In the last 50 years or so, Nigeria's population has steadily been on the increase, a development which has become a huge concern to economic planners in the country. Our large population has brought about undue pressure on the available infrastructure across the country, many of which have been stretched to the very limit. The situation is worsened by the fact that no significant attempt was made in the past to either provide new basic infrastructure or upgrade existing ones, leaving many people wondering when the situation would ever improve.
Truth is that almost all the sectors of the economy are literally begging for urgent intervention to lift the situation and enhance the people's lives. One critical sector, however, which appeared to be very seriously affected by the rapidly increasing population is water. The development of infrastructure in this key sector has become not only inevitable, but also compelling due to rapid urbanisation and the quest for decent living, in addition to high population growth. As a country, we have had severe water and infrastructure crisis over the years which had taken its toll on the populace, resulting in avoidable deaths and debilitating illnesses.
Not surprising therefore, at a meeting not long ago with the Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Ryuichi Shoji, during the signing of agreement for a N2.42billion grant to increase water supply coverage in five states of the federation, namely are Kebbi, Niger, Taraba, Ondo and Enugu, the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Ochekpe lamented the sorry state. She expressed disappointment that about 70 million Nigerians lacked access to potable water, meaning that only about 87 million people have access to it. In the rural areas, only 42 per cent have access to potable water supply. Many children die of diseases associated with water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea and river blindness. "This is unacceptable to the current administration", she declared. But what is the government doing about it?
The permanent secretary of the same ministry, Dr. Godknows Igali painted an even sorrier picture of the situation at the 11th session of Development Partners Coordination Meeting held in Abuja recently, when he expressed regret that Nigeria ranks third on the list of countries with inadequate water supply and sanitation coverage globally, describing the situation as heart-breaking.
In the 1960s, 70s and even early 80s, the two key tiers of government were able to provide treated drinking water to the people. They realised that water is the most basic of human needs. Unfortunately, all that changed with time, no thanks to rapid population growth, corruption, poor planning and insensitivity of the succeeding crop of leaders.
The relevance of water to national development cannot be over-emphasised.
Ochekpe's vow is anchored on the government's water sector reform agenda, itself a prominent sector in President Goodluck Jonathan's national transformation agenda, and is geared towards increasing national water supply access from 58 per cent to 75 per cent, national sanitation access, available reservoir capacity, total irrigable land, drained farmland, job creation as well as enhancing rural development programmes in agriculture.
In pursuing that objective, the 2.5 billion naira Northern Ishan water supply project in Edo State, has been completed with a capacity for nine million litres per day. There is also the 1 billion naira Mangu water treatment plant in Plateau State, with a capacity for 10 million litres per day, and the 2.2 billion naira greater Makurdi water supply scheme, executed in collaboration with Benue State government, with a capacity for 50 million litres per day, among many others. There are such other projects in Rivers State (N830 million), Edo (N966 million), Taraba (N263 million), Bayelsa (N4. 7 billion), Borno (N8.5 billion) and Sokoto (N40 million).
The dams and reservoir department of the ministry has constructed and rehabilitated some 33 major dams and 28 earth dams scattered across the country. As part of ongoing efforts to increase energy supply to meet the country's needs, the integration of small hydropower schemes into some dam projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Power has already begun.
Some of the dams are Gurara, Oyan, Ikere Gorge, Bakolori, Dadin Kowa, Tiga, Kiri, Jibiya, Challawa Gorge, Owena, Doma, Waya, Mgowo, Zobe, Kampe, Kashimbilla, Ogwashiku, Zungeru and Mambilla.
Solving Nigeria's long-standing water challenge, will therefore political will at the top level of government, because water is critical to people and the environment. That political will means ramping up funding to the sector far beyond current levels.
Nwankwere wrote from Abuja