WATER CRISIS: As borehole becomes ticking timebomb?

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WITH  a population of  well over 140 million people, less than 30 percent of Nigerians have access to potable water. While it falls under the purview of  governments at all levels to provide this essential of life, through the Ministry of Water resources, the reverse is the case, as citizens have over the years resorted to providing for their domestic use through the construction of boreholes. But this alternative source of water for domestic, agricultural and industrial purposes, appears to constitute a looming danger for Nigerians. CHARLES KUMOLU writes

EVERY intending property owner in this part of the world considers it a necessity, given that government at all levels have  failed to provide potable water for its citizens.

An attempt to ignore providing it in an apartment, literarily translates to denying  occupants of that apartment or residents of that community access to potable water.

Hence, construction of boreholes has become a norm for most families, governments and communities in Nigeria.

Lagos residents at a public water supply point

From the dry Savanah belt of the North, to the mangrove forests of the Niger Delta, borehole is the word for every property owner.

Although, the practice had existed before the eighties, findings by VangaurdFeatures,VF, reveals that the construction of boreholes became prominent in Nigeria in the 1980s through the government and international support agencies like UNICEF, UNDP, EU, DFID among others.

Since then there has been an astronomical increase in the number of wells and boreholes constructed , as over 60 percent of Nigerians depend on groundwater for their water supply for domestic, industrial or agricultural use.

With a lot of people accepting this as a better alternative to the failure of government to provide water, the news that the construction and consumption of borehole water, poses severe danger to Nigerians, VF investigations, can reveal, is already sending shivers down the spin of many a Nigerian.

Looming danger

Raising the latest alarm, was the Lagos State, governor, Babatunde Fashola, who expressed concern over the proliferation of boreholes in the state, saying they constituted long term environmental problem.

The governor, at the inauguration of one-million-gallon-per-day capacity World Bank assisted Mini Waterworks at Iponri, said the residents of the state were better off with more Water works than more boreholes in their different houses.

He said the state, through the water corporation would soon address the environmental risk posed by the increasing number of boreholes in the next few weeks.

He urged Lagosians to make use of domestic connections to their homes wherever there is a waterworks, saying government would continue to build waterworks to bring water close to various homes in the state.

He said, “Let us shut down those boreholes because they have long term environmental impact and environmental damage to our state and our people.”

Besides Fashola, the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) had also raised an alarm, through its Group Managing Director ,Mr. Shayo Holloway, of an imminent bore hole drilling induced landslide in the state.

He said that water from shallow bore holes was salty and dangerous for human consumption because it could cause typhoid fever, hypertension and high blood pressure.

“Domestic bore holes are affecting water production because it pollutes the water when it is abandoned and refuse dumped into it,”he stated.

Further investigations, also revealed that UNESCO had since warned against the use of groundwater as borehole water as it is known , for public water supply. Consequently, it had been discouraging governments across the globe from the use of ground water.

While, it was gathered that some countries had heeded to this alarm, by providing alternative source to groundwater, Nigeria has continued to glorify and celebrate the practice of getting water through borehole, thereby increasing the fears posed by construction and consumption of borehole water.

Depressing questions

Therefore, it was not a surprise  that VF discovered that questions such as:What alternative does  government  have in the face of the reported looming dangers; why has has public water works failed across the country; why has government continued to pay lip service to the issue of providing quality water; among others. These questions have continued to dominate public discourse in the face of this current alarm about Nigeria’s only source of potable water.

According to the Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Building, Lagos State Chapter, Mr. Kunle Awobodu, “this issue is coming up because there is no access to potable water, it affects the whole nation. I hope it would not be a surprise to you that even the policy makers support the practice of constructing borehole, because the public water system has failed every where. Government has even turned their eyes against reviving the water boards. They are more concerned with siphoning money through borehole construction for communities.

’’This might look good, even sounds good but the government in this case is in the wrong direction. The government should go and resuscitate the dormant water work plants and rebuild them. Then start providing tap drinking water and not digging boreholes,’’

Tracing how water crisis brought about the borehole phenomenon in Nigeria, he said, “Since independence until the 1980s the government was providing potable water to communities that had water boards, the taps were flowing,.Even at the local level treated drinking water was provided to the people of Nigeria, overtime with increasing population, poor planning and corruption, the professionalism of the Ministry of Water Works was killed and buried.

“Due to the government’s inefficiency especially at the State and Local government levels, the energetic and pragmatic Nigerians are restoring to digging water boreholes for our children and families to quench the water thirst. That is how we found ourselves in this mess that you cannot open your tap and drink good water, yes boreholes cannot be said to be a properly healthy means of potable water”

Underground patho-gens and pollutants

A World Water Day report by Principal Policy Strategist at Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center Mr. Emeka  Chiakwelu, also gave credence to Awobodu’s position

The report observed that, “gradually the governments are joining the people in digging water boreholes and even appointing commissioners who channel funds for the project. Most of these boreholes are exposed to underground pathogens and pollutants especially E-coli that is responsible for stomach upset that comes with diarrhea and massive lose of fluids.

