Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink’’ is a popular quote from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner’’, a poem by the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the early 1800s, and it exemplifies the concern that water can be abundant but unusable.
The maxim aptly depicts the current situation in Nigeria, as the country, which is blessed and surrounded with a large volume of water, is still grappling with efforts to provide adequate potable water for its citizens.
Available statistics indicate that Nigeria’s surface water is about 226 billion cubic metres, while the ground water is estimated at 406 billion cubic metres. Experts are of the opinion that if the water potential of the country is properly harnessed and utilised , it is enough to satisfy all human, industrial and agricultural as well as livestock needs.
The Federal Ministry of Water Resources is entrusted with the responsibility of facilitating the provision of water for the citizens but many observers argue that the ministry, in the past years, has not been able to fully discharge this function because of its merger with the agriculture ministry.
A water expert, Mr Hope Ogbeide, said that the continuous merger and de-merger of the water resources ministry had caused some setbacks for the ministry in moves to fulfil its mandate.
Ogbeide stressed that the merger had particularly hindered the country’s efforts to provide water for the citizenry in a way that would enhance public health, food security and poverty eradication, among others.
“The agricultural sector had overshadowed the water sector and investments in the water sector were less than those in the agric sector and the development led to the abandonment of most of the viable water projects,’’ he said.
However, the Federal Government, apparently aware of these limitations, has decided to restructure the ministry. In April this year, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, then the country’s Acting President, appointed and swore in Mr Obadiah Ando as the new Minister of Water Resources.
The minister’s inauguration elicited some measure of hope from officials, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the water sector, as well as other stakeholders.
Ando’s appointment after his retirement as the ministry’s Director Planning Research and Statistics 15 years ago is seen by many stakeholders as the beginning of efforts to restore the ministry’s lost glory.
However, the task before the new minister appears to be challenging, while people’s expectations about a positive turn-around of the water sector are rife, regardless of the fact that he has only one year to spend in office.
Apparently aware of the people’s expectations, Ando, on assumption of office, pledged to make potable water available, particularly in the country’s rural areas.
His words: “I thank God for this privilege and I have promised Acting President (now President) Jonathan that I will make water available in the rural areas.
“As you are aware, most of the diseases in Nigeria are water-borne. So, I will strive to reduce the syndrome. By the time I complete my tenure, I should be able to look back and say we had accomplished a lot.
“But I need your cooperation to achieve our goals and if there is anyone who is not ready to work, he can either seek transfer or retire voluntarily. We should do our best to justify the confidence the people reposed in us,’’ he admonished the ministry’s officials.
The minister, however, gave the assurance that in spite of the de-merger of the ministries of water resources and agriculture, the two agencies would still play complementary roles.
“I see the de-merger not as a separation of twins but as one that will continue to complement each other; this is because we are expected to work together as a team. “For us, we will provide adequate water for people’s farms. We will also use the dams for power generation activities to enable the Ministry of Power to generate enough electricity.
“That is one area we shall focus our attention on for now. We will work with all the agencies, especially those that relate with us directly,’’ Ando said.
Aware of the need to carry along workers in carrying out his duties, the minister solicited the officials’ cooperation.
“If you do the right thing, if you are honest and hardworking, we shall all move in the right direction,’’ Ando assured the officials.In spite of all the minister’s assurances, some water experts particularly urge Ando to execute the National Water Resources Master Plan which was developed in concert with the Japanese government in 1995.
Mr Ibrahim Yusuf, a water engineer, argued that the full implementation of the master plan would engender the revival of the water sector, while boosting the utilisation of the country’s vast water resources.He stressed that the master plan would aid the minister in efforts to provide potable water for people in the rural areas. Yusuf noted that all aspects of the water sector such as dams, irrigation, erosion control, hydropower and water supply were addressed in the master plan with project costs attached to them.
The setback we experienced in the sector for the past two years is due to the inability to implement the plan; it is a good document that can be subjected to reviews over the years,’’ he said.
Mr Peter Nze, a water resources analyst, urged the minister to fast-track the implementation of projects, saying: “We have lost so much in terms of implementation of water supply, dams and irrigation projects.
