By Agbonkhese Oboh
Visits to major and mini waterworks in Lagos State have shown that water shortage might be the weak link in the state’s commendable efforts in curtailing COVID-19 pandemic. As the state comes out of a lockdown, a second wave might have a lot to do with hygiene in the densely-populated suburbs.
This is cause for worry as one of the ways to stay coronavirus free is regular washing of hands and sipping of water. The situation is ironic for a state that is popular for its surplus surface and ground waters.
A 2018 report said Lagos Water Corporation, LWC, provides 220 MDG (million gallons of water daily). This is less than half of the needed 540 MGD. The state has 180 kilometres of transmission mains and 2,215 kilometres of distribution mains. Some of these facilities are as old as 108 years. These realities put millions of Lagosians at the mercy of cart pushing water vendors. This was pre-coronavirus Lagos.
Therefore, while Lagos State government is projecting a rise in daily water production to 700MGD, the present COVID-19 pandemic demands practical and far more economical strategy: enlighten and work with the water vendors.
The water vendors are communal by nature with a loose form of leadership. Therefore, government can easily locate their clusters across the state using the local government secretariats. A day of teaching them the importance of hygiene, how to use hand sanitiser, mask and the rules of social/physical distancing is all that is needed. Monitoring adherence is also possible via same method.
For now, majority of the waterworks are functioning far below installed capacity, while others produce 0MGD. So, while Lagosians, especially in the suburbs, have never used pipe-borne water, it might get worse for the “privileged” ones in this pandemic. The consequences of worsening water shortage during a pandemic in a city such as Lagos should be left in the realm of imagination.
In fact, a 2000 study by the World Bank stated that about 60% of water produced in Lagos State is lost to these challenges. Therefore, since LWC does not cover the entire state, the gains of the COVID-19 lockdown and regulations are at the mercy of waters from wells and boreholes, which litter the state. But in an epidemic, the water vendor is the key because he is in charge of the millions cramped into the Lagos suburbs.
The waterworks of issues
Between March and April, none of the waterworks— Adiyan, Iju, Isashi, Ikosi, Epe, Shasha, Sulure-Itire, Ikeja and others— was problem free.
Adiyan, with installed capacity of 70 million gallons per day, MGD, produced 23.33 MGD on April 14. It was learned that this was the highest, and production had declined to 14.56 MGD as at April 16.
It was also learned that the waterworks had engine challenges, technical hitches, gas outage and unavailable electric power to pump raw water.
For Iju, which has an installed capacity of 45 MGD, it produced 6.87 MGD on March 20, then 4.3 MGD on April 16.
In this case, between March 20 and April 16, only one clear water pump was working, with a lot of waste clogging the pipes and valves in the second pump. There was also low pressure with the gas. As at April 16 the problem had not been fixed.
From the 4GMD capacity, Isashi produced 2.2 on April 9. By April 16, it had dropped to 0.95MGD, with a major cable rupture at the intake of raw water. Also, besides epileptic power supply that the waterworks suffers from, one raw water pump was revived, but considered not economically viable. Shasha waterworks was built to produce 2.4MGD. However, for the past 10 years it has been dormant.
Another one that has not produced water is Ikosi that has 4MGD installed capacity. It was learned that between March 20 and April 16, diesel was not available to power the plant and the generator was due for servicing.
There was no production at Surulere-Itire, with 2.4 MGD capacity. Epe has 3MGD capacity, but residents said for two months before the COVID-19 lockdown, it had not given out water.
In highbrow Lekki, the waterworks has 1MGD capacity. While there was no production during the April 16 visit, locals said the waterworks works and they get water regularly.
At Akilo-Ogba, with 1MGD, production only stalls when there is no electricity. Taps outside it premises were flowing with water on April 17.
We’re trying, working non-stop, say LWC
When Vanguard reached LWC’s MD/CEO, Engr. Muminu Badmus, on the state of waterworks in Lagos, he said: “The shortage is not only in Lagos State. It is nationwide. Even global. Yes, the water we are supplying is less than what is required for the state. I have to admit that. It should have been close to 600MDG. But we are able to get out about 300MDG.
“However, you might have visited a facility when production was not in progress. It doesn’t mean the facility is not functioning. While it is possible that there might be mechanical or power issue, it could also be that the tanks are full and in circulation.
“I must also say that we have been getting commendations during this pandemic period. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recognises the importance of water, especially in the COVID-19 fight. So he made adequate provision for us to do our work. So 98% of our facilities are pumping. You must also realise that some of them are old. But we are working.”
Mrs Kehinde Fashola, Head of LWC Media Team gave a view of how the corporation has been playing its part in the fight against COVID-19.
Her words: “All the isolation centres do not lack pipe-borne water. I can assure you that there can never be shortage of water in those centres. Our mini-waterworks at Onikan and Shomolu are doing the needed supply.
“Also, Adiyan Waterworks is serving Alimosho. There was an electrical problem. But as we speak, it has been fixed and production ongoing.”
