It is a truism that efficient water supply is very crucial to the sustenance of socio-economic activity, alleviating poverty and attaining food security in any country. However, it is also a known fact that in most developing countries, having sufficient water supply even in cities is still a problem. In Nigeria, for instance, for a very long time now, it has become common for citizens to solely provide basic amenities, especially water, electricity and even security for themselves, all because the government falls short of expectation in that regard. The World Bank, in a recent report, indicated that Nigeria spends $700million on alternative water providers.
According to the report, lack of investment in water sources as well as inadequate funding of most state water providers are part of the reasons Nigeria’s water service is unusually inadequate, even when compared with much poorer African nations.
The problem is not that there is no infrastructure to sustain water supply in the country, but that there is no known plan or, if there is, it has not been implemented, to maintain the structures already in place to supply water appropriately. There are scores of dams and reservoirs scattered all over the country. What seems to be missing right from when these dams were constructed was a working policy on how they are to be maintained. This lack of maintenance has seen to the dilapidation of those multi- million dollar projects and the strife thereof in the purposes for which they were originally designed to serve, including the most important need which is providing water for residents in the states they are located and beyond.
The history of water supply development dates as far back as the colonial era when the first 10-year plan from 1944 to 1956 was made. It included an overall budget of about 5.7 per cent of total expenditure for the sector. The story changed as soon as the colonial masters left and transferred the responsibility of sustaining the sector to the new government. From then, the sector has continued to deteriorate to the extent of becoming completely grounded in some parts of the country where even Government Houses rely on water tankers from private sources or boreholes.
Today, most state governments have no functioning water boards. Where the facility still exists, it is operating below capacity because of lack of maintenance. This has, in turn, gone on to affect several other public establishments like hospitals and schools.
In most parts of the country, anyone who desires to build a home must include in the original plan a provision for a borehole even in cities because there is no government plan to supply water to the different residential settlements. Where money is not available for borehole construction, Nigerians resort to buying water from vendors who source the water they vend from other boreholes or other questionable sources. Also, pipe-borne water that was available, though epileptic, as early as the 80s in some states in the country is, today, completely phased out because dams are broken down and there are no plans of resuscitating them.
With no pipe-borne water, Nigerians are getting used to sachet water which can be assembled from just about anywhere and so has no guarantee of being as safe for consumption as the tag, ‘pure’, suggests. Even bottled water companies cannot be trusted in this regard.
With the World Bank report, it is the opinion of this newspaper that now is the time for government to act. There is definitely a way out of this dilemma and it begins with the realisation that the country has a problem that must be addressed urgently. We are compelled by the prevailing situation to recommend a complete overhaul of the nation’s water resource management infrastructure with particular focus on a redirection to supply pipe-borne water again for use in homes, factories and elsewhere that the life-giving fluid is needed. If private effort can transform water supply as a thriving industry, the government can also, as a way of diversifying its revenue –earning capacity, latch on to the business and turn it into a revenue generating one. The government should have a more compelling reason for being concerned about the source of the water consumed by the citizens. Safe water can and do eliminate the possibility of the outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid. This will also have the positive impact of reducing the budget on health to manageable limits.
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