In the underground, the water might also be exposed to natural radionuclides and nature’s occurring hazardous metals (As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sn, and Tl) these heavy metals as they are called are toxic with carcinogenic properties. Therefore it is highly recommended and intrinsic that water from the boreholes is sampled for laboratory analysis and bio-chemical analytical before consumption.”

It therefore recommended that: ‘’The government should  resuscitate the dormant water work plants and rebuild them. Then start providing tap drinking water and not digging boreholes.’’

Also, the Executive Secretary of the Management and Administration of the Nigerian Environmental Society(NES ), Mr. Leslie Adogameh, acknowledged that  drilling and sinking of boreholes  by individuals, had  exposed many to hazards, adding that what is required for the government to declare an emergency on the water sector.

“The people that raised alarm about the health and environmental dangers of boreholes construction in this country, should bury their head in shame. We have a society where people provide their own electric power, roads, houses and water, while the government does nothing but encouraging corruption.

It is a saddening situation, that the Ministry of water resources only exists for no reason, because the water boards are not working, so my take on the matter is that government should focus on making water available for all, I hope you know that provision of potable water is part of the MDGs, and this is 2012, Nigerians are still thirsty,” he stated.

As far as he is concerned, past and present governments at all levels, are responsible for the prolification of boreholes in the country and its inherent dangers, adding that they(governments) have been paying lip service to the issue.

“Boreholes could lead to landmines, earthquakes or tremor in the foreseeable future. It is easily contaminated by leaky contaminants, heavy metals and micro organisms. When pollutants spill, leak or are inadvertently dumped on the soil surface, they easily seep through the soil and pollute the aquifer – the layer of rock or clay holding groundwater.

More vulnerable are boreholes in areas of mining and oil drilling activities. Worse still, Nigerians are not known to purify water from boreholes before consumption. Cases of toxicity arising from drinking untreated water from boreholes are rife, so, you can see that the failure of governance is responsible for what we have today.” he noted.

However,  when VF sought the view of a Public Health expert, Dr. Callistus Agobudoh on the issue, he restrained from blaming the government generally on the matter, arguing that Nigerians have been too docile to challenge why things are not working properly the way it should.

He said: ‘’Why do we always blame government. We have to blame ourselves for not challenging the government to fix all the moribund water schemes. When the people failed to challenge the government, because they are comfortable with using dangerous borehole water for many purposes.

But I must commend you people for raising this awareness on the dangers of borehole water, the statistics are there for you to know that most deaths in this country are from waterborne diseases,” he stated.

Agobudoh’s anger about the danger inherent in the absence of potable water in the country, was also strengthened by United Nations IRIN humanitarian Information Unit’s statement.

The UN report observed that “Guinea worm and onchocerchiasis( River blindness) are endemic water-borne diseases in certain parts of Africa’s most populous country (Nigeria) of more than 120 million people. UNICEF had decided to emphasise water and environmental sanitation after realising that the occurrence of diarrhea, a major childhood killer in Nigeria, could decline by 15 percent if water quality was improved, Ackers said in the FCT, Abuja.

Increasing the quantity of available water  would lower the incidence of diarrhea by 22 percent. In combination with improved hygiene, the incidence could further drop by up to 35 percent while adding safe disposal of feces would lower this by 40 percent.”

Re-examination of water crisis

Regardless of this, the pertinent question in many quarters remain; is Nigeria prepared to re-examine the issue of potable water supply?

Responding to this poser, the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe  at a recent forum, said, “Nigeria is taking the lead, with other countries along the Chad Basin to sponsor the studies from water transfer from the Congo to recharge the Lake Chad.

So far, Nigeria has committed US$5million for the studies. The consultants have almost concluded the studies and the report is ready for the presentation to the summit of head of states of Lake Chad Basic Commission. The T.Y Danjuma Foundation and other similar organisations are working hard to ensure the provision of potable water to the Nigerian populace, saying they had so far, raised US$5million out of the US$10 million targeted for the purpose by 2015.’’

In addition, Ochekpe said, “because of climate change, we don’t expect that the volume of water that we have will increase. Actually in some places there is high evaporation, but the world over, the strategy that is being put forward for all countries to adopt is the integrated water management. In Nigeria, we already have an integrated water management commission that is supposed to serve as the regulator in terms of the use of water.”

But the Country Representative  of Water For Life Project, chief   Nebolisa Uwadiegwu, punctured the claims that the government is meeting up with the water needs of the nation, arguing that what the government had always done is to initiate studies on water crisis and abandon the result of such studies.

Uwadiegwu said: “The minister works for the government and you would not expect her to say that Nigeria is not doing enough to addresse the challenge posed by availability of potable water and the borehole drilling that I believe is a looming danger. We work with this people at different fora  both locally and internationally.

The truth is that this nation is not serious about such matters. They are comfortable with attending the conferences and being signatory to international agreements  that they would revive and provide water schemes, by the time they come back, they would sink boreholes indiscriminately in their communities.”

Continuing, he said, “A look at the global water situation will convince all on the need to study, understand and invest more in the more abundant ground water resources for both the rural and urban areas of Nigeria.”

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