Globally, every March 22 has been observed by the United Nations (UN) as World Water Day. The event is used to celebrate water and create awareness about the over two billion people worldwide living without access to safe and portable drinking water .
Governments are urged to take action on the global water challenge and support the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6:Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.
The importance of water and its value cannot be over emphasised, particularly at this time when health professionals and government alike urge citizens to maintain a high sense of hygiene to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
As Nigeria join the rest of the world in commemorating the 2021 World Water Day which has theme: “Valuing Water”, we must reinforce the fact that water is the sustainer of life and livelihoods. The burden is then on governments in their policies, to recognize water as a right of citizens because of its vital role it plays in meeting households needs ,health care needs and religious obligations.
In Nigeria the public water utility companies have largely been neglected. The waterworks in cities like Lagos experience epileptic production and distribution with weighty implications on residentswho will have to go the extra mile to get water. Areport How Acute Water Shortage May Jeopardize COVID 19 Response in Lagos, published by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in 2020 exposes the depth of the neglect of the water infrastructure in the state. The report details the findings of CAPPA after a three-month factfinding exercise to ascertain the status of the waterworks at the peak of the pandemic in the second quarter of 2020.
The report exposed the deplorable state of water infrastructures in 11 local government areas of the state and how most of the waterworks did not produce a drop of water during the first wave of the pandemic and how many have not produced for years.
Despite the clear recommendations to government inthe report , the water situation in Lagos has not improved as the government is yet to prioritize rehabilitation of waterworks as it part of its core agenda in the water sector. As the theme of this year’s World Water Day reflects, valuing water should be a priority by government at all levels. It must necessarily involve fixing the waterworks and sustained investment of public funds in the sector.
The idea of privatizing the water utility assets under a Public Private Partnerships (PPP) or other models of privatisation as is being pursued by the Lagos state government and other governments across the federation is best described as abdication of responsibility. The PPP for instance, is a failed initiative that will further add to the water crisis and put a free natural resource in the hands of for–profit–only entities. Several global reports have shown this
It is more worrisome that most states in the federation are bent on going ahead with privatisationat a time when countries in the continent have chosento remunicipalize because of privatisation failed promises that are manifest in soaring water bills, poor quality water and shut offs for low income communities.
It is ironic for instance, that Lagos that is surrounded by water, is not able to guarantee adequate and safe drinking water and sanitation for residents. Today, Lagos residents are still battling with illnesses such as dysentery and water related borne disease and now the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To reverse lingering water crisis, governments across all level must begin to value water as a basic necessity to human survival. To do this, they must develop the political will to prioritize water for the people by making public investment in the water infrastructure to guarantee universal access which will create jobs , improve public health and invigorate the economy. They must also recognise and uphold human right to as an obligation of the government representing the people and reject all forms of water privatisation and commodification.
Olatunji Buhari is Associate Director at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa.