By EBELE ORAKPO
WATER, one of the major components of the human body is needed to sustain life. Researchers have discovered that the human body is anywhere from 55 per cent to 78 per cent water depending on body size. The popular saying: Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, has become a thing of the past due to the presence of sachet water in every nook and cranny of the country.
â€˜Pure water,â€™ as opposed to â€˜ice waterâ€™ and â€˜bottled waterâ€™, is that potable water (of sufficient quality to serve as drinking water), treated and packaged in transparent polythene sachets, with name, address of manufacturer, expiry date, and NAFDAC number, boldly printed on it. The agency in charge of foods, drug administration and control (NAFDAC) gives such numbers after testing a product and certifying it fit for human consumption. Such numbers authenticate the product.
Over the years, â€˜ice waterâ€™, used to refer to water, usually untreated, packaged in ordinary transparent polyethylene bags (water-proof or nylon in local parlance) mostly under unhygienic conditions, has evolved and has today been replaced by pure/sachet water which comes in fanciful sachets and are produced under more hygienic conditions.
This was as a result of massive enlightenment by government agencies especially NAFDAC, warning people against drinking water indiscriminately which usually results in water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid, dysentery etc. with deadly after-effects.
Water-borne diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms which are directly transmitted when contaminated drinking water is consumed. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhoeal disease accounts for an estimated 4.1 per cent of the total daily global burden of disease and is responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million people every year. It was estimated that 88 per cent of that burden is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and is mostly concentrated in children in developing countries. The pure water business has become an industry, like the little seed that has grown into a mighty oak. It has become an industry to be reckoned with in Nigeria in terms of its modest contribution to the growth of the economy.
Employment: According to Philip Johnson of De Rose Water, located in Iba Estate, Lagos, the company has about 320 people in its employ, while Luyol Water and Seagull Table Water, both at Iju-Ishaga, have three, and nine employees respectively. These employees have their families and other dependants and so the industry has helped government in taking these people off the unemployment market, keeping them gainfully employed and thus, helping to reduce crime rate, ensuring security in the country, especially when one considers the fact that there are so many sachet water companies in Lagos State alone and each has its employees.
Cost of production: â€œIf you donâ€™l have the heart, you wonâ€™t be able to continue in the business. noted Mr. Johnson as the cost of production has greatly increased and yet, the price of their product remains static. â€œWe use about 1,500 litres of diesel a day and we produce 30,000 bags of sachet water daily,â€ Johnson added. According to Mr. Umaru Mahdi of Seagull Table Water: â€œAs at now, we use 150 litres of diesel a day and produce 1,200 bags of sachet water. On his part, Mr. S. J. Alayeh of Luyol Pure Water said they use over 50 litres of diesel and produce about 1,000 – 1,200 bags of sachet water a day, in addition to the cost of chemicals for water treatment and the polythene bags for packaging.
On the union:
On the union, he said there is a union indeed but it is not strong due to divergent interests. All attempts to locate the unionâ€™s secretariat failed. To buttress the fact that the union is not strong, Mr. Johnson said: â€œFor over a decade, sachet water has been selling for N5,00 despite the fact that the cost of everything used in its production has gone up. So how do we grow? he asked. Echoing Mr. Johnson, S. J. Alayeh of Luyol Pure Water, located in Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, said: â€œWe have a union but it is not really working. If the union was alive to its responsibilities, the price of sachet water should have been increased as cost of production has increased.â€ He suggested a situation whereby the union should be able to raise a task force and empower them to enforce a fixed price for their products.
According to Johnson, some members are there purely for business, some for leisure. For instance, if a man working with an oil company opens a pure water company, he has his salary to fund the operations and he may be getting diesel from his company so the company is not depending solely on what it makes from its products and you canâ€™t compare this person to the one who is there for business, no external source of income. So some of the members donâ€™t really have a stake in the industry.
How government can help: Johnson was visibly angry when asked how government could help the industry, saying that they are the ones helping the government instead. â€œGovernment is suppressing us, they are not ready to do anything for anybody. We live as slaves in our own country. Government taxes us beyond what we can bear. At the slightest opportunity, they are ready to close down a place, not minding the consequences vis-a-vis, those that will be thrown into the unemployment market and into the streets, some of whom may end up going into criminal activities and constituting a threat to the security of the land.
No good road and as result, our vehicles donâ€™t last long. And Â Â Â the same government we are helping, once your vehicle breaks down on the road, it is quickly impounded. In fact, the infrastructure is simply not there. Government will give us standard to meet but will not help us by providing the basic infrastructure to enable us meet those standards. They squeeze us dry through taxation. Well, if they feel we are partners in progress, they should come to find out what we need to be able to perform better.
Mr. Mahdi of Seagull Table Water said the only way the government could help them is to provide them with electricity so that the money they spend in running their generators could be put into something else.
Proliferation: Asked about the proliferation of pure water companies, whether it is as a result of the lucrative nature of the business, Johnson was quick to say no, stating that the cost of production is very high. â€œWe use about 1,000 litres of diesel a day because we run a 24-hour shift and the generator runs throughout. Though we brought in PHCN here, but we never get electricity supply from them.â€ He said people come into the industry for various reasons. Some are retirees who see it as an investment opportunity, some are there just for leisure while others are there purely for business. For Umaru Mahdi, he feels that many people are into the business because one can start it up in a small space with the most basic things needed for production and distribution.
So what is their actual gain?
Umaru Mahdi said he is happy that they can pay their workers at the end of the month and have enough to keep the company running. Johnson echoed Mahdiâ€™s opinion, saying their joy is in being able to pay salaries at the end of the month and see the happy faces of their employees and their defendants. He likened it to a man who does not have savings but his family is well taken care of and that is his joy, seeing those happy faces everyday.
Yearly turnover: Johnson said: â€œWe canâ€™t declare any turnover as the banks do at the end of the year because we canâ€™t even boast of N100,000 at the end of the year. All is ploughed back into the business.â€ Umaru Mahdi: â€œAs long as we can pay the workers, I can say we make profit.â€
Sometime ago, precisely in March, 2008, the Lagos State Ministry of Environment in collaboration with the Lagos Plastic and Nylon Waste Recovery Awareness and Consultative Forum (LPNWRAC) placed a five-day ban on the production and distribution of sachet water in the state. This was to enable pure water producers embark on environmental sanitation of drainages, streets, gutters and water ways in the state, which usually get clogged as a result of pure water sachets.