Lagos’ population continues to soar, but that steep rise in figures has not been matched by a complementary increase in the supply of potable water. So, the water crisis in Lagos has reached a level where only an urgent government intervention can stave off further serious health implications. That the state is suffering from acute water shortage is well known. Yet, it was still astonishing to hear a government official state recently that 50 per cent of patients visiting Lagos hospitals were suffering from water-borne ailments. It is a cruel irony that a state with abundant water resources is suffering because of failure to harness the resources for the common good.
When this is weighed against the recent occurrences in Queens College, an elite all-girls secondary school in the Yaba area of the state, where two students reportedly died after drinking contaminated water, the magnitude of the water crisis facing the state is brought to the fore. Not only were deaths recorded in QC, reports said no fewer than 50 other students landed in hospitals, suffering bouts of vomiting and stooling. This is sad for a state aspiring to a megacity status. Indeed, the consequences are proving to be profound.
It is difficult to explain that Nigerians in their numbers are still dying from typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea, hepatitis and other water-borne diseases that have been eliminated in other parts of the world through access to treated and safe drinking water. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance, had already eradicated cholera from their societies more than a century ago and only a few instances of imported cases from travellers overseas are reported yearly.
In places where premium is placed on human lives, the situation in Lagos should have triggered a serious upheaval in government. Unfortunately, Ahmed Abdullahi, the Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission, who gave the hospital statistics, spared no information about efforts by the government to increase access to potable water; he was only concerned about how to clamp down on those he described as unwholesome table water and sachet water producers.
But these people are taking advantage of the existing vacuum to enrich themselves. People still drink from shallow streams and wells. Sale of water packaged in sachets and bottles seems to be the only booming business that is not affected by the ongoing recession. With the proliferation of water sellers, quality control has become a major casualty, which is why an increasing number of people end up in hospitals for one water-borne disease or the other.
Lagos, in the past 20 to 25 years, has remained an enigma. The state water infrastructure is weak and ineffective. Water pipes are aged and treatment facilities inadequate. Why should a city sitting comfortably on water be suffering from the scarcity of potable water? It is a city where practically every building that can afford it has a borehole and produces its own water, the public water utility having completely failed in its responsibility. Although the city has been witnessing a revolution in infrastructural development, such efforts will amount to very little progress made if the people are not in a good state of health to enjoy them. It is even shameful if the reason for ill health is consumption of water with infectious agents.
Over the years, the state has been talking about its plan to boost public water supply through its 15 micro water works, with a capacity for 30 million gallons of water per day; rehabilitation of old ones such as the Adiyan and Iju water works; and a partnership with the private sector. The Managing Director of the Lagos State Water Corporation, Munimu Badmus, was quoted recently as saying that the state was financing new water stations at a cost of N57bn to ensure that public demand is met.
The fact remains that the impact of all this is yet to be felt. The same report quoted Badmus as saying that the corporation was producing 210 million gallons of water per day. If a state with an estimated population of 21 million residents and requiring 540 million gallons of water per day, according to the former LSWC boss, Shayo Holloway, is still relying on 210 million gallons, then there is a gross deficit problem crying to be addressed.
Of course the problem of water shortage is not limited to Lagos or even Nigeria as a whole; it is a global phenomenon affecting about 1.8 billion people, according to the World Health Organisation. This results in 842,000 deaths every year from diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. There is also a warning that by 2025, half of the world will be living in water-stressed areas.
What can Akinwunmi Ambode do? We urge the governor to see tackling water shortage as top priority. This calls for the sound management of water resources so that the maximum benefits of water will be achieved. One way of doing this is build desalination plants that turn the sea into potable supplies.
– PUNCH EDITORIAL OPINION