Optimising the Potentials of Water and Sanitation Resources

The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that about one billion people lack clean water, globally. It also estimated that 2.4 billion people lack access to hygienic sanitation facilities, while 1.2 billion of them lack any sanitation facilities at all. Consequently, an average of 5,000 children die from water and sanitation related diseases, each day, many of which are easily preventable.

The UNDP highlights compelling arguments supporting the idea that achieving the wider access to improved water and sanitation trigger major leaps in human development of any economy. It argues that investment in water supply and sanitation yield average economic returns of $4.4 to $1 and $9.1 to $1 respectively. More importantly, human development is more closely linked to access to water and sanitation than other development drivers, which the UNDP examined.

Lack of Access to Basic Sanitation
The lack of access to basic sanitation in Africa is perhaps one of the reasons why access to clean water and basic sanitation is an important component of the United Nation’s environmental sustainability goal which forms part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were developed in 2000, with the international community’s commitment to achieving them by 2015. The target is to reduce by 50% the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation by 2015. However, less than three years to the target, there are significant gaps in the level of achievement in many regions and countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. WaterAid Pan Africa Programme, an advocacy group for access to clean water and improved sanitation in Africa, estimated that 330 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean water and over 600 million people or 70% of the population of the region lack access to basic sanitation. And at the current rate, it is estimated that the world may miss the sanitation target by one billion people, majority of them from this part of Africa.

Slow Access amid Abundance Resources
According to the UNDP report on Nigeria’s progress on the MDGs, access to safe water and sanitation remains a serious challenge for the country. It observed that little progress was recorded up to 2005, improvements since then raised the proportion of the population accessing safe water to 58.9% and those accessing improved sanitation to 51.6% in 2009 before they slowed to 54% and 35% respectively in 2010, which is the latest information available. The UNDP observed, more importantly, that the major challenge lies in translating substantial public investments in water into effective access. And in sanitation, efforts are falling short of the target. Rural-urban migration may also be adding significantly to the pressure on sanitation infrastructure throughout the country. Statistics suggest that Nigeria is endowed with about 226 billion cubic metres of surface water and 406 billion cubic metres of ground water. This is enough, if properly harnessed and utilised, to satisfy the water needs of the populace. Yet, an estimated 70 million Nigerians lack access to clean and safe water for drinking. The country has been unable to effectively deploy this resource for efficient and integrated uses for dams, irrigation, erosion control, hydropower and ultimately clean and safe water supply.

The problem of inadequate access to clean and affordable water and sanitation in Nigeria is very significant. The dearth of water and sanitation infrastructure is a major component of the infrastructure challenge of the nation. However, it is an issue that the populace appears to have taken for granted. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)/the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation, 54% of Nigerians have access to improved water supply and 35% to improved sanitation. It is observed that about 33 million Nigerians defecate in the open. The problem is particularly in the rural areas where only a small fraction of the populace has access to quality water supply.

The health consequence of the above scenario may be certain with scattered indices of diarrhea in some parts of the country.  The nation has managed to escape a large scale epidemic breakout. Unfortunately, government investment in the provision of improved and affordable water supply and sanitation over the past 10 years has been huge but with dwindling impact.

It is argued that government has been unable to develop the much needed integrated clean water and basic sanitation infrastructure in the country despite many years of huge public investment. There is therefore the need to bring the private sector into mass water and sanitation utility provision in addition to reforming the town planning system at different levels to support ease of integrated water and sanitation infrastructure development and management.

Nigerians Provide Their Own Infrastructure
In the area of sanitation, with the exception of Abuja and limited areas of Lagos, no other urban community in Nigeria has an integrated and systematised sewage system. It is also doubtful if town planning authorities in the country have made adequate preparations for sustainable housing and sanitation. Rapid population growth has also not been followed by an increase in the supply of essential urban services such as water supply, sewage and sanitation systems, and solid waste disposal facilities. In urban area, individuals housing units often make separate provisions for sewage resulting in sewages either being stagnant in shallow dugouts or are disposed in the open.

In similar vein, every middle class urban house provides its own water via the use of boreholes. In major cities across the country, the menace of boreholes may be rising to an environmentally unsustainable level. Many people, especially amongst the lower middle income earners and the poor, may be exposed to unfiltered ground water which may have been contaminated by soil minerals. Some of these minerals pose serious health hazards such as lead poisoning among others. Some environmental analysts have argued that a high number of boreholes in a concentrated community could expose the area to landslides or earthquakes.  On the aggregate and despite the proliferation of boreholes and pit sanitary wells, urban water supply and sanitation coverage may be as low as 30% of the total population, in contrast to the UNDP figure of 54% and 36%, due to poor maintenance and unreliability of supply. Rural areas face specific problems not encountered in the cities.

