Nigeria: Controversy over safe drinking water in local communities

How much of portable water is available to an average Nigerian today? The answer may depend on respondent.While the Federal Government may have scored self high in meeting 70 per cent water needs in the country, environmental rights activists said the claim berates severe thirst in several communities.
Wole Oyebade
Published: 6 years, 8 months ago (11/13/2014)
Updated: 2 years, 7 months ago (12/21/2018)

As government officials and environmental rights activists bicker over true state of potable water in local communities, a U-Report poll felt the pulse of residents in these areas and the findings were revealing. WOLE OYEBADE reports.

The amount of portable water available to a human being, household and community at large may as well determine their health, well being and survival.

A human being may survive days without food, cloth and shelter. But not without drinking water. To function properly, an average human being requires between one and seven litres of water per day to avoid dehydration; the precise amount depends on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors.

But how much of portable water is available to an average Nigerian today? The answer may depend on respondent.

While the Federal Government may have scored self high in meeting 70 per cent water needs in the country, environmental rights activists said the claim berates severe thirst in several communities.

A recent poll conducted by U-Report, a social engagement platform, however, takes the question to communities – asking residents their main source of water. Their findings, which were part of the U-Report’s recent polls showcased last week in Sokoto, revealed that the main source of water supply in some communities is not public utility.

About 30 per cent of participant in the nationwide poll said they depend on sachet water as their source of drinking water. No fewer than 22 per cent said they rely on tap-water; nine per cent on boreholes; four per cent on public tap; another four per cent on bottled water while two per cent source their water from rivers, lakes, and lagoons.

The Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Ochekpe, had in a report said about 70 per cent Nigerians have access to portable and safe water for drinking and domestic use.

Speaking at the sidelines of 24th World Water Week, themed: “Water and Energy” in Stockholm, Sweden, Ochekpe hinted that seven out of every 10 Nigerians already have access to water 24 hours daily and seven days a week.

The report means that Nigeria has at least achieved the Millennium Development Goal –seven, which among others, plans to half the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

The minister also said Nigeria was working towards 100 per cent access by Nigerians.

Environmental rights activists were quick to discredit the statement, citing that it was not the true reflection of state-of-affairs in the communities, as also underscored by the U-Report.

The rights activists, under the aegis of Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), said the “spurious claims” contradict ground evidence, “which shows that figures are merely peddled while majority of Nigerians actually lack safe and potable water.”

Executive Director ERA/FoEN, Dr. Godwin Ojo said the activists were disturbed at the minister’s claims, especially at a time industrial pollution and other careless practices continue to harm the environment and water.

He noted that water pollution was rife in the entire Niger Delta, as could be noticed in communities like Ogoni in Rivers State, adding, “where benzene and other carcinogens have made their waters totally unusable, potable and clean water remains elusive.”

In his words:It is so worrisome that huge votes allocated to the Ministry of Water Resources yearly and a host of water projects across the country that have gulped billions of naira have not translated to taps gushing with water. Rather than make unverifiable claims, government should be telling us why they are now veering into the privatisation of water to further deny Nigerians their fundamental human rights to water, he said.

Ojo added that it was regrettable that at a time other nations had made significant progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),Nigeria is still entangled in policy somersaults and privatisation of water in partnership with the World Bank and other institutions that put money into projects that are billed to fail.

The MDG-seven, among other targets, is to ensure that 75 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water and meet the sanitation needs of 69 per cent of the population respectively by 2015.

A recent joint progress report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), however, indicated that Nigeria is among countries leading from behind with more than 63 million Nigerians still lacking access to safe and clean water.

National Coordinator, U-Report Nigeria, Anthonia Archie-Alogaga, at the two-day media dialogue on U-Report data held in Sokoto, noted that 62, 401 responses were recorded out of 63, 000 registered U-Reporters. About 41 per cent of respondents were not sure about the safety of their water, while 38 per cent would not be bothered about water safety. About 45 per cent of respondents say their water is safe while 14 per cent said theirs is not safe. When respondents were asked what they did to ensure water safety, the result showed that 38 per cent did nothing about it, 29 per cent boiled their water, 15 per cent used water guard, eight per cent used chlorine while two per cent used other methods. The poll also asked respondents whether a family member have had diarrhea in the past on week after drinking water of which five per cent agreed, 85 per cent said no, while 10 per cent were uncertain.

Poor water quality and bad sanitation are deadly; some five million deaths a year are caused by polluted drinking water. The World Health Organization estimates that safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhea each year.

U-Report, introduced to Nigerian communities by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria, is a user-centred social monitoring tool based on simple Short Message Service (SMS) messages. It allows individual subscribers to ask questions bothering them, get real time answers, poll results and share useful information with other U-Reporters across the country. It is designed to strengthen community-led development, citizen engagement and behavioural change.

Even in Sokoto State where the U-Report water poll was showcased, the Sultan Sadiq Abubabar III International Airport has no water supply. Though newly refurbished to taste, the stench emitting from the conveniences suggested they have not tasted water in a long while. That was the case during the last Independence Day celebration.

Meanwhile, the immigration officers on duty were screening and administering hand sanitizers to curb Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The ERA/FOEN boss, Ojo added that the a lot of schools and hospitals across the country till date still lack access to potable water.

He said:We can adduce a lot of reasons for the failure of government in meeting its statutory obligation to the Nigerian people but corruption stands out among these and we are demanding the government to investigate and prosecute all those found culpable of criminally scamming the nation through the water sector.Water is a basic human right, a sustainer of life and must not be subject to the whims and caprices of profiteers. Instead of peddling unverifiable figures we should be talking of recovering diverted monies. The minister’s claim is a contradiction and does not recognize water as a basic human right that deserves priority attention.


Wole Oyebade, "Controversy over safe driking water in local communities", The Guardian, 09/10/2014,