“For the past two and half years, nothing has been achieved. So, we urge the minister to focus on the development and utilisation of the water resources in an integrated manner.
“Irrigation and dam projects should be executed, so as to empower rural communities and provide job opportunities for people across the country,’’ he said.
Nze, however, stressed that need for the minister to accord priority attention to projects such as flood-control, hydropower, inland waterways development, fresh fish production and afforestation schemes.
He particularly canvassed the need to promptly complete the Kashimbilla Dam so as to check the menace which a collapse of the structurally weak volcanic Lake Nyos, in Cameroon, could cause. Nze also wanted considerable emphasis placed on the development of hydro-power resources, as part of efforts to end to the persistent power crisis in Nigeria. Besides, he urged the minister to facilitate the ministry’s collaboration with the National Inland Water Ways Authority and other relevant agencies in efforts to develop and utilise the country’s water resources. Mrs Lydia Okoro, a civil servant, advised the minister to focus his attention on boreholes, dams and irrigation schemes. “Nigeria has a large body of water; the water resources should be utilised for poverty eradication, wealth creation, employment generation and the improvement of the people’s lives in general,’’ she said.“Due to his short tenure in office, the minister should narrow down his attention to small-scale water projects instead of embarking on big projects which he would not be able to complete by the time he leaves office,’’ she added.
Dr Gabriel Dimlong, a water resources analyst, advised the minister to initiate efforts to revive water projects that were hitherto abandoned.
“The water sector has been relegated to the background due to the ministries’ merger and this had led to the stoppage of many viable water projects. Efforts should be made to revive those projects,’’ he said.
A sanitation consultant, Mrs Comfort Olayiwole, however, wanted the minister to give tangible emphasis to the sanitation aspects of his water supply programmes.
According to her, embarking on water supply projects without taking due cognisance of their sanitation and hygiene components will be counter-productive.
“The new minister should not focus only on ensuring the provision of potable water but he should also ensure the promotion of hygienic practices among the people, the beneficiaries of the projects,’’ she said.
Besides, the consultant stressed the need to empower the communities to enable them to regularly maintain the water facilities and their sanitation components, adding, however, that the Federal Government should give the people the requisite technical support.
“They know the right thing to do; all they need is a proper coordination to enable them to do it at the right time. Emphasis should be, however, placed on cleanliness, good sanitary facilities and hygienic practices,’’ Olayiwole said.
She warned that if the government failed to give the communities the essential technical support, the water projects’ impact on the lives of the people would be minimal.
Meanwhile, Ms Junita During, the WaterAid’s Head of Governance, has urged the new minister to implement the “e-Thekwine Declaration’’ so to enable Nigeria to meet the sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The e-Thekwini Declaration, signed in 2008 in Durban, South Africa, during the AfricaSan Conference, sets global targets for political commitment to put Africa back on track in meeting the sanitation targets of the MDGs.
During said: “We are really excited about President Goodluck Jonathan’s efforts in the water sector, particularly for his decision to have a separate ministry for water resources.
“There are so much that can be achieved. For instance, the e-Thekwine Declaration wants a separate budget for sanitation activities and proposes the allocation of a minimum of .05 per cent of the GDP to sanitation.
“The declaration also talks about national sanitation plans and some other things. Efforts should now be taken to implement some of the commitments spelt out in the declaration with a new drive and a new focus,’’ she added.
During lamented that the water sector had suffered a lot of neglect when it was subsumed under the Ministry of Agriculture, saying that “we are quite excited about the demerger because a lot of us have been calling for it for so long.
“We encourage the new minister to speedily set the ball rolling; marshal his plans and execute his programmes, considering the limited time at his disposal and the huge challenges confronting the sector,’’ she said .
During gave the assurance that WaterAid would work with the minister and other stakeholders in the water sector in efforts to provide safe water to the citizens and ensure basic water sanitation.
All the same, concerned citizens warn the Federal Government against the temptation of merging the water resources ministry with any other ministry in future, saying that the water sector requires serious government activities that are coordinated under the aegis of a separate ministry.
Ologunagha writes for NAN