As the world marks World Water Day this year, WaterAid Nigeria is joining in the call for urgent action from the international community and from government to reach the 33% of people in Nigeria without access to clean water close to home – and to do so with solutions inspired and supported by nature.
Commemorated on 22 March every year, World Water Day is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year’s theme, ‘Nature for Water’, explores nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.
Today 844 million people globally are without clean water close to home, a number which has risen from last year; and there are a myriad of reasons why so many people remain without access: long distances from a water source, competition from agriculture and industry, compounding pressures from urbanisation, population growth, extreme weather and shock weather events, political instability, conflict and displacement, but most significant is lack of political will and financing. Governments need to make access to clean water a top priority and plan, finance and maintain systems accordingly.
WaterAid advocates for responsible environmental management, including regulating the use of water in agriculture and industry, to ensure there is sufficient clean water for basic needs. In many places, there is sufficient water – but people go without because basic needs are not prioritised, or because water is polluted or contaminated.
Nature-based solutions which use or mimic natural processes have the potential to address contemporary water management challenges, improve water security and deliver co-benefits vital to all aspects of sustainable development. We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure (an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle) and harmonise it with ‘grey’ infrastructure (human-engineered infrastructure for water resources) wherever possible as a way to address the pollution and misuse of natural water resources. Planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands will rebalance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods.
According to WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) figures, Nigeria has 67% water coverage. However, poor water management leaves millions of Nigerians experiencing severe water scarcity during at least part of the year. With an estimated 1,530 cubic meters of renewable freshwater available per person per year as at 2015 (a reduction from 2007 levels of 2,085 cubic meters), Nigeria is marked as a water-stressed country. Increasing population size and other factors including ethnic conflicts over water means that Nigeria can quickly go from being marked as a water-stressed country to a water-scarce one. While Government has undertaken a range of actions that have supported growth in access, there has been a concurrent loss in access due to desertification, pollution, hydrological extremes and urbanisation and also the lack of traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches. An example is the shrinking Lake Chad, the speedy decrease of which is threatening the resources and livelihoods of the 50 million people that live there. Issues like this raise the need for improved strategies to manage Nigeria’s water resource and remediate the losses.
This year is an important moment in the fight to reach everyone everywhere with water: in July 2018, the United Nations will review progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030. We already know progress isn’t fast enough: about 60,000 children under five in Nigeria still die each year because of diarrhoea linked to dirty water, poor toilets and poor hygiene. Everyone has a right to water and our leaders must act to leave no one behind.
Dr ChiChi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, said: “Cape Town isn’t the only city facing Day Zero: for 844 million people around the world, long walks and waiting for water, and reliance on dirty ponds, streams and open wells are already a daily reality, causing illness and death. This shouldn’t be normal, for anyone. Cape Town is a wake-up call for all of us, reminding us that access to water, our most precious resource, is increasingly under threat.
“We urge our leaders to take real action as without water and sanitation, none of the other Global Goals – for alleviating poverty, improving health and creating a fairer and more sustainable world – will be achievable. All solutions to the water crisis will demand multi-sectorial coordination and the inclusive participation of community-level actors.
“We know progress is possible: India has reached more than 300 million people in 15 years alone. But progress requires financing, political priority and the will to ensure the basic needs of every person are met, to ensure a better future for millions around the world.”
This World Water Day, WaterAid Nigeria is calling for:
• A state of emergency to be declared in the water and sanitation sector and a presidential taskforce set up and empowered to deliver on providing water and sanitation for all Nigerians
• Recognition that the UN Global Goals are everyone’s responsibility to deliver, to ensure no one is left behind. Everyone is accountable if they fail.
• A shift in mind-sets and implementation approaches to integrate the principles of nature based solutions in all water-related projects; the development of enabling frameworks for such solutions and the integration of local solutions in all sector interventions.
• Nigeria to learn from pilot projects being implemented in similar contexts (like in Kenya) and conduct critical programmatic, social economic assessments of such through pilot replications with government support and leveraged finance.
• Actors to leverage on sector capacity improvement mechanisms (such as the National Water Resources Institute) to improve capacity across the sector and in allied sectors and cascade down knowledge to communities.
• Mobilising resources from taxes, tariffs and transfers, and increasing the amount and proportion of aid for water, sanitation and hygiene, to close the gaps in financing. This also means supporting institutions to ensure they are accountable and well-governed, so that money is well-spent, and promoting pro-poor policies that ensure access to water for everyone.