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Opinion: Water and Sanitation in Nigeria – Playing the Numbers Game

Clinton Ikechukwu Ezeigwe is Director of Operations at Christian Fellowship & Care Foundation

Child defecating in a canal in the slum of Gege in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. Credit: Adebayo Alao, Sept. 2007/cc by 2.0

Child defecating in a canal in the slum of Gege in the city of Ibadan, Nigeria. Credit: Adebayo Alao, Sept. 2007/cc by 2.0

OWERRI, Nigeria, Mar 22 2015 (IPS) - In Nigeria, it’s all about the numbers. My nation recently became the largest economy in Africa by some distance, with a GDP of well over 500 billion dollars.

At the same time, 63.2 million people don’t have access to safe water, and over 112 million people – two thirds of the population – don’t have access to adequate sanitation. This figure has risen since 1990.

It’s clear that water and sanitation problems are symptoms of wider issues that are at stake for a secure, healthy future of Nigeria.

The ongoing conflict with Boko Haram militants in the north of the country killed well over 6,000 civilians in 2014. An extremely serious figure for sure, but by way of some perspective, every year, 97,000 children die in the country as a whole from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. It really drives home the reality of a simpler crisis on our doorstep.

There is both a North-South and rural-urban divide in this respect, and in the wider issue of reducing the serious poverty gap. Poverty in rural areas (44.9 per cent) is far greater than in urban areas (12.6 per cent) and the methods of poverty reduction in the cities are much more established, and therefore stronger.

It’s clear that water and sanitation problems are symptoms of wider issues that are at stake for a secure, healthy future of Nigeria. Getting much greater access to water and sanitation in underserved areas is only the first step – it’s got to be of acceptable quality and affordable for citizens.

All this requires serious civic engagement. My organisation is a vocal advocate for marginalised groups – and is gaining some ground. But it has not been easy.

Our previous campaigning work in Imo State – an area with one of the biggest water and sanitation crises in Nigeria – has been met with minimal success. In recent times the state wanted to deliver the water services through a private and public partnership, which did not materialise. This meant access to water and sanitation remained poor in both rural and urban areas.

In the last week, we finally made a breakthrough; succeeding in securing a political advocacy with our governor in Imo State and the Commissioner for Public Utilities and Rural Development, in charge of water in the state.

We intend to bolster this advocacy work by taking to the streets in the World Walks for Water and Sanitation. It’s the ideal opportunity to keep the pressure on, and 2,000 people are marching in our area calling on leaders to keep their promises. Indeed, plenty of them have been made.

Nigerian officials attended the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting in Washington DC in April last year, making a promise to bring safe water, basic toilets and hygiene in the next 11 years.

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to an end, to be replaced by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it’s a pivotal time to make these vows credible.

At the national level, there needs to be a dedicated budget for tackling the water and sanitation crisis in the country.

We also call for improved accountability, and an acceptance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation at the heart of efforts to reduce inequalities and bring acceptable, hygienic and appropriate facilities to all. Special considerations need to be given to rural and isolated populations.

Our leaders have come to understand the importance of the wider importance of water and sanitation – increased access to education, job opportunities and a chance for many to break the poverty cycle to name but a few – and this no doubt represents progress. There are signs of practical action, too.

Earlier this month, the Federal Government’s Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Dr Steve Oru, made commitments to bring water supply to some communities in Imo State and others in the Niger Delta – acknowledging problems accessing these basic needs as a “tragedy.”

That it certainly is – but while these latest moves are promising, it has to be just the start of a deeper commitment to this human right being realised.

It’s certainly not the time for short-term ‘solutions’ that cover up the true nature of the problem. In another interesting statistic, 48 per cent of households across the whole of the country are dependent on sachet water, according to a very recent survey. Clearly, there’s a long way to go.

Nigeria may be the 26th largest economy in the world – but national economic health needs to lead to a healthy state. Tackling the chronic shortfall in water and sanitation facilities would go a long way to ensuring the basic rights and needs of Nigerian people are addressed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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