Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, declared a state of emergency on water supply, sanitation and hygiene as part of an overall drive to reposition this all-important but obviously neglected people-oriented infrastructure.
That policy thrust is considered necessary if the nation must reduce the high prevalence of water-borne diseases, which had caused preventable deaths.
It is pertinent to recall that as a result of the insufficient attention accorded water and sanitation, experts were not altogether surprised that Nigeria did not meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation in 2015. Even more worrisome is the situation in the country at present where accessing potable water has become a luxury that is sadly within the reach of a privileged few who can afford it. Not surprisingly, this has given rise to hygiene concerns and the attendant increasing outbreaks of water-borne diseases.
For instance, the nation recorded no fewer than 1,110 deaths this year from cholera outbreaks in 29 states. In one of its weekly reports, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed that the death figure this year is several times higher than the 84 recorded within the corresponding period in 2017. One of the major causes of cholera outbreak, it must be pointed out, is lack of access to potable water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Nigeria has an appalling statistics on open defecation, access to pipe-borne water services and sanitation. For instance, access to piped water services, which was 32 per cent in 1990, declined to seven per cent in 2015 while access to improved sanitation also decreased from 38 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2015.
Lamentably, Nigeria ranks second in global rating on open defecation as about 25 per cent of the nation’s population still practise it. In most rural areas, residents defecate in the open, have no access to potable water supply and, as should be expected, this negatively affects their sanitation and hygiene.
We admit the fact that the provision of potable water, adequate sanitation and hygiene is primarily the responsibility of state and local governments. However, this not being given the required attention judging from the high prevalence of water-borne diseases.
This newspaper finds encouraging this administration’s renewed commitment to the provision of water and sanitation facilities by pledging to support state governments. This will be based on the states’ commitment to implementing the national Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) action plan in their respective states aimed at ending open defecation by 2025.
Much as we applaud this initiative by the federal government, we also urge state governments to work towards according topmost priority to the water and sanitation sector. We also commend non-governmental organisations like the UNICEF which has been in the forefront of working to address the challenges of water and sanitation especially in rural areas.
While these challenges are seemingly deeply rooted, reforming the sector has become a necessity, especially given that it holds the key to addressing numerous health matters. It is from this standpoint that we call attention to the issue of funding for this all-important sector. We recognise the fact that there is paucity of funds to meet all public needs. Regardless, it is our opinion that considering the role of water and sanitation in the lives of the people, these facilities deserve more funding than they are presently receiving. Over the years, government funding of the water and sanitation activities has dwindled.
While we also note that lack of access to potable water is a global concern as about 2.1 billion people worldwide, according to World Bank statistics, do not have access to safe drinking water and 4.5 billion people lack access to safely managed sanitation, we are, similarly, worried that state and local governments have not lived up to expectation in addressing the challenges of water and sanitation in their respective areas of coverage.
It is feared that unless government and relevant stakeholders shift to more pragmatic WASH investment, many will still be drinking dirty water in 2030.A report by the World Bank in 2017 said Nigeria provided clean water to fewer than 10 per cent of its city dwellers in 2015.This represented a four per cent fall from 1990. The burden is also heavier on the rural areas with 74 per cent, compared to 59 per cent in the urban areas.
Beyond the declaration, therefore, the federal government should put in place all the necessary legal machineries that will compel state and local governments to prioritise this all-important sector.