Monday, 26 September 2016

That bottled water may quench your thirst or kill you (II)

In this second part of the report on Nigeria’s booming bottled water industry and the underground operators endangering the lives of consumers, experts fear the huge spending on packaged water may hit N35tn in the next 10 years. KUNLE FALAYI writes
With an annual spending of N2.9tn on bottled and sachet water by Nigerians, as reported last week, experts have said if no urgent solution is found to solve the current water crisis, the spending may  hit N35tn over the next 10 years.
A sociologist, Dr. Jibril Adeniji, who first hinted at this projection, said this will be inevitable considering the population growth rate of Nigeria.
He said, “If Nigerians currently spend N2.9tn annually on bottled and sachet water, even if the country’s current population remains stagnant over the next ten years, which is impossible, Nigerians would still spend N29tn.
“My calculation is that with three per cent increase in population every year for 10 years, at least N6trn will be added to the current spending on water to make N35tn.
“Our huge spending on bottled and sachet water is self-evident. It sounds absurd but this is sadly the reality .As I speak with you, I have taken two bottles of water today. This should be a wake-up call for the government.
Nigeria’s population growth rate, according to the National Population Commission stands at 3.2 per cent.
According to projections by the United Nations Population Division, Nigeria’s current population of 178 million will increase to 206 million by the year 2020 and by 2026, 10 years from now, the projection is that the country will have 230 million people.
Adeniji said Nigeria’s burgeoning population itself is a grave problem that would put further pressure on whatever effort is made by government in the water sector.
Demographer and lecturer of Sociology at the University of Lagos, Dr. Lekan Oyefara, corroborated this.
According to him, there is no more important time in Nigeria’s history than now to put in place an effective population control policy.
“Nigeria’s huge population will always put great pressure on water infrastructure, which is already in crisis. It will be the same in other sectors,” he said.
According to Oyefara, no matter how much is spent on water infrastructure by the government, without population control, it will deteriorate.
He said, “I have conducted research on this subject and realised that in Lagos alone, less than 30 per cent of residents have access to public water.
“This is the situation in every area of infrastructure in Nigeria. Too many Nigerians are competing for too little infrastructure. And we all know what this will result into. If we fail to control our population, nature will control it for us through diseases.”


Huge population, no potable water
Nigeria’s water crisis makes the purchase of bottled or sachet water unavoidable.
Even though someone like Bimpe Adebiyi, who took ill after buying and drinking bottled water  in traffic (as reported last week)  dodged the bullet, casualties of water-related diseases such as little Bella, who developed diarrhoea after drinking sachet water suspected to be contaminated (last week report), are common in Nigeria where a high percentage of the population has no access to potable water.
Experts say so far as the water infrastructure in Nigeria remains underdeveloped, the bottled water and sachet water industry would continue to grow larger.
70 million people out of Nigeria’s 178 million population have no access to safe drinking water, says the United Nations Children Fund.
UNICEF also says that 783 million people worldwide are in that category, which means that  one out of every 11 persons worldwide without access to safe water is a Nigerian.

