Opinion: Reversing Nigeria’s deplorable water, sanitation and hygiene situation

by Jide Ojo

Three weeks ago, precisely from September 20 – 22, I was at Yankari Game Reserve for a three day workshop organised by WaterAid Nigeria. It was an eye-opener! Did you know that 57m people in Nigeria don’t have access to safe water?   Did you know that over 130m people don’t have access to adequate sanitation in this country?  Did you know that our dear fatherland is the worst country in Africa for urban sanitation access?  Were you aware that in this country, almost 60,000 children under five years old die every year from diarrhoea diseases caused by poor water and sanitation? These are not my personal opinion; it is from WaterAid, an international organisation that is working in 37 countries of the world which has been in Nigeria for about 20 years now.

If the above statistics from WaterAid shocked you, calm down and wait for the one from United Nations Children Fund. According to UNICEF, “About 70m people, out of a population of 171m, lacked access to safe drinking water, and over 110m lacked access to improved sanitation in 2013. Open defecation rates, at 28.5 per cent pose grave public health risks. Every year, an estimated 124,000 children under the age of five die because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition. Many schools in Nigeria lack safe, private toilets and hand-washing facilities. This affects enrolment and performance, particularly in the case of girls.” Peradventure, this grave situation was partly why Sustainable Development Goal six was on ensuring access to Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.

Even without any official statistics, it is an open secret that the water, sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria is very deplorable. Even in urban centres there is no state in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory that is 100 per cent covered by public water supply. In FCT with the exception of parts of Bwari and AMAC Area Councils, the others like Gwagwalada, Kuje, Kwali and Abaji have no public water supply. In Ibadan where I was born, schooled and live, there is largely no public water supply. If there is, perhaps it may be in the Government Reservation Areas of Bodija, Agodi, Jericho, Iyaganku and Oluyole. In fact, since I was born, water though is on government concurrent legislative list has been made to be citizens’ responsibility and not government’s. So sad! In many communities around the country people fetch their drinking water from the stream or well. In some instances, animals and human beings share same water sources, which should not be. A good water is supposed to be colourless and tasteless. Unfortunately, potable water in many homes is brownish and had taste which means they are not safe for human consumption.


Since there is hardly water for drinking in many homes, little is available for sanitation and hygiene.  As seeing from the above statistics, open defecation is still a serious challenge in Nigeria with a whooping 130m not having access to adequate sanitation. This is so because many homes, schools, public buildings and business complexes are built with few or no toilet facilities. A visit to many rural communities will reveal that most of them indulge in open defecation as their homes are built without even a pit laterine. Despite federal and state governments’ pronouncement of environmental sanitation days, many citizens hardly participate in the cleaning of their environment. Many residential houses are overgrown with weeds while the drainages are blocked due to dumping of solid wastes in the gutters and water channels. These unwholesome practices apart from causing flooding are also harbinger of diseases.

Personal hygiene is alien to many people in this country. Because of shortage of water, clothes are not washed as at when due. Many do not even brush their teeth twice daily as recommended by dental experts. Washing hands after defecation or when one’s hand is soiled is a Herculean task for many people as they see it as waste of scarce water resource. Though it is advised that fruits should be washed before being eaten, many people ignore this hygiene practice and carelessly eat unwashed fruits.

The implications of not embracing WASH are grave. It affects health and even the economy. Experts said many of the water and insect borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria, dysentery, and the likes can be drastically reduced if only we all adopt water, sanitation and hygiene practices. In spite of the acute shortage of water in many metropolitan areas of the country, the few privileged communities that have pipe borne water also engage in water wastages. Because the publicly supplied water is highly subsidised to make it affordable, many residents who enjoy this facility are known to be lackadaisical in the way they use water.   Their leaking taps and pipes are not repaired promptly.

Anytime I pass by and see water gushing out of burst reticulated water-pipes I am sad. This is a scarce commodity being allowed to waste.  Another concern is that sometimes water supply from Water Corporation or Board is either coloured or full of particles, thereby unsafe for drinking. It behooves Water Board to fix these broken pipes promptly. The Board should make available hotlines to call to alert it to areas where citizens have noticed broken pipes leading to water wastage. For those who do not have access to chlorinated pipe borne water, they should embrace the simple practice of boiling their drinking water once they are not sure of its safety.

I do know that the common practice now is for people to buy sachet or bottled water believing that it is very safe to drink. That is however not totally true. Many of these water manufacturing companies are either not licenced or adulterate their product after licensing from Standard Organisation of Nigeria and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control. Health experts have also recently made it clear that it is unsafe to drink processed water in plastic container when it has been exposed to too much sun or heat. It has been said by experts also that indiscriminate drilling of boreholes in search of water is dangerous as it is not environmentally friendly.

The imperative of environmental sanitation and hygienic practices cannot be over-emphasised. We need to clean our environment as a habit even without government prompting. Personal hygiene such as hand washing and oral hygiene will make us live a healthy life. And as the saying goes, cleanliness is next to Godliness and a healthy people are wealthy people.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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