The Punch of May 10, 2007 screamed, " Nigeria gets standard for drinking water." The Minister for Health who received the Nigerian Standard for Drinking Water Quality from the Standards Organization of Nigeria1 noted that the document is part of the ÔÇśmeasures to provide safe drinking water' to Nigerians. The question is how would the government implement a uniform drinking water standard in a society where the majority of the population depends on contaminated rainwater, pond water, and water from streams/rivers for domestic use?

Successive governments in Nigeria have abdicated their responsibilities to the citizens by not investing enough resources to the provision of safe and good quality water (pipe borne water) to the population for domestic and industrial use. After waiting in vain for the government, many communities (both urban and rural) have embarked on self-help projects in building small-scale water infrastructures. But because water infrastructures are capital intensive many of the poor communities do not have the resources to construct durable infrastructure, thus making water availability to the localities unreliable. Sadly, thousands of Nigerians who depend on dirty and contaminated water for domestic use die every year from water borne diseases.

This writer is not against the government setting up drinking water standard but frowns at the failure of its to expand access to clean water and sanitation and basic social amenities to the people. There are many communities in the society where water supply is in short supply and the people experience serious water scarcity. But the authorities who are not affected by this do not seem to care!

Is Nigeria facing water crisis? Water experts have partly defined "water crisis" as, ÔÇślack of access to safe and affordable water and sanitation.' The cause of water scarcity could be economic (inability to meet demand because resources are not available or have not been developed); institutional (failure of institutions to allocate available water); or physical scarcity (shortage of water to meet demands).2 As Frank Rijsberman3 has rightly noted ÔÇśwater crisis' in societies "is a crisis of governance and management" because this condition occurs mostly in a society where the government is corrupt and dysfunctional.

History shows that water resources development and basic water service has generally been handled by governments. And because a certain amount of water for drinking and domestic use water is considered a basic need and as a human right.4Thus, governments are required to make basic water available to the citizens; also investment in water development requires large financial resources, which are often beyond the reach of private individuals and poor communities. Since the government has failed to perform its duties many communities and private individuals in Nigeria have taken up the task of providing water service (and other public goods such as roads and power supply) that the government has abounded.

In some communities wastewater and human waste are discharged into local rivers and streams and the poor that depends on these sources for domestic use often lack the funds to build wastewater treatment plants and modern water distribution infrastructures. And in some cases the polluted rivers that are their only sources of water could dry up because of community development projects. Under this condition only those with financial wherewithal could afford to buy some few buckets or jerry-cans of water daily from private water vendors that haul water in rusty tanks that contaminate the water.

As the nation's population grows (currently, over 140 Million) demand for water and other resources will also increase. What is the government doing to meet the challenges? Of what use is a government that cannot provide basic services to the citizens?

Water is an essential input to achieve some desired outcomes, including health and income; water affects sanitation and hygiene because lack of access to water leads to unhygienic behavior.5And a society will starve without food because of water scarcity for agriculture. However, water for domestic use should be of higher quality. Because of inadequate provision of clean water and sanitation services, many people (mostly the poor) in Nigeria (and other developing nations) are suffering from some form of water related diseases, including diarrhea, cholera, guinea warm, hookworm, and typhoid fever. To worsen the situation, the poor lack access to good health services to tackle these ailments, while the corrupt and powerful politicians could "jet out" of the country to obtain good medical treatment whenever they need one.

To expand access to clean water supply the government to invest copiously on rural and urban water scheme; and this should be part of the NEEDS and poverty alleviation programs. Lack of access to clean water for domestic use, for farming and other productive purposes, is one of the causes of poverty in the rural communities. It is also among the factors that discourage local and foreign investors. Ensuring access to low cost water supply (improving access to clean water or making access more secure) will improve the people's welfare; increase their productivity and the wealth of the nation, because a healthy society is a wealthy nation, ceteris paribus.

Implementing a uniform standard for drinking water in Nigeria where the people lack access to clean and affordable water will be a Herculean task. The government should do the first thing first. Thus, expanding access to safe and affordable water for domestic and productive purposes should take precedence over the establishment a uniform drinking water standard for a people whose major sources of water supply for domestic use are rainwater and river/stream water, pond water and that hauled in contaminated water tanks by private water vendors.

Water supply and sanitation problems cannot be divorced from other challenges facing Nigeria . The political leaders should be alive to their responsibilities by ensuring that the citizens have access to safe and affordable water and other basic services such as good quality education, health care services, electricity supply, etc. The policymakers should stop wasting the taxpayer's money in making policies that are impossible to implement.




Notes and References


1. The Punch (May 10, 2007); " Nigeria gets Standard for Drinking Water".

2. International Water Management Institute Working Paper (1999) 

3. Frank Rijsberman (2004). Sanitation and Access to Clean Water; In Bjorn Lomborg (2004 editor) Global Crises, Global Solutions, Cambridge University Press 

4. United nation Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (November 2002) 

5. United Nations World Water Development Report (2003) 



Victor E. Dike, CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development, in Sacramento , California .



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