In fact, the situation is so bad that an international organisation, WaterAid Nigeria, puts the country third in the list of the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) 10 top countries without access to safe drinking water.
In Nigeria, these statistics translate to a grim reality, one in which deaths and diseases feature prominently.
As this report was being prepared, news broke on September 22, that a cholera outbreak in Isolo Local Council Development Area of Lagos State had killed six residents while 39 other victims were being treated.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, identified the likely source as well water in the area and also a staple food calledAbacha.
In February 2016, a similar outbreak, believed to have originated from the community well also killed 25 residents of Otodo-Gbame community in Ikate Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State.
The residents have no access to pipe borne water. When tests were conducted on water samples from wells in the community, it was confirmed that the bacteria infection caught by the victims from water claimed their lives.
Few months ago, cholera outbreaks ravaged some parts of Nigeria, the most recent cases recorded in Borno in the northeast and Ebonyi in the southeast.
The Ebonyi State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Daniel Umuzuruike, said cholera killed 76 residents of the state across 38 communities between February and July 2016.
The situation in other states is equally dire. In fact, some states are sitting on a keg of gunpowder in terms of how widespread the lack of safe water is.
In 2015, Saturday Punch did an exposé on Opoo, a community in Oyo State, where potable water was so scarce that residents are forced to source for water in the same stream that served cattle as water hole.
Children and adults in the community were left at the mercy of cholera, chronic typhoid fever and diarrhoea.
In February 2016, cases of abdominal pain and stooling swept through Saburi community of the Abuja Municipal Area Council under the Federal Capital Territory.
By the time authorities intervened and found out the cause of the epidemic, 38 residents of the community were dead.
The Federal Capital Territory Primary Health Care Development Board would later conclude that the deaths resulted from food poisoning.
When water samples from a well and three boreholes in the community were collected, a test conducted at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control revealed the presence of clostridium perfringes, toxins which cause nausea and diarrhoea. The victims complained about headaches, high fever and died within days.
In Saburi, like many other communities in northern Nigeria, residents share their source of drinking water with cattle.
Some of the communities in the Federal Capital Territory like Sauka Mapanyi, Pyakasa, Kuchingworo, are currently facing a similar crisis. The residents say people are falling ill, while dysentery and diarrhoea are becoming common in the areas.
In fact, residents of the communities say they are forced to source for their drinking water from the same spot used for bathing and washing clothes and have had to compete with cows to get drinking water.
To explain the result of this kind of situation, UNICEF says an estimated 124,000 Nigerian children under the age of five die every year because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.
The organisation also said lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases including respiratory infection and malnutrition in the country.
In another corner of the country, in Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, for instance, lack of access to safe water and sanitation has created a breeding ground for cholera and diarrhoea.  In April 2016, the residents of the area said four residents died of cholera.
With fear of contacting the disease, residents of this community are forced to trek many miles on a daily basis to access water.
The interconnectivity of safe water and the general well-being of the people explains why it stands as No. 6 on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
“Clean, accessible water for all is an essential part of the world we want to live in. There is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve this. But due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene,” the UN says.


Government houses run on boreholes
The Nigerian water situation is so dire that state government houses in the country run on boreholes.
“If government houses do not make use of the general public-supplied water, how do you expect the public to have access to such commodity?” a water researcher, Dr. Fagbuyi Ekundayo, told this reporter.
Ekundayo, who had conducted a research on water infrastructure in government houses in Nigerian states, said that states would rather spend huge amount of money sinking boreholes and buying bottled water in the official residences of their executives than actually spending money on water corporations in their domain.
“State governments in Nigeria run on bottled water and borehole water, which run through treatment plants,” he said in his report.
However, in urban areas, the existing water infrastructure are so moribund and bad that the piped public water supply sometimes poses danger to public health.
Our correspondent conducted a research in 2015, which explained the reason for this problem. A Saturday PUNCH report showed thereafter that much of the water is polluted in its journey from the water corporation to the households in Lagos.
A test conducted on samples of water taken from some pipes in the state showed some carcinogenic metal in dangerous quantities due to the damage to the pipes along the routes through which they are laid.
Polluted ground water find their way into the damaged pipes and this is distributed to the public.


Government and borehole scandals
While state governments run on boreholes and bottled water, huge amount of public funds are spent on sinking boreholes rather than waterworks.
In August 2015, former Lagos State Governor and Minister of Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, was accused of spending N139m on two boreholes at the Lagos House, Ikeja.
In 2013, the chairman of a local council in Sokoto State, drew the ire of the public when he claimed to have constructed 10 boreholes for N100m in the state.
In 2010, a similar controversy arose when the Bauchi State Government spent N4bn on boreholes in the state.
Also, Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals office claimed to have spent N154.2 million to construct a single borehole in Abuja in 2015.


A crisis bigger than Boko Haram
In 2015, Bloomberg asserted that Nigeria’s safe water shortage is a bigger killer than Boko Haram.
The former President, Goodluck Jonathan, admitted that Boko Haram killed about 13,000 Nigerians during his tenure. A 2015 report by Amnesty International said that within a few months after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, Boko Haram killed 1,600 people.
The number comes to about 15,000 but still does not come any close to the annual 124,000 deaths of children under the age of five reported by UNICEF.
The number of adult deaths may never be known.
For many experts, the situation is nothing short of an emergency in the country.
Professor of Paediatrics, Faculty of Clinical Services, College of Medicine of the University of Lagos, Edamisan Temiye, said there is a crisis in Nigeria and government at all levels are not handling the situation with the seriousness it requires.
“We keep on hearing from time to time of the outbreak of diarrhoea and dysentery all over the place, because of poor water supply. But apart from the two, there are so many other diseases that are related to lack of hygienic water that Nigerians are suffering from,” he said.
According to him, even though UNICEF gives statistics of children who die from water related diseases, many of the victims are affected through their parents.
“The country has to take this situation seriously and work towards getting Nigerian children and adults better access to safe water. In most cases, adults transmit the diseases to their children.
“For instance, a mother has just used the lavatory without good access to water and prepares food for her child. That child will normally contract the disease.
“Sometimes, when the cases of water-related diseases come, the victims develop other problems like malnutrition, stunted growth and so many problems.”

Lack of water infrastructure
In the last five years, Nigeria has expended the sum of N217bn on water infrastructure, less than the amount spent by Nigerians on bottled and sachet water every month.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed that N60bn was budgeted for water capital projects in 2011. In 2012, it was N30.4bn; N80.3bn in 2013; N30.6bn in 2014 and N15.6bn in 2015.
Despite the N217bn budget of the last five years, abandoned projects dot different states of the federation. Experts say many of these are due to corruption.
For instance, in 2008, an effort to build a waterworks in Markurdi, Benue State, ended in scandal with officials unable to account for $6m. Ironically, the state suffers water shortages despite the fact that people in that region wake up to see the expansive River Benue every day.
In Adamawa State, the six water dam projects, contracts which ran into billions of Naira, were discovered to have been abandoned in the state.
The Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Julius Kadala, said the dam projects were awarded by past administrations at both state and federal level, across three senatorial zones with no hope of recovering the huge public fund wasted on them.
In Plateau State, another multi-billion Mangu Regional Water Dam project awarded by the Federal Government in 2000 and abandoned, had to be re-awarded at the cost of N5.6bn 14 years later in 2014.
States down south also have their own share of abandoned water projects. In Ondo State, a N14bn Owena dam project awarded during the last administration, has been neglected after N7bn had already been spent. The current administration in the state government recently said it only put the project on hold due to “error in the contract agreement.”
A former Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Prof. Boniface Egboka, explained that the neglect of water projects all over the country has to do with the process of initiating the projects.
He said, “The resources that are made available are often not fully disbursed. Projects are frequently handled through the top-down approach without the participation of the grass roots populace needed for sustainability.
“Some politicians fail to agree on the tariff structures needed to underpin the financial autonomy of urban utilities; they selfishly intervene in the allocation of rural projects creating inequity in access to service and improper citing that may result in the possible failure of such projects.”
But the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, has insisted that the Federal Government is committed to completing all such abandoned water projects without any political sentiment.
Unfortunately, Nigerians are at the receiving end of these abandoned water projects.
Other experts say the water crisis is connected to the power problems in the country.
Executive Chairman of the Abuja-based Water and Dam Services Company, Dr. J.K. Okeke, said the viability of modern water supply facilities in Nigeria is substantially dependent on the availability of reliable power supply.
“Power supply, where such possibilities exist, is unreliable. Consequently, all water works in the country are planned with diesel generators as the main source of power. Depending on the size of the plant, the cost of diesel and maintenance of the generators constitute 30-40 per cent of total operating costs,” he said in a report he submitted to the Federal Government.

