Adequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are all essential ingredients to ensure quality health. The same is true for proper wastewater management which is a basic prerequisite for environmental health. Improving upon these services will bring economic gains while also helping to build resilience given increasing climate variability.
Many developing countries, including Nigeria, are already today struggling to cope with chronic water shortages and the inadequacies of their existing water infrastructure. They are also facing unprecedented population growth, rapid urbanization, and increased economic activity. Basic needs remain unmet, and the human right to water and sanitation remains unrealized for billions of people worldwide.
Against this background, as Nigeria begins its countdown to 2019 general elections, the WaterAid and other development partners launched a Vote4WASH campaign to encourage citizens to vote for candidates who are committed to providing access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Speaking at the flag off ceremony in Abuja, WaterAid Nigeria country representative, Dr Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, pointed out that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) remain one of the most neglected critical issues in the country, a fact driven home by the Federal Government’s declaration of a state of emergency in its WASH sector in April this year.
She said with nearly 60 million people living without clean water, over 120 million without access to a decent toilet and about 46 million defecating in the open, the nation could not afford to ignore the urgency of WASH action in Nigeria.
“At the current rates of progress, the promise to bring safe water and toilets to everyone by 2030 will not be met. In fact, the percentage of the population with access to basic sanitation continues to drop steadily. It is sad that a country of our stature cannot provide these basic life-saving services to its citizens. Nearly 60,000 children under the age of five die of WASH related diseases in Nigeria every year. Sub-Saharan Africa ranks lowest in the world for access to improved drinking water and sanitation and that is linked, of course, to the region’s under-five mortality rate which is one of the highest in the world.
“There is still a lot of inequality in our society and we are still leaving millions behind: children, women, persons living with disabilities and our most vulnerable and marginalised communities. These are the people who could benefit most from these services and we need to ensure we target resources to those who are most at risk from a lack of access to clean water and sanitation,” she stated.
Aniagolu-Okoye posited that as the 2019 general election draws near, the Vote4Wash campaign was aimed at positioning WASH as a key issue in political discourse, pointing out that the organization and its development partners hoped to achieve this by mobilizing the general public to demand for improved WASH services using their votes while also engaging political parties and their candidates to understand the importance of WASH in human development. He added that WASH commitments made during election campaign would be tracked to hold elected office holders accountable.
She said: “The Vote4WASH campaign calls on all electoral candidates to ensure that water, sanitation and hygiene promotion is given the priority it deserves with ambitious universal access targets on (WASH) for households as well as schools, health facilities and other public places.
“We ask that electoral candidates (across all elective positions) seeking the vote of Nigerians to heed calls to improve the wellbeing of Nigerians by providing universal access to clean water and decent toilets and ensuring that no child dies a preventable death because of a lack of these basic but yet vital and fundamental services.
“We call on the people of Nigeria to use their votes to demand for their right to clean water and decent toilets. It is time for politicians to be held to a higher standard of governance. It is the duty of all eligible voters to seize this opportunity to hold candidates to account during and after the election. A vote for clean water is a vote for good health, education and improved livelihood.”
Aniagolu-Okoye represented by the head, peoples and organisations development, WaterAid Nigeria, Mr. Manasseh Igyuh, noted that the success of the Vote4WASH campaign was clearly documented in the last election with Aljazeera reporting that after corruption and before religious and ethnic divisions, water was a key election issue, adding “we need to make and keep access to water, sanitation and hygiene a priority again.”
In his remarks, the chief executive of Connected Development (CODE), Mr Hamzat Lawal, said many Nigerians would save on health bills and be able to be more productive and generate more income if they had clean water and sanitation.
“Without access to water and sanitation, many will not get a fair chance at escaping poverty and reaching their full potential. Our leaders cannot continue to be careless with the health and wellbeing of its citizens and we must hold them responsible for doing the things they are supposed to do.
“Sadly, the impact of poor access to WASH is not limited to health alone. Women and children bear the burden of getting water for the household; this prevents children from attending school regularly and can discourage parents from enrolling their children in school. Furthermore, it reduces the amount of time women can spend on productive activities that will help in alleviating poverty,” he pointed out.
He stated that despite these documented negative impacts of lack of access to WASH, however, the provision of WASH still ranks low in the development priorities of most elected officials in Nigeria.
“Thankfully, we have an opportunity now to change this. You can change this,” he added.
The Vote4Wash campaign is supported by WaterAid; Rotary International; International Republic Institute; Action Against Hunger; YouthWASH Network; Public Private Development Centre; WASH Media Network; Plan International; WSSCC; United Purpose and Connected Development.