Sulaiman Adamu, the Minister for Water Resources, has delivered a damning assessment of Nigeria’s pretensions to being a “developing” nation. Addressing a House of Representatives Committee yesterday, Adamu said that only 7% of the country’s population had access to potable water.
This figure represents a steep decline from the 30% that had access to running water in 1992, according to the minister. So instead of making progress on an essential human requirement such as clean water, Nigeria is regressing. The country is one of the few on earth with declining rates for water supply.
Unicef states that: “Clean water, basic toilets and the practice of good hygiene are essential for human survival, and the foundation upon which development begins. Improving access to these basic needs has a positive impact on the growth and development of children and communities around the world”.
But successive governments, at federal, state and local levels, continue to ignore this essential need. By doing so, they are putting Nigerian lives, especially children at risk. According to Unicef: “Diseases related to water and sanitation are one of the major causes of death in children under five. Without access to clean water and basic toilets, and without good hygiene practices, a child’s survival, growth and development are at risk.
“Over 800 children under age five die every day from preventable diarrhoea-related diseases caused by lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Undernutrition is associated with repeated diarrhoea or intestinal worm infections as a direct result of inadequate WASH conditions. A vicious cycle exists between diarrhoea and undernutrition, especially for children.
“Children with diarrhoea eat less and are less able to absorb nutrients from their food; in turn, malnourishment makes them more susceptible to diarrhoea when exposed to human waste. Poor sanitation and hygiene have also been linked to stunting, which causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage. In 2014, 159 million children under five were stunted:that’s 1 in 4 children worldwide.
“Millions of other children are made sick, weakened or are disabled by other water- and sanitation-related diseases and infections including cholera, malaria, trachoma, schistosomiasis, worm infestations and guinea worm disease”.
Minister Adamu called for the poor access to potable water in Nigeria to be treated as an emergency. He is right. But, in all likelihood, his appeal will fall on deaf ears, both within his government and beyond. And Nigerians will continue to die from waterborne diseases.
The World Health Organisation claims that every $1 invested in water and sanitation yields an economic return of $3 to $34. If Nigeria is serious about economic growth and development, it should start taking the necessary steps to halt the decline in potable water coverage.