interviewBy Alex Abutu
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources shows that Nigeria may miss the 2015 MDG target on water, but the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Reng Ochekpe in this interview assures that Nigeria may miss 2015 but will surpass the target on a long run considering various initiatives been implemented by the federal government, including the next weeks Presidential Summit on water hosted by President Goodluck Jonathan.
What informs the decision to hold the presidential summit on water?
You know that water is a very important resource that we all need; the survival of the whole world is dependent on water. So, when we came on board, we discovered that the water sector will need proper attention from the government. So President Goodluck Jonathan first initiated the water sector roadmap which was in early 2011 and when we came onboard later that year we were also requested to make some submission on the water sector. It is obvious that if we have to develop the water sector in a way that it will be at par with water sectors in other cities of the world, especially if we have to be able to attain the MDGs at all that we must think differently and we must approach the sector differently.
We eventually made submissions to the national economic management team on what we think will be the way forward, that given the huge challenge that we have in the water sector in terms of financing development of water resources in Nigeria there is the need for us to come out with a new approach, innovative ways of funding the water sector. And so we requested if the president will graciously accept to hold the presidential water summit and I believe that our submission was convincing enough. The president being passionate to ensure that the water sector is properly developed and that Nigerians have access to potable water for drinking and sufficient water to also use for other purposes like agriculture, industries, fisheries and things like that, he accepted to host the summit. The president himself will be hosting the summit we are not restricting it to a national discourse we have opened it to international communities. We have invited people from across the world who are global players in the water sector to come and share their experiences with us, their views and guide us on what has worked elsewhere and encourage us to see if we can adopt the same strategies to be able to turn around the water sector.
Talking about the private sector participation, you know we tried it in the power sector but it has not really worked. So how are you going to bring in the private sector and ensure that they make gain from it?
Well, let me correct the impression that involving the private sector in power sector has not worked. It's a work in progress and I believe that we will begin to reap the benefits very soon because the generating company and the distribution company have been put into market for privatization and this process has reached a very advanced stage with the bidding process already carried out. Very soon these companies will be handed over to the private sectors and with the effort that government is making we will begin to see the real impact of the involvement. There is no way we can operate without the private sector, I think over the years we have over burdened the government to doing so many things and that also has affected the effectiveness of service delivery especially in areas where services need to be provided. We believe that involving the private sector in the water sector will work, already if you look around you will see that many private people are already involved in the production of water, either packaged water or bottled water and Nigerian are buying it even the 'mai ruwas' can also be said to be in the water business and Nigerians are paying for it.
You already mentioned the water sector roadmap, what has happened to it's implementation?
We are building on the water roadmap, the Presidential Summit on Water is going to build on that, under the water sector roadmap which was presented to the public in 2001. We set for ourselves targets to increase the national water access from the existing 58 percent to about 75 percent. We have been working on that. Presently our water coverage is about 66 percent so we are on course with the water roadmap, and I believe that after this summit, we will have all the key stakeholders working together so that we can be able to achieve the 75 percent and even surpass it. We also set for ourselves the target to increase the national sanitation coverage from the existing 32 percent to about 65 percent coverage.
Presently we have attained about 40 percent and we also set for ourselves to increase the reservoir capacity from about 34 billion cubic litres to 35.5 billion cubic litres. Now a number of dams we are constructing are to impound water, many of them have attained an appreciable level of completion. You know that we have a major dam on the Benue River system which is the Kashim-Billa Dam, work on it has reached between 65 and 70 per cent completion and by the time we complete it, it will be impounding over 500 million cubic litres of water. There are other dams across the country that are at different levels of completion and that will also increased the volume of the capacity of the water storage.
Our river basins work is going on. We have set for ourselves under the road map to improve the capacity of the river basins to strengthen rural development. When you visit the twelve river basins you will see that we are making a lot of efforts to provide water supply to rural areas though motorized boreholes, solar boreholes, hand pump boreholes and they are helping in developing irrigation facility. We are helping in the construction of rural feeder roads to help the farmers to be able to evacuate their farm produce from the rural areas to the market. so I will say that the road map is on course, this water summit will build on the roadmap and not set the roadmap aside. We are only building on it.
Considering all these progress that you are making, is the country on track on the MDG targets?
Well, because other countries have met the MDGs target especially on drinking water , we will say that in Nigeria we are not on track as such. But we are making every effort to not only be on track but to also surpass the MDGs targets. Like I told you earlier our coverage now is 66 percent while the MDGs target is 70 percent so we are just short of about 9 percent to reach the MDGs target. But we want to surpass the MDGs target and so we are working hard to see that we meet the MDGs target and also surpass it.
The Vice President Namadi Sambo said recently that no Nigerian kid will trek long distances to fetch water before going to school, but we still see these things happening, how close are we to stopping this?
When we put all these efforts together am sure we will surely stop it. What the vice president said is the desire of government and it is that desire that is propelling us to do what we are doing and it's a process which I will say is progressing and we will certainly get to the point where Nigerian children will not have to trek long distances to go and fetch water. With the local government, the state and the federal government, the international development partners the private sectors all coming together to work and ensuring adequate provision of water supply to the Nigerian populace definitely we will reach that point were the Nigerian child will not have to walk long kilometers to get water they will just find water within their neighborhood and take it when they need to use it. That will also give them enough time and space to attend to their school needs and other activities that will help bring about development in the society.
What is your assessment of the flood that ravaged the country in 2012?
Well, the flood was much, and like we have said over and over again, the flood was as a result of climate change, and if you look round the world, flood was not limited to Nigeria. As a matter of fact as we speak there are other parts of the world that are still experiencing either flood or other extreme weather conditions. So the flood in 2012, yes was much, it was unprecedented, left everybody in a state of shock because of the magnitude.
What about the issue of the Cameroun dam. Have we been able to resolve the issue so that when they release the water this year we will not be caught unawares?
Let me say that Cameroun releases their water to some parts of Nigeria and those parts became flooded, however the flooding was also caused by excessive rain fall within the period and you know that Nigeria has to reverse to the Niger, Benue, the volume of water within the Benue was too much than the Niger system and then the Niger system itself has other dams that are effective in controlling dams but on the Benue system there are fewer dams or if you like you can say the Benue system is under dammed which also contributed to the massive flood that we experienced from that axes. We are in discussion with Cameroun already because the president have approved a special envoy to Cameroun.