The International Day of the African Child is here and as we think of our children and what is best for their future, it is vital to address the chronic state of water and sanitation in Nigeria.
The statistics for Nigeria are frightening. In our country today, recent research shows that over 85,000 children under 5 years old died of diarrhea related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in 2010, while numerous other water and sanitation related diseases carried off even more. For the children that survive, the search for drinking water is a blight on their lives.
Children and women bear the brunt of this lack of access. Many children miss out on school because they have to walk long distances and search large areas to source water for survival, and adults are drawn away from work as they search for water instead. Without access to water, children and women are unable to ensure their health and hygiene. Girls often drop out of education when they hit puberty because there just aren’t the necessary toilets in schools for them to deal with their menstrual cycle.
Nigeria's Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target is to supply 74% of the population with safe water by 2015 and 69% of the population with adequate sanitation. Today, only 58% of people have access to safe water, and 31% have access to adequate sanitation. This means that over 109 million people don’t have access to safe sanitation, and over 66 million do not have access to safe drinking water. Under the current rates of progress, Nigeria will miss the MDG water target by 22 years (2037), and is completely off track on the sanitation goal; in fact sanitation access rates have significantly decreased since 1990.
WaterAid in Nigeria sponsored an art and essay competition among four state primary schools in Abuja as part of the activities to commemorate this year’s World Water Day. The children were tasked with painting a picture, writing an essay or penning a poem, depicting how water works for them. The winning entries and children were invited to an exhibition of their work which was presented to Nigeria’s Honourable Minister for Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Reng Ochekpe.
One of the exhibits was a poem about the legend of Bayajidda. This ageless traditional folklore, like that of Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet in the western world, has always been taught in schools across Nigeria. Bayajidda was a prince who fled Baghdad and travelled across Africa with numerous warriors. He settled in Daura, a town in modern day northern Nigeria, where the people suffered from a crisis of lack of access to safe water.
When Bayajidda arrived in Daura, he asked an old woman for water. She informed him that they could only draw water from the well once a week when Sarki, the serpent guarding the well, would allow them access. Bayajidda set out for the well where he killed and beheaded the serpent that had terrorised the people of the town and restricted their access to water. Bayajidda’s bravery ensured the people of Daura had daily access to the water in the well, and for his heroics, Bayajidda bagged the hand of the local queen, Magajiya Daurama, in marriage.
Today’s Sarki is the lack of investment in water and sanitation; but the reward for slaying him is worth more than the hand of a queen in marriage. It is the lives of the children that die every day as a result of contaminated water and poor sanitation.
Investment in taps and toilets is an investment in our children’s education, an investment in the nation’s health, and an investment in our economic growth. The cost to the Nigerian economy of poor sanitation is estimated at N455 billion annually (US$3 billion per year[i]). As you would expect, the highest proportion of this economic burden falls disproportionately on the poorest in our society.
In April, at the international High Level Meeting for Sanitation and Water for All, Nigeria promised to progressively increase the budget allocation for water and sanitation over the next three years. WaterAid will watch the Nigerian government and campaign to ensure that it keeps those commitments.
We must make the investment required to secure the future of our children and secure the future of our nation. Our children are watching and waiting!
Dr Michael Ojo, Country Representative, WaterAid in Nigeria
[i] The ‘Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa” report (https://www.wsp.org/wsp/sites/wsp.org/files/publications/WSP-ESI-Nigeria-brochure.pdf ) prepared in support of the SWA-HLM by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP)