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In the shadow of Climate Change: The need to focus on better water quality in Nigeria

Editor’s Note: For World Water Day, celebrated annually on March 22nd, Nigeria Health Watch Events Manager Thelma Thomas writes this Thought Leadership Piece exploring the critical importance water plays in improving community health and the impact that climate change has on access to water. She outlines steps Nigeria must take if it is to attain SDG 6 by 2030.
 
You probably do not get through the first five days of your life without using water in some way.

Water is one of our most essential human needs. It enables people to practice both personal and environmental hygiene. It is needed for drinking, washing, cleaning, bathing, and cooking, including of course, the popular Nigerian Jollof rice.

As important as water is, many Nigerians face a constant struggle to find clean water for their daily activities. Travelling by road across many Nigerian cities, towns and villages, it is a common sight to see men, women and children trekking for miles in search of water.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Water Aid Nigeria estimates that 55 million Nigerians, or one in every 3 Nigerians, do not have access to clean water. This year’s World Water Day Theme is “Water and Climate Change.” It explores how climate change is affecting water supply and access, and how adapting to the water effects of climate change will protect health and save lives.

Using water more efficiently will reduce greenhouse gases. In Nigeria, climate change is a growing conversation topic that still needs to be brought to the fore. One of the impacts of climate change on human life include the escalation of conflicts as a result of scarcity of water and shrinking arable land for farming. Conflicts result in the destruction of lives and properties and push communities further into poverty. Given Nigeria’s recent experience with these, addressing these causes of conflict is essential. 

Climate change also has an impact on the availability and quality of the water that Nigerians use. Communities with low rainfall, such as many in Zamfara, Borno, and other states in Northern Nigeria, are faced with drought, resulting in difficulties finding water, in farming, and raising livestock. Flooding, on the other hand, has displaced many people and destroyed the farmlands of some communities in Bayelsa and Kogi states.

Young boys swimming in Jiwa River. Children sometimes are brought to the primary health centre peeing blood. Photo credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Floods can increase human exposure to disease causing organisms, as waste and contaminated water is spread widely, resulting in health problems for many communities, especially where boreholes and tap water are unavailable.

Cholera outbreaks are common in states like Kano, Edo and Niger, while river blindness is common in Imo state and schistosomiasis in Ogun and Ekiti states. All these issues are water borne or water related diseases, linked to unclean, unsafe water.

The increased disease burden from these conditions, in adults and children lowers life expectancy and creates financial hardship for the poorest communities.

In dire need of water: The Jiwa example
Jiwa, a suburb in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), currently faces a crucial water shortage. The community has two boreholes and a river as their only sources of water. Hajiya Salamatu Rogo, a community volunteer, said most families buy water from the borehole to cook, to wash their dishes and to drink, while water from the river is used mainly for washing of dirty clothes.

Equity in water distribution will increase hygienic practices. Photo credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The river is a 10-minute walk from Salamatu’s house. The road to the river is littered with dirt and open drainage channels where open defecation is practiced. A huge refuse dump sits comfortably on a slope towards the river bank. The river water is clearly not safe for human consumption.

Hajiya Salamatu said poverty is the major reason why people still use the water from the river for their chores, as most families are not able to buy water for washing. The lack of access to clean potable water has led community members in Jiwa to compromise by using the unclean water from the river to wash clothes and sometimes bathe. These are unhygienic practices that can result in illnesses. Salamatu, who also volunteers at the primary health centre in Jiwa, pointed out that sometimes children are brought in to the PHC because there is blood in their urine, usually an indicator of schistosomiasis, or bilhariza, a result of swimming in the river.

Salamatu said the lack of water is both a health and a financial burden to the community and appealed to the government to provide clean water to the people of Jiwa.

In dire need of water: The Jiwa Story

Meeting SDG 6: Water and Sanitation for All
Providing clean water for the residents of Jiwa, and the many other communities around Nigeria facing the same challenges, will increase the number of people with access to basic drinking water, which is one of the targets under Sustainable Development Goal 6; To ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Nigeria’s increasing population and development means that there is a growing demand for water. As a result, more efficient use and management of water are critical to addressing this demand, to mitigate threats to water security and the increasing frequency and severity of droughts and floods resulting from climate change.

A water vendor (mai ruwa) in Jiwa. Photo credit: Nigeria Health Watch

To ensure that Jiwa and other communities in Nigeria have access to clean water and are protected from the effects of climate change, Nigeria must take critical steps:

  1. The governments at all levels- federal, state and local government- must prioritise access to safe water for their rural and suburban communities to increase the population of Nigerians using safely managed drinking water services.
  2. Community members must take ownership and responsibility for keeping their environment clean and stop the indiscriminate dumping of refuse around bodies of water. One way of achieving this is by mandating local government agencies to develop and implement community water and sanitation management policies.
  3. The 9th Assembly committee chairs on Water Resources, Sen. Bello Maniya and Hon. Sada Soli, in concert with the executive should put in laws making it compulsory for every business environment to have adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, thereby, expanding access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services along the supply chain — for workers, consumers and operations.
  4. Corporate organisations such as banks, communications, construction companies and many others, should be encouraged by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to include provision of WASH services to communities in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects.
  5. The leadership of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and it’s parastatals should ensure improved quality of water through continuous waste-water treatment. They should also implement measures to reduce pollution, eliminate dumping and minimize the release of hazardous chemicals and materials. Recycling should also be encouraged.
It’s important for Nigeria to pay attention to the provision of water for rural and suburban communities. Photo credit: Nigeria Health Watch

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark World Water Day 2020, the provision and management of water and the drive to mitigate the effects of climate change on access to water should be our focus, to ensure that our communities live healthy and prosperous lives.
 
Do you know of any interesting projects providing access to clean water or mitigating climate change in Nigeria? Would you be willing to lead your community for the next one year to deliver any of the recommendations? Let us know on social media, at @nighealthwatch on Twitter and @nigeriahealthwatch on Facebook and Instagram!

The 2020 UN World Water Day is on Sunday, 22 March 2020. In line with the 2020 theme, ‘Water and Climate Change’, Nigeria Health Watch in partnership with Water Aid and EpiAfric has embarked on a campaign to primary and junior secondary schools to engage tomorrow’s leaders in the global campaign for better access to water and action for climate change. Our goal is to get the students active and aware of the issues around climate change, water insecurity and poor access to water for many. 

Never before has the importance of water been highlighted more than now with handwashing emphasised as the singular most important intervention to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Yet, many families, children and local communities do not have access to clean water. 

So, all students from primary and junior secondary schools in Abuja are encouraged to write letters to their leaders asking for action now! These letters will be presented to the Ministry of Water Resources and students and teachers with winning letters will be presented with gifts and certificates.

More details in the poster below.

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