Water everywhere but none to drink

Water scarcity


Easy access to safe drinking water in an urban city like Lagos does not come easy. With an estimated population of 18 million people and a rapid rate of urbanization, the state owned Water Corporation is constantly playing catch up to try to meet the demand for a safe drinking water within the mega city where population is expected to rise to 29 million by 2020.

In Nigeria, more than half of the 160 million population lack access to safe drinking water.

Majority of the population still resort to self-help measures to solve their water needs.

These measures by individuals – which sometimes involve sinking shallow boreholes – across most Nigerian cities come at a price. More than 3,000 children continue to die every day in Sub Saharan Africa from illnesses related to unsafe water.

Earlier this month, the United Nations announced that the international target to halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water has been met, five years before the 2015 deadline.

Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, according to the report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for water and sanitation.

According to the report, the estimated 6.1 billion people – 89 percent of the world population – who now have access to improved drinking water sources meant that the Goal 7 of the Millennium Development Goal, set in 2000, had been exceeded.

Africa lags behind

However, Africa is nowhere to be found in all of these statistics and “may never meet” the 2015 target. While a majority of the two billion people who have gained access to drinking water live in India or China; over 40 percent of people globally who lack access to safe drinking water live in Sub Saharan Africa.

At the official launch of the Safe Water for Africa Partnership in Lagos this week, Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister for Water Resources, admitted that the current statistics of water coverage in Nigeria “are not very pleasing.”

“Nonetheless, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies has been aggressively making efforts to tackle the problem of water supply through the water supply and sanitation reform programme with support from the European Union, the African Development Bank, the Chinese Water Supply Initiative, and the Japanese International Corporation Agency,” said Mrs. Ochekpe.

Last month, the Nigerian government signed a N2.42 billion agreement with the Japanese government to increase water supply coverage in some rural communities across the country.

330,000 rural dwellers are expected to benefit from the project in the next five years.

The Safe Water for Africa partnership, a private sector initiative driven in Nigeria by the Coca Cola Foundation, Nigeria Bottling Company, Guinness Nigeria Limited, TY Danjuma Foundation and Water Health International, hopes to make safe drinking water available to five million Africans by 2015.

“It is a business driven safe water access programme formed by a partnership between the private sector, multi-lateral agencies, and local governments,” said Sameer Mithal, the Chief Development Officer at Water Health International.

“We define sustainability as not just opening a facility, we take responsibility to ensure that it is running for, at least, 15 years,” Mr. Mithal added.

Sustainability becomes unsustainable

Sustainability is always a difficult task in community oriented projects across the country.

On 28th November 2007, Paul Walsh, Chief Executive Officer at Diageo Plc; arrived Ajegunle, a popular Lagos suburb, to commission the Guinness Water of Life Project, a philanthropic project to make safe drinking water available to thousands of local people in the community.

A few months later, the water dried up.

“The water did not even rush for up to one week,” a resident told Premium Times on Tuesday.

The local people blamed the failure of the project on use of sub-standard pipes and other equipment.

A Diageo official blamed the community for failing to “own” the project.

Mr. Mithal said that there would be no room for such incidents.

“The ownership really is with us at Water Health, you won’t find us putting the facility in a community and then moving out,” he said.

“We hire local people, train them, buy local components as much as we can. So there is a very significant Nigerian component in our business. In fact, our goal is to have an all Nigerian company in the next two years.

“For example, in Ghana, we have all Ghanaians and it’s been on for four years now,” said Mr. Mithal.

The UN Report, which stated that an estimated 96% of the urban population globally has improved water supply sources compared with 81% of the rural population, further revealed that 653 million people in rural areas lack improved water sources.

In addition to making safe drinking water available to the target communities, the Safe Water for Africa partners said the water would be affordable to the poor.

In Lagos, private water vendors sell a 25 litres volume of water at between N10 and N20. A packet of sachet water – a half litre – sells for N10.

The State owned Water Corporation sells at a much cheaper rate – N50 for 1000 litres (equivalent of five drums) – but the supply is not constant.

The safe drinking water from the Safe Water for Africa project is expected to be sold at between 60 kobo and N1.20kobo for every 25 litres “depending on the location where the project is sited.”

“Basically, this is not a project that is targeted towards the rich because we believe that the rich have the capacity to solve their own water problems. They can sink boreholes in their houses, they can buy water if they need to buy,” said Clement Ugorji, Communications Director at Coca Cola Nigeria.

“We are taking this to the areas where people need it the most and that is the people who do not have the capacity to solve these problems for themselves.

“What we are trying to do is to ensure that first and foremost, this water is made available and then it is made available in a very affordable way,” Mr. Ugorji said.


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