As the Global community on Tuesday March 22, 2023, celebrate the World Water Day with the theme; ‘Groundwater: Making The Invisible Visible’, the world has a again come to agreement that one of the essential elements of earth, water is the prime necessity of life; that all living animals and plants cease to exist without it. Hence, the proverb says, “Water is life”.
However, while the world celebrates, it is by no means a pleasant story/narrative that after months of calls by residents, good spirited Nigerians, development professionals and media professionals, on Lagos state government to address the protracted water scarcity in the state, Lagos, that prides itself as a mega city, has but sadly continued to wear the tuga of a location where access to formal clean water is abysmally low, with the majority of its residents relying on the informal sector comprised of wells, boreholes, rivers and rain water.
From Ketu to Ikorodu, Ogba Ikeja to Ajah, Surulere to Alimosho, the story is the same. Lagosians are made to celebrate this year’s World Water Day without water.
Separate from the fact that this dangerous oversight is laced with capacity to make non-sense of the current effort to better the life chances of Lagosians, if not given the urgency of attention that it deserves, there exist reasons why this development is troubling.
Going by the United Nations declaration, there is sufficient water to satisfy the needs covered by the right to water in virtually all countries of the world – it is much more a question of equitable distribution. On average, overall household water use accounts for less than 10% of total water use, while industry and agriculture are the largest water users. The right to water is limited to basic personal and domestic needs, which account for only a fraction of overall domestic use. Even in the context of climate change, which affects overall water availability, water for personal and domestic uses can still be ensured, if prioritized as required by human rights law.
Aside from the awareness that all that every lagosians needs is 20 liters per capita per day as a minimum quantity required to realize minimum essential levels of the right, making the situation a reality to worry about is that the water scarcity which started one morning has suddenly strolled into months. And have exposed residents to daily search for Water in sources that their level of hygiene could neither be ascertained nor guaranteed. This is not the only apprehension. The predicament is made worse by the awareness that residents of the area with private boreholes who would have helped ameliorate this suffering are daily frustrated by the poor electricity supply in the area needed to operate the borehole. No thanks to the Electricity distribution Company operating in the location.
Admittedly, Lagosians know that the government can’t solve all their problems and they don’t want to to. But they (Lagosians) know that there are things they cannot do on their own but must require government support. A very good example of such responsibilities includes but not limited to supply of clean water to the citizenry, electricity and provision of schools in an environment that works.
One fact, going by the global demand that we must not shy away from is that it is true that investing in water and sanitation is costly. Yet, evidence has shown that the cost of not ensuring access to drinking water and sanitation is even higher in terms of public health and lost work and school days. For each dollar invested in water and sanitation, on average there is a return of 8 dollars in costs averted and productivity gained. Also, the human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation are subject to progressive realization. Thus universal coverage does not need to be achieved immediately, but every State must demonstrate that it is taking steps towards this goal to the maximum of its available resources and continually moving in this direction.
Now let’s cast a glance at the consequences of such failures.
First, apart from the fact that Lagos state with its mega city status ought to have out grown a city where resident will in this 21st century, rely on private water vendors for their daily water needs while those that have no resources to engage these vendors are forced to the derogatory level of scooping water from gutters. And, as we know, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks. Away from health considerations to other consequences that are international/global in outlook.
Going by the Resolution A/RES/64/292, United Nations General Assembly, July 2010 and General Comment No. 15, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, November 2002, the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is a principle that acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to every person’s life. It was recognized as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 July 2010.
To further add a background, the Resolution calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. Again, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment; Article I.1 states that “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights”. Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.
Beginning with sufficiency, the water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise. On safety, the water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health.
Talking about acceptability, water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle and privacy requirements. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics), Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/ 08032725374