Poignantly, a statement by the corporation on May 6 stressed the importance of water availability, noting that “regular washing of hands with soap and clean running water is one of the preventive measures against COVID-19,” while asking Lagosians to conserve and use water wisely.
The statement added that residents of Shomolu, Dolphin, Lekki, Ikoyi, Victoria Island (Saka Tinubu, Magodo, Itire Ikate, Mosan Okunola, Ikorodu (Lagos Road), Ojokoro, Akilo, Oworonshoki, Lagos Island, Mainland, Yaba/Ebute-Metta, among others, have been commending the efforts of the Corporation, because of their access to potable water supply, especially during this critical period of coronavirus.
Well, other Lagosians might not share the same sentiments.
How we water our homes — Lagosians
A Lagosian that owns homes in Lekki, Surulere and in the United States told Vanguard “I pay the utility bills in all the homes.
“But while in Lekki and Surulere I still get to pump water from the borehole with my power generator, in the US I get value for the bills I pay.”
At Olowora in Kosofe Local Government Area, pipe-borne water was taken for granted until 2015. “No single drop of water from waterboard since 2015,” a resident of the area told Vanguard. He didn’t realise how privileged he was until water trickled into dryness in his taps and he turned to water vendors for supply.
In Ikotun, Alimosho council area, some people have never seen LWC water taps. It’s been wells and water vendors replacing waterworks in Lagos. With the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, the millions all over Lagos that belong in that category of never-seen-water-from-taps might just be literally paying water vendors to bring the virus to homes.
Enter Musa. He has been supplying this one-storey building of eight flats for long. It is one of the many houses he services in Ikotun area. But since the pandemic, all the children in a particular flat are locked up in a room, space created for Musa as he goes back and forth emptying all 10 25-litre kegs into a drum. As soon as he leaves, there is a scramble to clean up and sanitise everything he touched. And some families can’t be bordered with these (inadequate) precautions.
Therefore, Lagos State government would do well to reach all the Musas in the state, enlightened them and provide them with the appropriate PPE. That way they would complement LWC. They, in fact, reach places pipelines can never reach.
The disease and population connection
From rising from lockdown on Monday, May 4, with tentative steps as COVID-19 war rages, the commercial heartbeat of the country has swung back to its bustling self. With almost all the regulations for curtailing coronavirus flouted, sufficient, clean and affordable water would be a giant step. But obviously the state can’t provide this. So it must work with water vendors in an emergency situation such as we are in currently.
The population of Lagosians at the mercy of this water shortage is huge. In the event of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the repercussions in these areas would be enormous.
The most populous local government areas in the state are Alimosho (1,391,571), Ajeromi-Ifelodun (687,316), Kosofe (682,772), Mushin (631,857), Oshodi-Isolo (629,061) and, Ojo (609,173). These are 2006 estimates by National Population Commission, NPC, which put the state populations at 9,113,605.
However, in 2020, no fewer than 14,368,332 Nigerians live in Lagos, according to World Population Review based on UN World Urbanisation Projects. But the state government puts it at 17.5 million, a figure disputed by the NPC, which estimated 21,000,000 in 2016.
Given the characteristic colouring of civil realities with partisan politicking, not even the next population census (whenever it holds) promises near accurate estimates. But the fact is whether the state occupies 3,577 square kilometres or 3,518.61 square kilometres, the population density still sits comfortably at over 5,000 persons per square kilometre.
To put it in practical terms, imagine more than 5,000 people in a square formed by 10 electric poles on each side, using the poles’ familiar spacing. That is the current reality for Metropolitan Lagos (Ojo, Kosofe, Alimosho, Mushin, Shomolu, Ikeja, Agege, Oshodi-Isolo and Ifako-Ijaye).
Then, take it further by imagining humans in such a tight space lacking water because waterworks in Lagos lack steam to drive them. In an epidemic.
Recall Shasha Waterworks built to produce 2.4MGD for Alimosho with 1,391,571 inhabitants, but had given no drop of water for the past 10 years? The residents decided not to waste the space, so they now park cars at the premises.
“We have our boreholes and water vendors,” says a resident. Also remember the man that said since 2015 he had not used pipe borne water? He falls under Otta-Ikosi Waterworks’ jurisdiction, a facility sabotaged by lack of diesel and non-servicing of the power generator.
The situation is the same for Ajeromi-Ifelodun (population 687,316), Mushin (631,857), Oshodi-Isolo (629,061) and, Ojo (609,173).
As of May 7, Lagos had 1,507 case of COVID-19 with Alimosho and Oshodi-Isolo recording highest cases. About a month ago, between April 8 and 18, same Alimosho had 15 cases, the fourth highest in the state, while Oshodi-Isolo and Mushin had seven each. Align these statistics with the population distribution above and the picture and possible looming disaster become clearer. A well trained and equipped water vendor can contribute to defusing this ticking bomb that waterworks in Lagos don’t have water to quench.