Increasing access to potable water

In commemoration of this year’s World Water Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that water scarcity, weak sanitation and hygiene services may hamper global peace and development. They also called for urgent action to address water challenges across the world, especially in Africa where the problem is acute. Currently, about 418 million Africans are in dire need of water, while 779 million others need basic sanitation services. Not less than 208 million people reportedly practice open defecation while 839 million others lack essential hygiene services in Africa. This was disclosed during the World Water Forum hosted by the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) in conjunction with UNICEF as part of activities to mark this year’s World Water Day in Dakar, Senegal, with the theme “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible.”

Specifically, it calls for a 12-fold increase in current rates of progress on safely managed drinking water, a 20-fold increase for safely managed sanitation and a 42-fold increase for basic hygiene services. The UN agencies are of the view that the increase in the population of Africa from 800million to 1.3billion between 2000 and 2020 means that more people will be in need of potable water and basic hygiene services. They opined that “equitable access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is the foundation of health and development for children and communities,” but regretted that many African countries may not achieve the universal access to safely managed drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services by 2030 if the trend persists.

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It is not only the UN agencies that should be worried by the appalling lack of safe water in Africa and other regions. The political leaders in Nigeria and other African countries where the problem is manifest must muster the political and economic will to address the water challenge and basic sanitation and hygiene services forthwith. Nigeria, with a projected population of over 230million is probably the most affected country in Africa by the water and sanitation challenge. Water is one of the primary needs of man. While human beings can survive for days without food, it is not possible to do so without water.

About 60 per cent of the body is made up of water. Water also plays other important roles in the body including removal of wastes from the body, regulating body temperature, transportation of nutrients as well as aiding digestion. Apart from water to drink and for sanitation purposes, UNESCO insists that around 25 per cent of water is crucial for crop irrigation and warns that the dependency on groundwater may rise due to the impact of global warming. Moreover, groundwater will be complementary in addressing the increase in global population, climate change and energy crises.  Good enough, the Lagos State government has charged residents on the need to protect and sustain the exploration of underground water for survival and adaptation in a changing world.

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It is no longer a secret that water supply has reached a crisis dimension in Nigeria and should be addressed with the seriousness it deserves. Government should treat the water challenge as a national emergency and holistically review the water situation in the country and improve on it.  It must not shirk its duty to the people in this regard.

A central water utility body should be set up where it is not in place to take charge of water supply to the people and discourage the current practice of indiscriminate digging of boreholes and wells in Lagos and other cities in the country. The danger in the indiscriminate digging of boreholes has been highlighted many times. It can distort the soil structure and cause earth tremors. The provision of potable water is one of the primary duties of government. The lack of adequate attention to the water needs of the people has led to many water-borne diseases in some parts of the country.  Increasing access to potable water is the best way to prevent water-borne diseases and others.

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Consequently, improving water supply will enhance public health. If the nation’s water resources are adequately managed, they will boosting Nigeria’s economic growth and reduce poverty. Now that the consciousness has been raised, we urge the government to set a timeline for the implementation of the concerns raised by these global institutions. The time to act is now.


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