By Oboh Agbonkhese
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, has commended the Federal Government for declaring a state of emergency in the water, sanitation and hygiene, WASH, sector, but disagreed with government’s position that private sector participation will reverse the sectors’ woes.
The environment rights group’s Deputy Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said proposals that put the private sector in the drivers’ seat in fashioning solutions to water shortages across the country are built on “debunked theories” promoted by the World Bank and international organisations that see water only as a commodity and not as a human right.
Minister for Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, had announced last week that the declaration of emergency in the water sector was an effort to address the current crisis and re-prioritise WASH for investment and revitalisation.
Unveiling a 13-year revitalization strategy for the WASH sector, Adamu said there would be an 18-month emergency phase and five years recovery plan that would compel concrete actions to be taken by Federal and state governments under five components comprising governance, sustainability, funding, financing and monitoring, and evaluation.
Global Water Intelligence, the private water industry trade journal, noted that Adamu declared that he “wants to see much greater private sector participation to improve performance going forward.”
However, Oluwafemi, in a statement by ERA/FoEN’s Head, Media & Campaigns, Philip Jakpor, said: “We are in total agreement that the water sector in Nigeria is in dire need of critical intervention.
“We, however, differ on the way forward because the crisis in the sector is as a result of faulty policies promoted by the World Bank Group and international agencies that were adopted by the government.”
Oluwafemi revealed that “countries that experimented water privatisation in Public Private Partnership, PPP, or other forms have started taking back their water from the privatisers. It is a story documented in Buenos Aires and Paris, and it is happening across Africa from Tanzania to Cameroon, Ghana and, more recently, Gabon. It is tsunami of remunicipalisation.
“It is, therefore, worrisome that Nigeria is not learning from these lessons of corporate water failures.”
He insisted that the pressure on the Nigerian government to “financialise the water sector is coming from international finance institutions that continually create false narratives about so-called solutions that will only rake in more profits for multinationals at the expense of the larger population who will be presented with options of paying huge costs or getting cut off for not being able to.”
On the way forward, the ERA/FoEN boss urged the Federal Government to shun all contracts designed by, involving, or influenced by corporate interests—including by the World Bank’s private arm (International Finance Corporation, IFC) which operates to maximise private profit— while integrating broad public participation in developing plans to achieve universal access to clean water.
“Parliament should also pass a resolution declaring water as a human right with the obligation on the state to ensure access to all citizens irrespective of their ability to pay or not,” Oluwafemi concluded.