Examining Nigeria’s water and sanitation sector in the COVID-19 Era

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Talo Health Centre 's matron Salimata Dagnoko collcting water at the near by water point, 32, Mali.

A News Analysis by Tosin Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

The relevance of water to Nigeria’s national development is very pivotal to population growth, urbanization and increased efforts at agriculture and industrial development.

This relevance has increasingly brought to the fore very key issues of the country’s existence, thus occasioning the need for increased access to water for Nigerians.

The water sector is a pillar for food security, job creation, water supply, sanitation and hydropower generation.

President Muhammadu Buhari has described the statistics on open defecation and access to pipe borne water service and sanitation as disturbing, and has declared commitment to implement the National Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Action Plan.

The President also declared a state of emergency on Nigeria’s WASH sector, as the action being imperative, would reduce the high prevalence of water-borne diseases in different parts of the country, which have caused preventable deaths.

In an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted on all aspects of lives, causing untold hardship and stress to the populace; potable WASH practices are critical to eradication of the virus.

This made the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to develop a proposal for financing National WASH response to COVID-19 and secure its inclusion in the National Economic Sustainability Plan.

This also led to the inauguration of a National WASH Response Committee for COVID-19 chaired by the Honourable Minister, Mr Suleiman Adamu with all state commissioners responsible for water supply and sanitation as members.

The guidelines for the response were implemented with the rehabilitation of no fewer than 185 solar powered water supply projects (five per state and the FCT).

These interventions also included the construction of 370 public sanitation facilities (10 per state and the FCT), and provision of support to states’ water agencies for their operations to ensure uninterrupted water supply.

In its efforts to promote sanitation and hygiene, the ministry donated 370 contactless hand washing facilities with soap and sanitizers (10 per state and FCT), and engaged 77,400 youth volunteers for hand washing and Open Defecation Free (ODF) Campaigns.

Another noteworthy effort is the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme launched in 2016, to attain universal access to safe potable water and adequate sanitation in rural areas in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 6.

The Minister of Water Resources, Adamu, noted that with an additional 11 states signing the PEWASH protocol, 33 states have now shown interest in improving the water and sanitation needs of their populace.

He stated that although only 38 out of the 774 local government areas were open defecation-free (ODF), more LGAs were expected to be certified once they met all ODF protocols.

According to the minister, more local government areas would have been declared ODF, if not for the event of COVID-19 pandemic which slowed down the processes.

Adamu announced that the ministry had strengthened its partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment towards overall hygiene promotion, with absolute commitment from the minister to lead the activities.

Speaking on his scorecard, he said parts of the achievements of the WASH Action Plan included the completion of 34 water supply projects, construction of 159 rural water supply schemes in the North-East, IDP camps, and some federal institutions and establishments.

The minister noted that the action plan had seen the full commencement of the PEWASH programme with the award of contracts for the construction, rehabilitation, and upgrading of 895 water supply schemes in 10 states.

The states are, Imo, Katsina, Jigawa, Plateau, Zamfara, Sokoto, Ondo, Osun, Delta and Bauchi.

“We initiated Inclusive Basic Service Delivery and Livelihood Empowerment Integrated Programmes for the provision of emergency water supply for the North-East supported by the African Development Bank.

“We also initiated the Nigeria Sustainable WASH Sector Programme for 100 per cent sustainable WASH coverage in participating states with support from the World Bank.

“By these efforts, additional 2.4 million Nigerians have gained access to water supply in 12 months,” Adamu affirmed.

The minister said the ministry was continuously encouraging states to flag off their own versions of the ODF campaign as soon as possible.

He disclosed further that there were plans for the development and passage of a bill for an Act to Prohibit Urination and Defecation in the Open

Adamu said that with more collaborations with the media, private sector and Civil Society Organisations (CSO), implementation of the WASH Action Plan and ODF campaign would be successful.

Corroborating this further, stakeholders from the Organized Private Sector in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (OPS-WASH), assert that 500 public toilets will be constructed by Nigerians in the Diaspora to support Federal Government’s efforts to end open defecation practice before 2025.

Dr Nicholas Igwe, National Coordinator, OPS-WASH, notes that the WASH sector is in dire need of the private sector’s intervention and assistance in bridging the financial, sustainability, and efficiency gaps in the sector.

According to Igwe, it is not necessary to delve into the importance of rectifying the gaps in the sector, as COVID-19 has projected the potentially devastating implications of disease and virus outbreaks already.

He declares that with no fewer than 47 million people defecating openly, partnership of the private sector with the Ministry of Water Resources in finding solutions to end open defection and other water and sanitation challenges in Nigeria is crucial.

Igwe notes that the objective of mobilising private capital to finance the WASH sector in Nigeria will be to propose the establishment of a N400 billion Blue Bond Issuance Programme.

Mr. Babatunde Obaniyi of United Capital Limited, says there is no better time to talk about sanitation and hygiene than now, following the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in the country and globally.

Obaniyi says that mobilising private finance for WASH interventions is on the premise of the Executive Order 009 by the President, adding that all funds collected will be audited in line with corporate governance of accountability and transparency.

He explains that implementation of the blue bond will consider the open defecation free Nigeria target of 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

On the part of the civil society groups, the national coordinator, Society for Water and Sanitation, Mr. Benson Attah, expressed the need for all tiers of government to hold government accountable in finding a legal backing for WASH interventions.

Furthermore, Attah asserts that it is imperative for formulation of state roadmaps, for ending open defecation practices in all localities, to become a reality.

“Going by the situation we see, we have been to states and local governments and seen projects carried out to the benefit of the community.

“We have seen instances where boreholes were sank and they had to use water tanker to fill the overhead tank for its commissioning,’’ he said.

Attah observes that these issues further contribute to the underdevelopment of the citizens, saying water and sanitation is an entry point to development, affecting health, education, and commerce among others.

From the observation, it is glaring that some private stakeholders seem to believe that lack of transparency at the grassroots level, limits the extent to which partners in the WASH sector can hold each other to account for commitments.

Subsequently, to sustain the sector during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, one may safely say that stakeholders should not compromise their integrity and strong collaborations, so as to achieve better livelihood for the populace.
(NANFeatures)

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