‘What pipe borne water?’
Lagos State has one of the most extensive water supply systems in the country. Yet, in many parts of the state, public supplied water is a strange thing.
The Lagos Water Corporation says it distributes 210 million gallons per day in the state.
But many residents of the state still depend on cart pushers for their daily water need.
Our correspondent spoke with a resident of the state, who expressed incredulity when asked if he had piped public water in his house.
He said, “What pipe borne water? I have lived in Lagos for 15 years and I have never lived in a house in which public water runs. You are on your own if there is no borehole where you live. I currently live in a house where the borehole needs servicing.
“So, for now, I have to patronise water vendors every day. Even despite that, I still have to buy sachet water for drinking every day too. I am not sure I have met anybody in Lagos, whose source of drinking water is not either sachet water or bottled water.”
This is the reality for many people all over Nigeria.
For those in the riverside communities of Lagos, the situation is worse.
In Agboyi riverside communities in Ketu, Lagos for instance, water is so valued that residents have to secure the jerry cans of purchased water with chains in front of their houses.
The residents told our correspondent that when they travel by boat to buy the water across the river on the mainland, some neighbours steal the water under the cover of night.


Experts proffer solutions
Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Dr. Michael Ojo, said Nigeria’s water sector requires an annual investment of N400bn (about $1.3bn) to be able to meet the sustainable Development Goal of water for all by the year 2030.
His assertion is a reaction to the fact that only 0.7 per cent of the 2016 budget is dedicated to water.
Ojo said, “There is chronic lack of investment in the provision of water services in Nigeria, money that needs to go into the sector to expand it is not going in. For instance, in this year’s budget government earmarked N44bn for the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
“It represents a paltry sum of what is required to increase access to water, sanitation and hygiene services in the country. Most stakeholders in the sector are of the opinion that to move the sector forward, there is need to increase recurrent expenditure.”
Managing Director of Forthright Manufacturing Company, makers of Etana Premium Table Water, Mr. Goke Faromoju, was of the same opinion. He said more fund, that would be monitored and not embezzled, should be expended on the development of water infrastructure in the country.
According to him, as long as Nigerians do not have access to safe water, the country cannot be said to be developed.
Chairman of ATWAP in Lagos, Rev. Ebere Ibeawuchi, said the solution to the problem of illegal water producers in the country is for the government to partner with unions such as ATWAP.
He said, “We will look out for the underground operators ourselves because if we wait for NAFDAC, the illegal operators will destroy the industry and people will continue to die.
“The government agencies do not have the manpower or the structure to cover the entire Lagos State alone for instance.
“They don’t even know where these quacks are. This is why ATWAP is trying to embark on self-regulation in partnership with these regulatory agencies.
“We have the structure on the ground and are represented in all the local government areas in the state unlike these regulatory agencies. We also know every inch of the state and every producer of water in the state.
“Our aim is to ensure that we produce good water that conforms with the World Health Organisation’s standard but the illegal ones don’t want this to be possible.”
To develop the water infrastructure in the country, Chairman of Oak Group Limited, makers of Lasena Artesian Water, Dr. Musa Elakama, advised government to be more proactive in its approach.
According to him, there is need for the government to partner with water producing firms.
“If the government builds the infrastructure, we will definitely play our part. In the neighbourhood where we operate, we are already giving people water almost free of charge.
“I think the Federal Government can also adopt this strategy by going into partnership with firms like ours to address the water challenge in most parts of the country. Consuming bad water is highly injurious to the health, we must do all we can as a society to overcome this problem.”
A medical practitioner, Dr. Emeka Onuonibe, who said he has a water analysis device that he uses to ascertain the PH level of water, said there is need for regulatory agencies to conduct continuous checks on even the certified water producers.
He said, “I have tested a number of the popular brands in Lagos and even in eastern Nigeria. I noticed that the PH level of many of them are far below 8.  Some of them are so bad that I consider them pure poison.
“The solution is for the regulatory agency to declare war on these products and conduct routine and regular checks on the water products on sale on Nigerians streets.”





Punch

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