April 8, 2018

UNICEF WARNING: Your drinking water from borehole can be contaminated with 10 million viruses from faeces

UNICEF WARNING: Your drinking water from borehole can be contaminated with 10 million viruses from faeces

*In search of potable water

…why government must address water, sanitation crisis in Nigeria

By Chioma Obinna

Growing demand for water, coupled with poor water management, has increased water stress in many parts of the world.   For instance, 2017 global water assessment by World Health Organisation, WHO, and United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, showed that many people, particularly in the rural areas, lack access to water.

It further revealed that 2.1 billion people, worldwide, lack access to safe, readily available water at home and 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation. Climate change is adding to the pressure.

However, with demand for fresh water projected to grow by more than 40 per cent by the middle of the century, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says water scarcity has become an enormous concern. According to him, the world cannot afford to take water crisis for granted because water is a matter of life and death and many of the most serious diseases in the developing world are directly related to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and insufficient hygiene practices.

Guterres also noted that, by 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will live in a country where the lack of fresh water will be chronic or recurrent.

Unfortunately, while the Sustainable Development Goal, SDG, 6, focuses on safe water and adequate sanitation for all by 2030, over 96 per cent of Nigerians still consume contaminated water, according to the 2016/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS.

Inside toilet facilities 

Right inside one of the toilet facilities built by the European Union and UNICEF for pupils of Bangai LEA Primary School in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State were Blessing, 7, and Yakubu Silas, 12, washing their hands.   It was glaring they were excited practicing one of the simple but most neglected acts of preventing under 5 diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.   They were excited because they are now enjoying the benefits of having a functional borehole and toilet facilities in their school. “I am happy we now have water in my school”, Silas told Sunday Vanguard, smiling.

But how many of their peers have such opportunity in their states across Nigeria?

Findings by UNICEF showed that only 34 of 167 schools in two local government areas in Plateau have improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities.

In the Bangai school, before the EU/UNICEF intervention, Open Defecation, OD, was the order of the day. The situation was so bad that one of the school management staff described it as an ‘eye sore’.

Many of the pupils were said to have dropped out of school as they could not bear staying in school for hours without water and toilet facilities.   Sadly, diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid were common place among the pupils.

But, today, with the facilities available in the school, the number of pupils participating in school activities has increased and there is reduction in diseases.

“In fact, our roll call has increased from over 100 to 255 within this short period. Now, we are finding it difficult handling the children because we have limited classrooms. Most of the structures here are bad,” the Head Teacher, Mrs. Victoria Gyang, said.

However, the case of Bangai Primary School is just an aspect of the many benefits of improved WASH facilities to individuals, communities, countries and the world at large.

SDG 6 targets

Safe water and adequate sanitation, according to experts, not only strengthens poverty reduction, economic growth and healthy ecosystems, but also contributes to social well-being, inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods.

Also, SDG-6, by 2030, expects countries to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.   With one in three households in Nigeria consuming contaminated water, according to 2016/2017 MICS report, health watchers are of the opinion that Nigeria may not meet the SDG targets with its current investment in WASH.

To many Nigerians, reversing water situation in Nigeria is non- negotiable as the UN Secretary-General, Guterres, explained that more than 90 per cent of disasters are water-related and that more than two billion people globally lack access to safe water while 4.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation services.

According to Guterres, these numbers mean a harsh daily reality for people in rural communities and urban slums in all regions of the world.

“We cannot continue to take water for granted and expect to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.   It is time to change how we value and manage water”, he said.

But how ready is Nigeria to achieve the 2030 SDG 6 target?   This is a one million dollar question begging for an answer.   In Nigeria, today, only 64.1 per cent households had access to improved water sources in 2016, a decline from 2015.   Also, 35.9 per cent used improved sanitation in 2016 compared to 58.5 per cent in 2015 and 31 per cent in 2011. With these findings, health watchers are of the view that Nigeria may not achieve the target, if nothing urgently is done.

Today, overwhelming majority of 96.3 per cent of households in Nigeria drink water contaminated by faeces and other polluted substances such as Escherichia coli (E.coli).

The latest MICS report also showed that about one in three households in Nigeria consume contaminated water.

According to UNICEF, estimated population using safely managed drinking water sources were put at 65.50 per cent in 2012, 67.60 per cent in 2014 and 68.50 per cent in 2015.

