WaterAid is an international organisation whose mission is to transform the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people by improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
The NGO has worked for several years in Nigeria and recently submitted evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in the UK on the country’s development programme in Nigeria. WaterAid’s case on the critical nature of access to clean water to development is quite compelling, part of which is reproduced below.
Without addressing the factors that prevent the poorest from accessing opportunities, inequality will invariably increase. In the context of inequality, the opportunity to benefit from improvements in the economic context or to become an entrepreneur is often defined by the fundamentals of human development. Our work has shown that water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) plays a critical role in this.
Lack of access to water and sanitation disproportionately holds back the poorest, the marginalised, and women and girls from fulfilling their potential and taking equal part in the country’s development, impacting on all areas of their lives. The Global Goals recognise this interdependence, with targets not just for income, but for access to basic services in target 1.4; people living without access to basic water and sanitation services cannot be considered free from poverty. In Nigeria, progress on access to WASH is particularly important. Despite Nigeria’s status as a middle income country, the percentage of the population with access to sanitation is decreasing significantly year on year (WASHWATCH.ORG). This is because population growth is increasing more rapidly than increasing access to sanitation
The links between WASH and the health and nutrition of people are significant and are an example of intersecting inequalities.
In Nigeria, over 57.7 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. Over 130 million do not have not have access to adequate sanitation, nearly three quarters of the population. Only 28.6% of people have access to safe sanitation (WASHWATCH.ORG)
In Nigeria, over 76,938 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation (WASHWATCH.ORG). Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death in children under five in Nigeria, accounting for 10% of all deaths in this age group (A Promised Renewed Report, UNICEF, 2015).
A history of political unrest, poor governance and corruption has led to decades of water shortages, while the population has increased rapidly. Though there is surface and groundwater, rapid population growth, particularly in urban areas, has not been supported with additional resources.
Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is essential to making progress towards a multitude of development areas in Nigeria. Poor sanitation costs Nigeria 455 billion Naira each year, equivalent to US$3 billion, according to a desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP). This sum is the equivalent of US$20 per person in Nigeria per year or 1.3% of the national GDP. Clean water and sanitation both directly and indirectly impact the economic climate in communities, and are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Reducing malnutrition and stunting is essential to achieving equality of opportunity and improved health outcomes, helping to break an intergenerational cycle of poverty. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of stunting in the world, with a prevalence of 33% among children under the age of five (Global Nutrition Report, 2015). Stunting is an irreversible, cyclical process which creates an intergenerational cycle of poverty and reduced human capital. This is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, reduced physical, neurodevelopmental and economic capacity and an elevated risk of metabolic disease into adulthood. The World Health Organisation estimates that 50% of undernutrition is associated with infections caused by a lack of WASH. Poor WASH contributes to undernutrition through three direct pathways, including diarrhoeal diseases, intestinal worms and Environmental Enteric Dysfunction. Access to improved WASH is therefore an essential component in reducing malnutrition, particularly the high rates of stunting, in Nigeria.