The Availabilityof Safe and Clean Water in Nigeria

1 January 2017

One would agree that something so basic and necessary should readily be available but that has not been the case with Africa. Africa is home to most of the poorest people in the world. It is a continent faced with numerous conflicts, trials and challenges; and a severe lack of access to safe water is amongst its biggest. An estimated eight hundred and eighty-four million people do not have access to safe drinking water, while some one and a half million children under five died each year from sickness caused by water-borne diseases.

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In Sub-Sahara Africa in general, there is no water shortage, but there is a lack of storage capacity and distribution systems. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and is home to an estimated one hundred and sixty-seven million people. It is a country that receives a relatively high level of annual rainfall which is not distributed evenly through time or space. Because of these variations in time and space, people in different parts of Nigeria use water in different ways.

For example, in the drier northern parts of Nigeria where rainfall is lower and less evenly distributed throughout the year, efforts have been made to develop irrigation. Down south, the rainfall is more abundant and supplies the teeming population who use it as a source of portable water. While irrigation is important in a few parts of the country, the vast majority of people use water mainly for day-to-day household activities like cooking, drinking, and washing. In a relatively well-watered country like Nigeria, one would think that acquiring water would not be a problem.

Providing safe, abundant supplies of household water, has been an immense challenge however. Unfortunately, access to safe drinking water is far less than thirty percent on the aggregate. In a poor country like Nigeria, gaining access to safe, continuous water supplies is an ongoing struggle for many. Human wastes and pollution make many water supplies unsafe for many people. In addition, the state has been unable to provide safe, affordable water. This is particularly true in rural areas. In many rural areas, where the majority of the population live, women and girls are forced to walk long distances to acquire household water.

In extreme cases, women and children may spend from two to three hours per day gathering water. It goes without saying that most rural households do not have their own pipe-borne water supply. In the best of circumstances, small villages or neighborhoods will have their own wells. While water supply is somewhat better in urban areas, major challenges still remain. In cities without a functioning public water system, individual households and groups of households must either drill their own well or purchase their water. The proliferation of small urban wells and boreholes is not a thorough end to the problem, however.

There is no guarantee that the water drawn from the wells especially is safe for drinking. Due to a lack of sanitation facilities, household wastes filter into the cities’ underground water supplies. Furthermore, with an eighty-five percent increase in urban population from 1990 to 2004, the number of urban dwellers unserved with either safe drinking water or basic sanitation doubled from 1990 to 2004. In addition to rapid urbanization, ineffective governance and persistent poverty remain the root cause of water infrastructure associated problems.

Access to safe water is also a critical factor in Nigerian public health. The most damaging drinking water-borne illnesses are typhoid, cholera, and diarrhea. Other human diseases are spread merely through contact with contaminated water. Bathing water illnesses include schistosomiasis (formerly known as bilharziasis), dracunculiasis (guinea worm infection), and roundworm infections. Drinking and bathing are not the only methods through which water-borne illnesses are spread. Contaminated water is often used to wash foods like fruits and vegetables.

This often provides another channel for diseases to spread. Bad management of the water bodies too has led them to even becoming breeding sites for vectors of parasites that cause diseases such as malaira, river blindness, dengue fevers, sleeping sickness and so on. Nigeria is masked with challenges of coping with failing infrastructures, inadequate finance, poor legislation, lack of appropriate institutional capacity for regulation and control and often the political will to enforce control measures to bring about change.

The position is complicated by the fact that governments have been at a loss on how to set standards to improve the water situation. Consequently, they resort to dependence on adopted standards, policies and guidelines as presented by international organizations. But in the midst of these seemingly insurmountable challenges efforts, are being made to bring about a shift in the status quo but they have not been enough.

The theoretical and practical knowledge of water, sanitation and hygiene are of relevance in overcoming this water crisis and providing safe and clean water to Nigerians. The practical aspect may be undertaken in the form of a community development project. Objectives of such water supply projects will involve the following: • Assessing community needs in relation to water supply. • Developing a joint plan of action with the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community members for the supply of water and romotion of environmental hygiene and health. • To promote the adoption of safe hygienic practices within the project communities in order to limit the occurrence and effects of water and sanitation related diseases. To assist in empowering the communities for behavioural changes through participatory approaches. • To establish a powerful network with international organizations working on water, the environment and health in order to provide technical assistance for the project, especially as regards training of trainers.

Establishment of a joint planning committee including all the stakeholders and community members is very necessary for the project. This is important in order to have active participation and a sense of ownership of the project; such multisectoral committee will enhance the sustainability of the programme. The second stage of the planning involves the determination of a hierarchy of the project goals, objectives and targets which is to provide clean and safe water to members of the community.

Going further, a generation and assessment of the various options available for achieving the set objectives and targets, as there are usually several ways of reaching a target. This will result in preferred options or a combination of approaches, which will then form part of the plan to bring safe and clean water to Nigerians. The programming stage translates the results of the option appraisal into a series of programmes, each with a budget, over the plan period. The penultimate stage involves the implementation of the plan, bearing in mind the various dynamics of the Nigerian poplulation.

This involves transforming the broad programmes drafted to suit the smaller rural communities, into more specific timed and budgeted sets of tasks and activities, and involves the drawing up of a more operational plan or a work plan to service the bigger cities and the nation at large. The work plan is closely monitored during the implementation stage. This is to see that the corruption so frequently encountered in the system does not hamper the progress being made in providing clean and safe water to Nigerians. Simple behavioural changes have complex repercussions.

However, such changes will not occur unless they are appropriate, affordable and acceptable, considering the complex web of socio-cultural and economic factors impacting at the individual and the community level in Nigeria; ultimately determining whether or not people are willing or able to make basic changes in their lifestyles in order to help serve them clean and safe water. These changes are geared towards safeguarding public health and delivering a better life to Nigerians, and must involve each and every one of us. Countless lives will be saved, and the attending socio-economic advancement would be rewarding to every Nigerian.

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