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‘Water, water everywhere, not any drop to drink’

A girl fetching water from open hole dug in the sand of dry riverbed                          PHOTO:WIKIPEDIA

A girl fetching water from open hole dug in the sand of dry riverbed PHOTO:WIKIPEDIA

World Water Day is celebrated every March 22 to remind the humanity of the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of it. CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM reports that Nigeria remains one the countries where access to water and good sanitation is still limited.

That the Federal Government is lagging behind in the provision of water and sanitation to its teeming population appears evident in the latest report released by WaterAid, which named Nigeria as one of a handful of countries around the world where access to basic sanitation is falling rather than rising.

Despite all the campaigns and huge resources spent in the quest to provide adequate water for the people, different tiers of government seem to pay lip service to the access to better sanitation and access to water. For instance, the Sub-Saharan Africa ranks lowest in the world for access to improved drinking water and sanitation. This is linked to the region’s under-five mortality rate, which is one of the highest in the world.

Statistics show that only 29 percent of the Nigerian population has access to basic sanitation while 25 per cent practice open defecation and 31 per cent lack access to improved water sources. Around 68,000 children under the age of five in Nigeria die from diseases caused by the nation’s poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

This year’s global theme for World Water Day ‘Water and Jobs’ highlights how enough quantity and quality of water can change lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies. A lack of access to safe water has numerous impacts on work and productivity in many ways.

Almost half of the world’s workers—1.5 billion people—work in water-related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet financing and managing key jobs in the sector is a real struggle that makes it hard for countries to maintain water and sanitation systems, and secure the urgent progress required on Goal 6: universal access to clean and safe water and sanitation by 2030.

The World Water Day is an international observance and dates back to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development where an international observance for water was recommended. The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating March 22, 1993 as the first World Water Day.

It has been held annually since then. Each year, UN-Water — the entity that coordinates the UN’s work on water and sanitation — sets a theme for World Water Day corresponding to a current or future challenge.

In his message this year, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern about the gaps between cities and the countryside, men and women, and rich and poor.  “The basic provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services at home, at school and in the workplace enables a robust economy by contributing to a healthy and productive population and workforce.

“Water as a sector generally does not receive the attention it deserves.  Water is central to human survival, the environment and the economy.  All workers can be harmed by poor water and sanitation. Of two million work-related deaths every year, nearly one-in-five are caused by poor quality of drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.”

He urged government to reaffirm their commitment to improve the quality, management and protection of water resources as part of our historic campaign to achieve a life of dignity for all people.

A new report launched by WaterAid to mark this year’s Water Day, ‘Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water’, reveals how the world’s poorest often pay far more of their income for water than those in the developed world.

The basic provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene services at home, at school and in the workplace enables a robust economy by contributing to a healthy and productive population and workforce.

However in many developing countries like Nigeria, people reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply could spend as much as 45per cent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In some of the world’s poorest countries, families relying on black-market vendors could spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidised tap stands.

The document, which is WaterAid’s first ever ‘State of the World’s Water’ report offers a snapshot of access to water around the world in 2016. It also ranks nations based on rates of household access to water and on highest populations without access to water, and includes a list of the countries, which have improved most in the last 15 years.

While Nigeria features 17 in the list of the top 20 most improved countries for water access over the past 15 years, the African giant is also one of the worst in the world for household water access and features third in the world on a list of the top ten countries with the greatest numbers of people living without access to safe water.

“This highlights just how much overall progress can mask the stark inequality that still exists in much of the developing world because even though much progress has been made in reaching a huge population of the world with improved sources of drinking water, tens of millions of people are still unserved with their basic human right to safe water, even in countries that have made the most impressive progress,” the report notes.

For WaterAid Nigeria Country Representative, Dr. Michael Ojo “ It is shocking to realise that a life essential such as water can cost a poor person in the developing world as much as half of their income, for an amount that is about one-third of average daily use in the developed world.

“Clean drinking water is a right yet an estimated 31per cent of people in Nigeria is still living without access to clean water. Increased competition for water resources and climate change are only exacerbating the crisis, which along with lack of sanitation is responsible for the deaths of more than 68,000 children under five each year in the country.

“On World Water Day, we call upon our government and leaders around the world to take urgent action towards keeping the promises made in the UN Global Goals on Sustainable Development, and ensure everyone is able to realise their right to access to clean water by 2030.”

Again, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned that Nigeria and other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia are most vulnerable to water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea as nearly 160 million children under five years old globally who live in areas at high risk of drought. Around half a billion live in flood zones.

“When water becomes scarce during droughts, populations resort to unsafe surface water. At the other end of the scale, floods damage water and sewage treatment facilities, and spread faeces around, very often leading to an increase in water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

“Higher temperatures brought on by climate change are also set to increase the incidence of water-linked diseases like malaria, dengue – and now Zika – as mosquito populations rise and their geographic reach expands,” according to Sanjay Wijeserkera, head of Unicef’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

One of the principal contributors to faecal contamination of water is poor sanitation. Globally 2.4 billion people lack proper toilets and just fewer than 1 billion of them defecate in the open. This means faeces can be so pervasive in many countries and communities that even some improved water sources become contaminated.

UNICEF said the push to bring safe water to millions around the world is going to be even more challenging due to climate change, which threatens both water supply and water safety for millions of children living in drought- or flood-prone areas.

In 2015 at the end of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era, all but 663 million people around the world had drinking water from improved sources – which are supposed to separate water from contact with excreta. However, data from newly available testing technology show that an estimated 1.8 billion people may be drinking water contaminated by e-coli – meaning there is faecal material in their water, even from some improved sources.

“Now that we can test water more cheaply and efficiently than we were able to do when the MDGs were set, we are coming to terms with the magnitude of the challenge facing the world when it comes to clean water,” said Sanjay Wijeserkera, head of Unicef’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“With the new Sustainable Development Goals calling for ‘safe’ water for everyone, we’re not starting from where the MDGs left off; it is a whole new ball game, ” Wijeserkera said.



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