria come from states that do not meet the WASH standard.

Implications Of Unsafe Water

According to the World Health Organisation, water safety and quality are fundamental to human development and well-being. This is because health risk may arise from consumption of water contaminated with infectious agents, toxic chemicals, and radiological hazards. Also, improving access to safe drinking water can result in tangible improvements to health.

WHO said providing access to safe water is one of the most effective instruments in promoting health and reducing poverty.

According to the international health agency, the quality of drinking water is a powerful environmental determinant of health.

“Drinking-water quality management has been a key foundation for the prevention and control of waterborne diseases. Water is essential for life, but it can and does transmit disease in countries in all continents – from the poorest to the wealthiest.

“The most predominant waterborne disease, diarrhoea, has an estimated annual incidence of 4.6 billion episodes and causes 2.2 million deaths every year,” it stated in a report on drinking water quality on its website.

The agency explained that there are several variants of the faecal-oral pathway of water-borne disease transmission. These include contamination of drinking-water catchments (e.g. by human or animal faeces), water within the distribution system (e.g. through leaky pipes or obsolete infrastructure) or of stored household water as a result of unhygienic handling.


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