Nigeria: Is Nigeria Ready to Leave No One Behind? World Water Day 2019

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Water is life

Imagine... 10-year-old Funke kicks up dust as she makes her way out of the door to the stream. You can barely see the dust because it is only 5am. Many other 10-year-olds are still safely tucked in bed, but not Funke; her morning chores include walking two kilometres to the stream to fetch water for her mother before school. Today, however, Funke doesn't have to walk for 2km. Just two days ago, her mum came home chatting excitedly with a neighbour about a new borehole that their Local Government Chairman has just commissioned, after the community raised a petition that they did not have clean water. Today Funke gets up and takes a bath with the clean water she fetched from the borehole yesterday. She finishes her bowl of ogi (pap) and akara (bean cake), washes the bowl, gives her mother a hug and rushes out to school. Today Funke is thinking about her maths exam. She really wants to pass, because in the future she wants to become a nurse. Today the last thing on her mind is fetching water.

Take a moment to imagine the many things we use clean water for and how access to potable water makes life easier and even possible. For over 63 million Nigerians however, this reality remains unattainable as they live without access to a clean source of drinking water.

This means that almost half of Nigeria's population does not have water that is accessible, available when needed and free from contamination. This means their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories struggle to have access to safe and clean water (and sanitation), Sustainable Development Goal 6. The situation is even worse in Northern Nigeria, where only 30% of the population has access to safe drinking water. This largely contributes to continuous outbreaks of infectious diseases in the country.

Lack of safe and clean water affects many groups of people, but the impact is felt mostly by women, children, refugees, and the disabled. The United Nations Children Fund estimates that more than 70,000 under-five children die annually in the country as a result of cholera, a disease that is caused by drinking contaminated drinking water.

Access to safe and clean drinking water is one of the 17 targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It aims to ensure the availability of clean and safe water for everyone by the year 2030 through sustainable investments and awareness creation.

Since its inception on the 22nd March 1993, UN World Water Day has been observed annually to highlight the importance of fresh water. It is a day that is set aside to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The theme for World Water Day 2019 is 'Leaving no one behind'. This will bring attention to the many reasons why so many people across the world do not have clean and safe drinking water.

Arguably, nowhere is this theme needed more than in Nigeria where many communities are left behind because of dire societal inequalities and other factors, such as environmental degradation, climate change, overcrowding and conflicts that displace communities. Though these challenges are not insurmountable, tackling them requires time and resources. Nigeria is party to the United Nations Declaration of the Right to Water, which entitles everyone living in Nigeria to sufficient, affordable, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses.

Governments at all levels must, therefore, improve interventions in the short and medium term towards the provision of clean water, especially in rural communities. Regulatory and legal frameworks must recognise the right to water for all people, and sufficient funding must be fairly and effectively targeted at those who need it most. States and local governments, in particular, must realise the enormous benefits of clean water for local communities and must channel the necessary resources to the area that need them the most. In this way, they will be killing two birds with one stone - improve their community's socioeconomic status as well as the wellbeing of their citizens.

Out of the mouths of 'babes'

We often do not realise how badly children are affected by a lack of access to clean water and ultimately good hygiene. This very vulnerable group is usually left behind by inequitable access to clean water. Just like Funke, many young children bear the brunt of supplying their homes with water that has to be carried over long distances and this affects their health, education and wellbeing.

At Nigeria Health Watch, we believe that no one, especially children, should be left behind in the drive to access clean water. So, in partnership with the T.Y Danjuma Foundation, WaterAid and EpiAFRIC, we organised an essay writing competition to commemorate World Water Day 2019 for students where they explained what impact good hygiene has on their community. From preventing infections to improving our GDP, these young minds made a compelling case for clean hands and good hygiene, none of which is possible without access to clean water.

Nigeria Health Watch and partners put together the essay competition to contribute to the UN's mission of "Leaving No One Behind", not even our students. The competition was for students in primary 4-6 and Junior Secondary within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Over 100 students sent in submissions on the essay theme: "Why Clean Hands Matter". The second objective of this competition was to encourage school-going children to wash their hands regularly. Destiny in Junior Secondary School, Jabi won the Junior Secondary category of the competition while Joel of Living Fountain International School won the primary 4-6 category. Big congratulations to them!!! Read their essays here.

As we commemorate World Water Day, it is our hope that all Nigerians will be like these children and advocate for access to clean water for everyone to enable proper hygiene.

Do you know of a community where clean water is not available? Let us know!

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