In the 2016/2017 survey, North-East topped the list of zones with poor access to improved water with 52.4 per cent, while the South-West led with 87.3 per cent. North-West had 58.6, North-Central 58.7, South-South 75.5 and South-East 80.1 per cent.

The survey according to states showed that Imo topped the chart with 92.2 of residents having improved drinking water.

The report also revealed that E.coli was a major substance found in water consumed by Nigerians without access to safely-managed drinking water.

E.coli refers to some bacteria that live in intestines; although most types are harmless, some types can make people sick and cause diarrhoea. The worst type causes bloody diarrhoea and can cause kidney failure and even death.

Reacting to the situation of water in Nigeria, Chief of UNICEF’s WASH, Nigeria, Mr. Zaid Jurji, who expressed worry on the current state of WASH services in the country, said the fact that less than 10 per cent of Nigerians have access to safe water, calls for serious budgeting allocation to WASH.

According to him, if Nigeria should triple its investment to a minimum of 1.7 per cent from the current 0.6 per cent GDP, it would meet the SDG by 2030.

Quoting World Bank estimation, he said Nigeria will only attain the SDG target by making an investment of $8 billion annually until 2030.   “Sanitation and water has a big impact on health, economy, and children and to everything that influences lives”.

Jurji’s words: “The country will only beat the target by making an investment of $8 billion annually until 2030. Sanitation and water has a big impact on health, economy, and children and to everything that influences lives.”

He explained that 88 per cent of diarrhoea cases worldwide are linked to unsafe water, a scourge which remains the second killer of children, adding that $1 dollar investment in water and sanitation will bring back $25 dollar benefits.

The UNICEF official disclosed that MICs 2016/207 showed that 25 per cent of Nigerians also defecate in the open; a situation, he said, was more than Canada population.

“Water is essential for the survival and development of all children. Without water, children simply cannot stay alive or thrive in a healthy environment. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, strengthen poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability”.

The fly

UNICEF WASH Specialist, Drissa Yeo, who also explained the implication of diseases such as E.coli, said: “You can easily get your food and drinking water contaminated even though it is coming from a borehole.   This is where E.coli comes in.

“One will say ‘I have defecated there; it is not close to my house’ but when the wind blows, there is no border. One of the biggest transporters is the fly.   The fly can land on it and bring it back to the household. When the fly perches on it, automatically, it is either shitting or pissing. Whatever it has transported it will deposit it there. The health implication is that you can easily get your food or water contaminated.

“A gram of faeces it is transporting means it has left behind him about 10 million viruses. You can imagine if you swallow one of the viruses, you are already contaminated. In those viruses also, the same gram will contain one million of bacteria. The bacteria if they get into your stomach you can get easily infested, that is one of the main big issues with open defecation.”

Regretting that people are yet to understand where typhoid is coming from, Yeo said such contamination would lead to diarrhoea and typhoid, “ An individual could also get Hepatitis E and A. There is a big health implication when it comes to open defecation.

“Diarrhoea is one of the main-killers in the world, today if you get contaminated with cholera, and you did not receive the appropriate treatment in the next 24 to 48 hours, you can pass on.   Dysentery can give you some time to take care of yourself but not cholera”.

Purifying water 

He explained that whether a community has borehole or not, with open defecation, handmade wells are not protected because they are prone to external contamination and therefore do not qualify as drinking water.

“For a community like that, there is need for people to perform filtration or try as much as possible to boil it. You can use chemical products like water guard, water purification tablets to disinfect the drinking water. You can use chlorine tablet but it depends on the water. Chlorine tablet works 100 per cent for water from borehole. But for muddy waters, if you use chlorine tablet, there will be first chemical reaction which will reduce the effectiveness of that chlorine tablet. The water needs to be clean. If the water looks muddy and you use chlorine tablet, it will not work 100 per cent”, he said.

Achieving SDGs

Yeo, who acknowledged that government had put on the table some efforts to ensure that WASH services are delivered to the people, urged state governments to adopt the Federal Government’s expanded WASH programme as part of the efforts to deliver WASH services in the communities.

He urged government to make policies that would facilitate access to improved water sources and sanitation, which will, in turn, help to reduce preventable diseases.