The importance of water to life is only comparable with oxygen, the air. Water is so essential that without it, life, whether of plants or animals, becomes inconceivable. Sadly, clean, safe potable water is becoming scarce by the day, even with unlimited water resources that abound; a question of “water, water everywhere but not a single drop to drink.” Today, it is estimated that about one billion people in developing nations don’t have access to potable water, yet it is taken for granted, wasted and even paid for.
A report by the United Nation Children’s Fund, UNICEF, indicate that over 57 million Nigerians lack access to potable water. Many still source their water from polluted rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and irrigation canals and many other sundry sources.
Nigeria is not alone in this amazing statistics as it is estimated that almost 300 million people across the African continent have no access to safe drinking water. Painfully also, both in terms of availability and hygiene, Nigeria is among the five countries in the world contributing to about one-third of the global under five mortality rate traceable to the consumption of unsafe water. Others are the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, Pakistan, China and India.
In addition, about 16 per cent of all deaths within that age limit in the country are due to preventable diseases like diarrhoea, a water-borne disease that affects mostly children. And worldwide, the disease kills about 1.8 million people, more than half of them children. Other water-borne diseases include cholera, guinea-worm, river blindness, schistosomiasis or bilharzias and typhoid fever, which affect about 12 million people every year.
It is against this backdrop that government must put in more effort to ensure accessibility to safe, and healthy water supply. It is from this perspective that we call attention to the Sustainable Development Goal, SDG, 6 which aims at ensuring a sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Such accessibility can save the lives of most under five children that die annually from preventable disease caused, mostly, by poor access to water. And there is no sign that the situation is likely to improve anytime soon making the attainment of the SDGs Goal by 2030 look like a mirage.
For example, in 1999, 12 per cent of the population had pipe borne water access to their homes, but this declined to two per cent as at 2015. While access to pipe borne water dropped from 32 per cent in 1990 to seven per cent in 2015. This, we believe, in this 21st century, is unacceptable. In our opinion, the government, at all levels, owe it as a duty to the people to do more than what is currently obtainable in terms of policies and funding towards providing safe water for the citizens.
However, it is pertinent to note that in terms of policies and strategies, the government has made substantial progress by way of a blueprint for water supply and sanitation service delivery, but the challenge is in translating these noble intentions into action in a manner that will serve the desired interest of the people.
Today, we dare to point out that the need for global cooperation in the area of sustainable use of water is compellingly urgent especially with increasing global population and climate change that has led to a decline in dependable sources of water. This life sustaining fluid, particularly in developing countries, and at the best of times, has always been a major cause of concern for governments and other policy makers. The situation is not abating with the ever changing environmental conditions.
It is the view of this newspaper that the matter is reaching crisis level in Nigeria with the resort to borehole drilling as a policy in the drive to make water readily available. Because water from these boreholes, where they are available, are seldom treated, they may provide water for a thirsty populace, it does not, however, address the issues as they relate to the health of the consumers in terms of preventing the water borne diseases mentioned earlier. We insist that solving the water challenge will, no doubt, need a strong political will on the part of the government, which means that they just have to step up funding to the sector far beyond the current levels. Boreholes are welcome as a stop gap measure in the absence of better alternatives. Invariably, the authorities must begin to work towards restoring the public water works that emphasise safe, treated water for public consumption. That is the only way to permanently eliminate those preventable diseases that are still threatening the populace as a result of water that is not sufficiently safe.
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