The declaration of emergency on water and sanitation is in order
That no fewer than 46 million Nigerians use the open fields, bushes and bodies of water as convenience is bad enough. What is worse is that even in supposedly modern cities like the federal capital territory, Abuja, it is now becoming increasingly common to see people defecating in the open. That reality was underscored recently by President Muhammadu Buhari while declaring a state of emergency on water supply, sanitation and hygiene in the country. "Access to piped water services which was 32 per cent in 1990 has declined to 7 per cent in 2015; access to improved sanitation has also decreased from 38 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2015. Our country now ranks number two in the global rating on open defecation as about 25 per cent of our population are practicing open defecation," the president said.
However, it is our hope that this is not another cynical measure to create an impression of doing something while the problem persists. We recall that in January 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan launched a similar water road map by announcing some "quick measures to accelerate water coverage". He also released intervention funds for some projects: drilling of motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts of the country, rehabilitation of 1000 hand pump boreholes in 18 states and installation of some special treatment plants, and completing all abandoned water projects. Sadly, there were no results to justify the expenditure.
Given acute water scarcity, it is therefore no surprise that sanitation is a major challenge in the country. The evidence is everywhere. The country is one huge field, where people defecate, without shame, and without putting into consideration the impact of their action on the health of others. In many rural communities, people still build houses without provision for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines where waste can be emptied without others coming in contact with it. In the urban centres, the issue is pervasive.
In many of our so-called modern cities, many people use the outdoors as bathrooms and toilets. Many walkways and nearby bushes reek of urine and decaying faecal matters. Some of university communities also spread intense odour as many students, in the absence of clean toilets in the hostels, use any available space as convenience. And experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it's extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it's entered the food or water supplies or because it has been spread by flies and dust.
In a recent report entitled "High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy", the World Bank said: "Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to six per cent of their GDP, spur migration and spark conflict." The report claimed that climate-driven water scarcity could hit economic growth by up to six per cent in some regions and that the combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes and expanding cities would see demand for water rising exponentially, "while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain."
What makes the report even more compelling for the Nigerian authorities is that it contains a serious warning that acute water shortage could deepen the clash between farmers and herdsmen in Nigeria. "Food price spikes caused by droughts can inflame latent conflicts and drive migration. Where economic growth is impacted by rainfall, episodes of droughts and floods have generated waves of migration and spikes in violence within countries," it said.
We therefore agree with President Buhari that the declaration of emergency on water and sanitation has become imperative to reduce the high-prevalence of water-borne diseases in different parts of the country, which has caused preventable deaths. But it should not end there.