analysisBy Alex Abutu
At the departure of the colonial rulers in 1960, every state capital and what today is regarded as the senatorial district had an efficient water system with pipes laid around the city for individuals to connect to their houses.
In those days, street corners, public schools, play grounds and all public places have functional taps where those thirsty for water can come and drink freely or wash during weekends.
But almost four decades after the colonial masters left and Nigerians took their destiny in their hands, the situation in the water sector started changing for the worst. Previous, it was common to see water technicians who rode on bicycles to fix broken down pipe in homes and on the streets. These technicians are accorded respect befitting for a king as they have the tools to deny your household access to clean and safe drinking water for days should you fail to acknowledge them.
Then, all of a sudden, things changed. The idea of boreholes came as a means for government to increase Nigerians' access to safe drinking water as well as fulfilling political pledges.
Today, boreholes litter every nook and cranny of the country with some in dire need of rehabilitation while others have been completely abandoned.
In many parts of the country, people and cattle struggle for water from stagnant ponds while children trek over five kilometres daily to fetch water from streams for their household usage before going to schools.
In places like Makurdi, where the popular River Benue ran through, residents have to depend on water vendors for their daily water need. The situation in Lokoja where both the River Benue and Niger met is even more pathetic as both the young and old have to source their drinking water from the mud in what used to be the famous confluence - the meeting point of Nigeria's two renowned rivers.
The growing water stress in Nigeria contributed to the conclusion of a recent report which said that there were more people in Nigeria today lacking adequate access to water and sanitation services than in 1990.
The report by WaterAid, an international Non-Governmental Organisation shows that Nigeria's MDG target is to supply 74 per cent of the population with safe water by 2015 and 69 per cent of the population with adequate sanitation. Yet only 58 per cent have water and 32 per cent have sanitation.
"In total, 63.6 million people do not have access to safe drinking water in Nigeria, while 103 million do not have access to sanitation (68% of the population). At the current rates of progress, the water target will be missed by 18 years (2033) and the sanitation target is currently completely off track, coverage having fallen from 37 per cent in 1990 to 32 per cent in 2008," the report noted.
The report entitled "Off-track, off-target: why investment in water and sanitation is not reaching those who need it most" stated that Nigeria was spending only 0.18 per cent of its GDP on water and sanitation.
Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Reng Ochekpe, said the situation was unacceptable and reiterated government's determination to improve the situation.
As a sign of government's commitment, it recently launched a road map for its water sector with the target of achieving 75 per cent access to potable water for all Nigerians by 2015. The map is also expected to facilitate the improvement of Nigeria's sanitation rating and ensure that no Nigerian child in the next few years trek long distances to carry water on their heads before going to school.
Nigeria's Vice President Namadi Sambo who launched the road map said that government will ensure that by year 2015, 75 per cent of Nigerians have access to safe and clean drinking water and by year 2020, the coverage should increase to 90 per cent.
The road map which is an articulated set of planned government intervention in the sector with inputs from the national water resources master plan, Jos declaration on water, and the various outcomes of the meetings of the national council on water resources, today stands as government's most articulated action plan to address the challenges confronting the water sector.
It has the objectives of assisting Nigeria meet the Africa water vision by 2025 as well as ensuring that the percentage of Nigerians without access to safe and clean water was reduced drastically.
The road map acknowledged that the Nigeria water sector is richly endowed with huge water resources potentials. It also noted that Nigeria has an estimated 267 billion cubic meters of surface water and 92 billion cubic meters of ground water per annum.
The country has over 200 dams with a combined storage capacity of 34 billion cubic metres.
But the question is: why are there over 100 million Nigerians without access to water in view of this huge endowment?
The answer according to experts lies in the inability of government in the past to formulate a concrete set of action plan for the sector, knowing that the country requires about 56 billion litres of potable water per day to meet domestic needs.
The water supply service coverage for the most populous African country is 58 per cent while sanitation is 32 per cent.
A 2008 survey of household without access to improved drinking water conducted by the water resources ministry showed that between 20 per cent and 80 per cent of residents in all the country's 36 states lacked access to improved drinking water.
The situation has resulted in high mortality from water borne diseases across the country. In Nigeria today, diarrhoea is the second largest killer of children, causing as many as 17 per cent of the deaths of those under the age of five. This is largely as a result of unsafe water and poor hygiene.
Sambo said that government was determined to end the lack of access of Nigerians to safe and clean drinking through massive rehabilitation of dams across the country so as to achieve the target of achieving 75 per cent access to potable water for all Nigerians by 2015.
He was optimistic that Nigeria would be able to surpass the 2015 target by ensuring that all shortfall encountered by previous efforts to make potable water accessible to the teeming populace of the country were addressed.
The launch in 2011 was on the heels of a Federal Government announcement that it would require about 575 billion naira annually to meet its water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015.
That sum according to the former Minister of Water Resources, Obadiah Ando would be used to support infrastructural development that would open up access to more Nigerians to get clean and safe drinking water.
Ando said that the road map would assist Nigeria meet its water target and increase access to clean and safe water for more Nigerians by 2015.
Observers in the sector have attributed the pathetic water situation in Nigeria to the fact that it is treated as a social service, giving to Nigerians free-of-charge. So it has become very difficult to revive broken down boreholes as communities see such facilities as governments and would not stake their resources into its upkeep.
Dr Martin Eduvie, coordinator, rural water supply and sanitation centre at the Nigeria's National Water Resources Institute, Kaduna has said that imposition of a compulsory water levy on Nigerians was the only panacea to the country's efforts to increase the access of Nigerians to safe and clean water.
"We have bore holes in almost every community in this country to provide safe and clean water to Nigerians but there are not working, the only option to ensure these bore hole supply water to Nigerians is to introduce a levy system where everyone that benefits from the services of such facilities pay for services rendered," he said.
Eduvie said that the cost of maintaining water facilities, treating and purifying water to meet the daily needs of Nigerians was beyond what only government can undertake.
Reacting to recent statistics from Nigeria's ministry of water resources that more than 70 million Nigerians lacked access to safe drinking water, Eduvie said that the introduction of a levy would improve the situation.
But Adeyemi Fashola, a water engineer based in Lagos State said that the federal government of Nigeria is paying lip service to the water sector as it has failed to show real commitment to improving access to safe and clean water for majority of Nigerians.
"Water issues is not on federal government's priority list, interest is all about awarding contracts for water projects without supervising the contractors to ensure the contract are executed according to specifications," he said.
Fashola went further to say "If you go to the rural areas, broken down boreholes and failed water treatment facilities are everywhere and rather than concentrate on how to repair those facilities, government is only interested in awarding contracts for new ones."
WaterAid's acting country representative in Nigeria, Timeyin Uwejamomere, said, "Every year thousands of children die in Nigeria due to lack of adequate sanitation and clean water. This is the true cost we bear from the failure to ensure basic water and sanitation services. Government must increase the level of spending on water and sanitation, and donor governments increase the share of aid they spend on water and sanitation, so that we can work together to turn this situation around."
Recovering from scores of death across the country as a result of poisoned water sources, the government has come to the realization that water is a prerequisite for human health and well-being as well as for the preservation of the environment so efforts to make the tap run again should be intensified and not left alone for government.