Opinion: Why Lagos must face up to its water crisis

Editor’s Note: Akinbode Oluwafemi is the Deputy Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth Nigeria, a Nigerian NGO that tackles environmental human rights issues in Nigeria. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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Despite being surrounded by water, access to formal clean water is low in Lagos.

Akinbode Oluwafemi is the Deputy Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth Nigeria

Lagos CNN  — 

Lagos is a city surrounded by water, yet there is none to drink.

Access to formal clean water is abysmally low, with the majority of Lagos residents relying on the informal sector comprised of wells, boreholes, rivers and rain water.

In 2016 daily demand in the state stood at 724 Million gallons while production was 317 million gallons, leaving a gap of 407 million gallons. Worse still, some of the water never reaches households due to perennial fracture from dilapidated transmission pipes and old trunk lines.

As water is essential to both physical and economic well-being the lack of it causes numerous problems.

In Lagos it is a major public health threat because of the interconnectedness of water access to sanitation and public health.

It has been alleged that there have been a number of deaths in the state due to the consumption of contaminated water.

The most recent being earlier in the year when two students lost their lives at the prestigious Queens College school in Yaba while 1, 222 became ill after reportedly drinking contaminated water.

The then principal of the school denied the allegations.

The negative impact of acute water shortage is not limited to public health. A large part of Lagos’ teeming population depend on informal water vendors where average spending on water could be as high as $44 a month almost at par with Nigeria’s minimum wage of $47 per month.

In its Lagos Water Master Plan 2010-2020 the state government said it needs $2.5 billion to revamp water infrastructure, but they have ignored the real cause of the crisis. Instead of looking at water from a human rights perspective they have simply commodified water, and laid the framework for how big corporations can profit from the misery of poor Lagos residents.

The causes of the current state of water supply in Lagos are similar to the allegations of large scale corruption by previous managers of the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC). Bad policies that include failed Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) failure to ensure democratic governance and meaningful public participation, inadequate budgetary allocations and regulatory failures.

As far back as the 1980s, the Lagos state government has implemented loans provided by and financed by the World Bank as solutions to the water crisis. Those loans now approaching the billion dollars mark has failed to produce the much needed succor while the citizens are saddled with loan repayment burdens.

The water failures and the apparent serial deaths from water borne diseases contrast negatively with the Lagos Megacity image projected by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration that has been promoting privatization or its twin, Public Private Partnership (PPPs), as the silver bullet to the problem.

The Lagos State government escalated the situation in February when it submitted a draft law which sought to criminalize the informal water sector. The draft law made it illegal for residents to sink wells, boreholes or even draw water from neighbors, stream, rivers or “any water bodies”. It recommended fines and prison terms for defaulters.

The draft law enraged civil society groups and the international community. After marches by activists and civil society groups the Ambode government succumbed and removed the obnoxious sections. Yet the battle for Lagos water is not over yet.

Ambode got commendations for removing those sections that makes the Lagos citizen a victim of the failure of successive administrations to invest sustainably in the water sector. He however, needs to come out strongly on the need to reject the commodification of water and protect Lagosians’ human right to water by adopting transparent, inclusive, pro-people alternatives to managing the public water sector.

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