Inadequate Planning & Poor Spending
The provision of large scale water supply to communities and cities has been in exclusive preserves of government at different levels. At the federal level, government has spent a lot of money on harnessing water resources for the provision of clean and safe water for the populace. There have also been a lot of bilateral aid and International Development Finance (IDF) interventions from sources such as the World Bank, UNICEF, UNDP, European Union (EU), and the Department for International Development (DFID) among others, channelled to the provision of water for both rural and urban areas. Unfortunately, virtually all of these investments, interventions and aid projects have failed. There is hardly any major city or significantly large rural settlement in Nigeria that does not have the remains of a moribund/ abandoned water system project.
Beyond the abandoned National Resources Master Plan which was developed in concept with the Japanese government in 1995, Nigeria has never evolved a holistic water resources and sanitation strategy for the country. The vision 20:2020 which is perhaps Nigeria’s most comprehensive medium term development strategy in recent times was largely rhetorical. It contains no specific milestone and allotted no responsibility in relation to the strategy for the provision of sustainable access to portable water and basic sanitation. It however seeks to encourage community participation, private sector participation and public private partnerships (PPPs) in the provision of water supply and sanitation. The current administration’s transformation agenda tows a similar line with vision 20:2020 and aims to expend a total of ₦281 billion on 12 priority on-going water infrastructure projects in 5 years (2011 - 2015).

Unstable Funding
Over the last ten years, the average annual spending on water resources and sanitation by the Ministry of Water Resources has been very unstable. This highlights the lack of a coordinated water and sanitation infrastructure programme at the national level. The Ministry has also often been merged and unmerged with the Ministry of Agriculture in the past. Water resources responsibilities were merged into that of the Ministry of Agriculture in four out of the last ten years. The continuous merging and unbundling of the agriculture and water resources ministries may have also caused some setbacks in the ministry’s fulfillment of its mandates.

This is particularly, indicated in the drastic fall in capital allocation to the ministry in recent times while the pre-merger average capital budget of the ministry between 2002 and 2006 stood at ₦60.23 billion per annum. Both ministries as a unit got an average annual capital allocation of ₦125.56 billion in 2008 – 2010. It plunged to ₦27.58 billion per annum in 2011 and 2012 after it was separated from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It has been argued that during that period, the agricultural sector overshadowed the water resources and led to the abandonment of most of the viable water projects that were ongoing at that time. The sharp decline in allocation post-unbundling might be accountable for the myriads of uncompleted and abandoned water projects in the country.

Aid and Intervention Programmes
It is worrisome that several International Development Associations (IDA) and bilateral government funded water resources facilities across the country have also delivered minimal impact either because government underfunded its own part of the agreement or completed projects collapse under the pressure of overuse from a large population than intended.

Substantial reliance of State Governments on the Federal Government and donor agencies to provide water infrastructure in many states has not been helpful. Despite the huge investment and dedication of States like Lagos and Rivers in water resources, the many years of neglect has impacted on the underlying infrastructure, thus ridiculing these efforts.

Limited Coordinated Strategies
The government is focusing on the completion of the various uncompleted water supply and sanitation projects across the country. It planned to spend an average of ₦57 billion per annum on water and sanitation infrastructure in the medium term. It is also working with development partners to implement new projects. In this regards, a total of $667 million (₦103.39 billion) of water supply and urban sector water and sanitation system reform projects are currently being processed. A review of the current activities and projects (both on-going and planned) of the Ministry of Water Resources however failed to show any attempts towards an integrated water and sanitation strategy for the country. In addition, while the dwindling budgetary allocation to the sector by the Federal Government may indicate that the government is considering private sector participation in the sector as it is in other sectors like agriculture and power, the absence of any framework for such initiatives suggests otherwise.

Private Sector Partnership
Despite the avowed commitment of government to leverage on PPPs to deliver on critical infrastructure, the inadequate involvement of the private sector driven avenues is obvious in the death of water and sanitation infrastructure in Nigeria. In many emerging and developed economies, utility companies are privately managed and are usually big corporations with publicly quoted shares although the government may have provided the underlying infrastructure such as integrated sewage and water systems.

There are, however, a number of underlying provisions that must be made by the government. These include a review of the water resource master plan to include an expanded role for the private sector in line with the vision 20:2020 strategy and the Transformation Agenda. Town planning in the country needs to be reformed either at the individual state government level or at the national level and must be integrated into all mass housing plans in the near future in order to develop the much needed integrated water and sanitation infrastructure.

Government needs to evaluate all its large scale water and public sanitation infrastructure, for full or partial privatisation, while creating a template for private participation in water and sanitation infrastructure development and management in the country. This may require incentives and supports. This should be, largely, driven by the need to make significant progress on the MDGs by 2015.