Nigeria: Amidst Coronavirus Crisis, Millions of Nigerians Lack Access to Potable Water

Access to potable water worsens Coronavirus crisis for millions of Nigerians.

In the wake of the increasing cases of Coronavirus in Nigeria, the federal government has announced a series of measures to restrict population movement in the country and limit the spread of the virus.

Some of these measures are the ban of travellers from high-risk countries of Covid-19 and also the closing down of schools nationwide. As of Monday afternoon, Nigeria has recorded 36 cases of COVID-19 and one death. However, the most widely recommended ways to prevent one from contracting the virus are good hygiene, frequent hand washing, and social distancing.

But for many Nigerians who lack access to potable water supply, such preventive measures will be difficult to implement.

Lack of access to water

Zuwaira Selah, a resident of Gwalada, travels about 10 kilometres every day to get water for her household use. One will think she goes that far to access clean water but, unfortunately, the only source of water in the community is a stream that also serves as a defecation spot.

"Our only source of water is the stream you see over there," Mrs Selah told this reporter in Hausa.Gwalada, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, lies inward after Zuba, along the Abuja-Lokoja expressway. The community is about 65km from the centre of Abuja.

The road that leads to the community is in a bad state as the reporter continually avoided potholes that litter the road. The stench from the stream that Mrs Selah was talking about is the first welcome a visitor to Gwagwalada community receives.The water of the stream is greenish as fresh and dried defecations surrounds the stream. Unfortunately, Gwalada is only one of the numerous communities that lack access to potable water supply in Nigeria.


Access to safe drinking water, safely managed sanitation, and proper hygiene (WASH) services are considered as basic human rights.

However, the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), indicates that 69 million Nigerians do not have access to safe water and 19 million have to walk long distances to get unsafe water from lakes, streams, and rivers.

A report of the Joint Monitoring Programme of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled "Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2000-2017" shows that one in three people globally do not have access to clean drinking water. The report states that three billion people around the world lack basic handwashing facilities

"In 2017, 60 per cent of the global population (4.5 billion) had a basic handwashing facility with soap and water available at home. "Another 22 per cent (1.6 billion) had handwashing facilities which lacked water or soap at the time of the survey, and 18 per cent (1.4 billion) had no handwashing facility at all, "the report shows.


The statistics above show that preventive measures of handwashing may be unrealistic in Nigeria.

Even though Nigerians are willing to practice good hygiene by properly washing their hands, lack of access to clean water may defeat the intention for many.

A group, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, said the urgency of checking the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the importance of hand-washing to the fore, and places availability of clean and potable water at the centre of the campaign to check the virus' spread.

"We are being told to wash our hands with water and soap when the taps in our communities are all dry," Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director, ERA/FoEN said in a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Monday. "Most of our communities lack water for consumption and for basic hygiene and this makes checking public health emergencies much more difficult," it said.

Based on World Bank estimates, Nigeria will be required to triple its budget or at least allocate 1.7 per cent of the current Gross Domestic Product to WASH. In recognition of the importance of water to human development, March 22nd every year is set aside as World Water Day. The theme for 2020 is "Water and Climate Change.

Other Consequences

Inadequate potable water supply in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five. Without these basic needs, the lives of millions of these children are at risk. For children under five, water- and sanitation-related diseases are one of the leading causes of death.

Every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by poor water, and a lack of sanitation and hygiene, according to UNICEF.

A call to Action

Mr Oluwafemi said this year's World Water Day is a wake-up call for governments at all levels. "As Nigeria's Covid-19 confirmed cases continue to grow, this year's World Water Day is a wakeup call to government at all levels paying lip-service to the water sector to work the talk.

"It is unfortunate that a city like Lagos which has a population of nearly 21 million people, rather than making substantial investment in the water sector, is eyeing the failed Public Private Partnership (PPP) model promoted by the World Bank. "PPP model will further worsen the water crisis in Lagos as that infamous path can only lead us to situations like the Flint and Pittsburgh water crisis in the US and water shortages that will make local communities vulnerable to the COVID-19 and other illnesses, " he said.

He urged government at all levels in the country to declare emergency in the water sector given the significance of water in checking public health emergencies like the ravaging Covid-19.

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