Challenges Of Potable Water In Cities

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The “World Water Day’ is marked across the world on the 22nd day of March every year. The celebration of the Day in Nigeria this year, however, exposed some pertinent questions as regards access to potable water in both the country’s urban and rural communities.

Observers note that the water supply situation in the rural areas has since been appalling but they add that urban areas are not exempted from the precarious water supply situation either.

While many affluent residents of the country’s urban centres rely solely on boreholes for their daily water needs, the vast majority of the residents patronise water vendors for their domestic water requirements.

Experts, nonetheless, note that the trend has continued to hamper the citizens’ desire to have steady access to potable water — one of the basic needs of human beings.

However, the water supply problems in urban centres appear to be a global phenomenon and this, perhaps, explains the rationale behind the choice of the theme for this year’s celebration: “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenges.”

The theme was somewhat apt because of the rising wave of urbanisation across the world, forcing many of the urban centres to grapple with the negative effects of urbanisation, particularly those relating to the undue pressure on public utilities.

Stockholm Water Front, a publication of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), estimates that by August 2011 (last month) more than 50 megacities — each with at least five million inhabitants — and a very large number of medium sized towns would dot the world.

“A record of about 200 million people will be living in slums in Sub-Sahara Africa only. By 2015, Lagos will overtake Cairo as Africa’s biggest city,” the magazine forecasts.

These projections by the publication are not hypothetical but ones based on empirical researches and Stockholm Water Front even forecasts that by 2050, the world’s urban population will be equal to the current world population of over six billion.

“ Eight out of 10 people will be living in towns and cities, due to the fact  that 95 per cent of the global population increase will take place in urban areas, either via births or migrations, “ the magazine says.

These projections tend to reinforce the fears of population experts that unless there is a corresponding expansion of the public utilities of towns and cities, increases in the population will have untold consequences on the people’s lives in urban centres.

Communications Officer of SIWI, Mr Rami Abdelrahman, notes that millions of people in many African urban centres do not have access to good water supply and sanitation facilities.

He says that further congestion of the urban centres and the cognate increase in slums and informal settlements, often located in areas that are subject to flooding and other natural hazards, will worsen the situation.

Commenting on the water needs of the residents of most Nigerian cities, a water expert, Mrs Mary Onovo, insists that inhabitants of urban centres use more water for their daily domestic and sanitation needs than those residing in the rural areas.

“Many people spend so much money to buy water in urban areas, partly because of the insignificant activities of water-related non-governmental organisations (NGOs), whose efforts are more concentrated on the rural areas.

“If you go to the rural areas, you will see these NGOs sinking boreholes for the residents but in urban areas, such activities are rare,” she says.

Corroborating this view,  WaterAid Nigeria, says at least 63 million Nigerians, representing 45 per cent of the country’s population, lack access to potable water sources.

“Out of Nigeria’s population of over 150 million, some 103 million people live without access to adequate sanitation, while 63.5 million people have no access to potable water.

“Some 120,000 Nigerian children, under the age of five, die every year from diarrhoea; while poor water supply and sanitation lead to high mortality rates and prevalence of diseases,” says Mrs Onyinyechi Okechukwu, WaterAid’s Communications and Campaign Officer in Abuja.

On the global scale, Okechukwu says: “The UN figure shows that 2.6 billion people live without access to sanitation, while over one billion people have no access to safe water.”

Going from the general to the specifics, urban water coverage in Nigeria is put at 36 per cent, while rural water coverage is 28 per cent, according to the latest WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme Report.

Experts note that for Nigeria to meet the targets of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in water supply by 2015, the challenges posed by the increasing population must be addressed via adequate provision of potable water to rural and urban areas.

Lagos is a typical example of a Nigerian city that will be faced with the challenges of increasing population and corresponding water and sanitation problems.

Many UN agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), agree that Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the whole world.

With a population estimated at eight million, Lagos is currently the second most populous city in Africa after Cairo, and the city was estimated by the UN-HABITAT in its 2008 report, as the fastest growing city in Africa and the seventh fastest growing in the world.

Therefore, the transformation of Lagos into a megacity will bring about myriad challenges, particularly those relating to its environment and the anticipated pressure on its public utilities.

A Lagos-based environmentalist, Mr Paul Okare, says that Lagos has a lot of social and environmental challenges, in addition to its ever-increasing population.

He notes that the topographical nature of Lagos makes its environment prone to seasonal flooding each year.

“Lagos has been experiencing regular flooding, which up till now has defied all solutions”, Okare said.

Port Harcourt is another city with fast growing popuation in Nigeria, wih its challenges of potable water system. Many citizens, especially the affluent ones, depend on boreholes while the ordinary residents patronise water vendors for their domestic needs.

However, that is not to suggest that urbanisation is all about bad tales with no good effects, as experts maintain that what is needed is a structured development of human settlements that takes due cognizance of all the essentials of purposeful town planning.

However, a sanitation expert, Mr Oluyemi Adedoja says that water plays a vital role in maintaining good sanitary conditions in urban centres, adding that it also plays pivotal roles in waste management efforts.

Adedoja says that water is required in some waste management processes, as it is used in waste-recycling ventures. .

Meanwhile, WaterAid’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr Joe Lambongang, urges all stakeholders to brace to the challenge of providing water for the residents of small towns and cities.

He says that the provision of potable water requires a multi-faceted approach, adding that the active collaboration of all stakeholders in the sector is also very essential.”

Nevertheless, there is need to promote Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in efforts to fast­track the provision of water in urban areas.

“The Federal Government should also take into consideration ‘pro-poor tariff measures’ because many residents of the urban and rural areas are not on the same level economically and cannot afford to buy enough water to meet their daily needs,” he says.

The Executive Secretary of African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), Mr Bai-Mass Taal, stresses the need for Nigeria to come up with plausible action plans to overcome water-supply challenges.

“In addition to the action plans, the Federal Government should also allocate adequate funds to implement investment plans in the water sector,” Taal adds.

All said and done, analysts are optimistic that the water supply situation in the country’s urban centres will improve and this will inevitably have a positive “conveyor-belt” effect on the health of the citizenry.

Ologunagba writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

Cecilia Ologunagba