Opinion: MDGs, Water And A Dying Nation (2)

Opinion: MDGs, Water And A Dying Nation (2)

By Opinions | The Trent on March 3, 2015
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water child drinking

by Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni

The proposed interventions were to be “drilling one motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts, rehabilitating 1,000 dysfunctional hand pump boreholes in 18 states, supplying and installing 10 special water treatment plants, and completing all abandoned urban/semi-urban water supply projects.” Nearly three years on, one cannot categorically point at these projects as finished or abandoned. President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 declared, “No Nigerian child in the next few years shall trek long distances to carry water.” As of the end of 2014, women and children in the Langtang area of Plateau State still travel long distances to get water. The Guardian Newspaper front page of February 17 had a picture of school age children with buckets looking for water in Gombe metropolis. The same scenario goes for many urban and rural communities within the country; the government of the day has failed in bringing something as essential as water to us without sweat.

In a Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO/UNICEF for water and sanitation in 2012, it was estimated that based on progress in the past, it would take 28 years for Nigeria to meet the target of making water available to 75 per cent of her citizens. The JMP reports show that between 1990 and 2010, there was only 11 percentage point increase in access to improved water supply in Nigeria. Currently, 58 per cent of the country’s 160 million people have access to potable water. The report noted that for the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of 75 per cent coverage by 2015, access must increase by 17 percentage points within the next three years.

But rather than improve, the country is in a fix. Last year, Water Aid Nigeria, an international non-governmental organisation, estimated that 112 million Nigerians lack access to basic sanitation and clear water. However, as against obvious reality, President Jonathan during the 2015 New Year broadcast asserted that access to potable water had improved from 57 per cent to 70 per cent, this presupposed government had been resilient in meeting its target. But budgetary allocations to water and sanitation sector have been fluctuating. In 2010, the Federal Government budgeted N112bn for water and sanitation but by 2011, budgetary allocations had dropped to N62bn. For 2012, the budget for water was only N39bn, while in 2013, the budget for Water Resources grew to N84.2bn.

In a pocket-handle book produced by the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, headed by Oronto Douglas, as of 2012, the achievement of the current administration in the water sector was listed as completing seven water projects, providing about 4.3 million Nigerians access to potable water; completion of nine dams in Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Enugu and Ondo states which increased the volume of Nigeria’s water reserve by 422mcm. The same booklet pointed out that 4,000 jobs were created and as of 2012, 65.29 per cent of the population had access to safe water, compared to 60 per cent in 2011. And 375, 000 farmers had access to irrigated land in 2012, up from 236,000 in 2011.

In 2014, when the same booklet would be reproduced ostensibly for the 2015 elections, the only achievement recorded in the water sector was 422m cubic metres of water added to the country’s reservoir, the same one documented in 2012. For discerning minds, this is a clear case of deceit and blatant disregard for citizens who take time to check government files.

As the world prepares to transit to the Sustainable Development Goals, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, it is indeed a national embarrassment that Nigeria would be dragging the burden of the last 15 years into the new world development plan. Is it possible for Nigeria to halt implementation of the SDGs post-2015 and concentrate on achieving the MDGs? Logically, how can Nigeria progress to sustainable development when it cannot guarantee water for all? I grew up in an environment where students that fail repeat classes; collective promotion without disaggregation would be the bane of our attaining the goals as projected. The proponents of WASH are of the opinion that their campaign is not about vague promises of electricity, employment, etc but a very basic environmental and fundamental human rights of access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. That is not too much to ask a responsible and responsive government.

The nadir of Nigeria’s lack of access to safe water is the crude alternative of commercialised sachet water otherwise known as “pure water” Nigerians have found consolation in. Even though almost every sachet comes with purported NAFDAC number, many know how weak the inspection processes are and most “pure water” is the end product of impure environments. As a matter of urgency, NAFDAC needs to review its monitoring policy and make public, verifiable data on the number of companies it has approved to produce sachet water and their company addresses. Rwanda has been identified as one of the few African nations to have met one of the MDG target of halving the proportion of its people without access to sanitation. Key to Rwanda’s success has been empowering communities, strong political will and accountability of service providers and governments, which have been held up as examples for other sub-Saharan African nations as they confront their own challenges in water and sanitation.

One known feature of the water resources sector in Nigeria is the litany of abandoned projects embroiled in corruption. It is opined that lack of accountability, transparency and clear management structure, are an albatross of making water available to all. Both the executive and legislature (through their constituency projects), construct boreholes that break down a few days after inauguration. There is hardly any maintenance structure to sustain these water projects. And for centrally controlled water works department, lack of efficiency has created economic deficits. There exists weak rate collection structures; thus, the water sector cannot be equitably relied upon to generate revenue. It is estimated that at least 90 per cent of the country lacks a clear framework for the metering, billing or collection of water payments. Water bill payment defaults are estimated to have accrued to an astonishing debt of N1bn. This sector alone, given the necessary political will, would have created ample employment opportunities and help the country in bridging the gap of unemployment.

At the 24th African Union Summit, which closed on January 31, 2015, the African Union’s official launched the Kigali Action Plan of 50 million euro agreement to bring drinking water, basic toilets and hygiene promotion to 10 million Africans in 10 countries: Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Lesotho and Mauritania, all on the list of the Least Developed Countries, in the next 15 years. Even though Nigeria is not amongst the countries, a home-made plan needs to be developed to essentially reduce the number of people without access to water in Africa’s biggest economy.

Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni, a development worker, wrote in from Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja. He can be reached through Twitter @SM_S0407

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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