As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to observe the World Water Day, the United Nations Children Fund UNICEF says the day highlights the importance of fresh water as well as advocate for the sustainable management of fresh water resources.
Analysis by the world body indicates that more than 1.42 billion people including 450 million children are living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability globally which means that 1in 5 children worldwide do not have enough water to meet their everyday needs.
The situation is not different in Nigeria with about 26.5 million – 29 per cent of Nigerian children experiencing high or extremely high water vulnerability.
The analysis further reveals the part of Water Security for all initiative, identifies areas where physical water scarcity risks overlap with poor water service levels. Communities living in these areas depend on surface water, unimproved sources of water, or water that can take more than 30 minutes to collect.
In the words of UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, the world’s water crisis is is here, and children are its biggest victims.
“When wells dry up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water. When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water is not available in Nigerian communities, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases,” Hawkins said
The UNICEF data also shows that children in more than 80 countries live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability. Eastern and Southern Africa has the highest proportion of children living in such areas with more than half of the children (58 per cent) facing difficulty accessing sufficient water every day. It is followed by West and Central Africa (31 per cent), South Asia (25 per cent), and the Middle East (23 per cent). South Asia is home to the largest number of children living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability with more than 155 million children.
Children in 37 ‘hotspot’ countries face especially dire circumstances, in terms of absolute numbers, the proportions of children affected, and where global resources, support and urgent action must be mobilized.
This list includes Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen.
While the WASH NORM study released last year by the Nigerian Government indicates little progress by the intervention of government and it’s partners in the area of strengthening the sectors planning and monitoring,much work still need to be done in the country to ensure that all Nigerians have access to adequate and quality water and hygiene services.
The report further noted that sustainable and equitable access to safe drinking water remains a challenge in Nigeria, with over 86 per cent of Nigerians lacking access to a safely managed drinking water source. The problem is compounded by poor drinking water quality and lack of equity in access.
Although about 70 per cent of Nigerians are reported to have access to a basic water services, more than half of these water sources are contaminated. And although 73 per cent of the country’s population have access to a water source, only nine litres of water on average is available to a Nigerian daily.
The implication however is that Nigeria will miss the Suatainable Development Goals (SDG) targets on people’s access to water, unless there is a strong commitment and appropriate action taken by all stakeholders.
While the impact of water scarcity can be felt by all, no one suffers more than the most vulnerable children. Children and families living in vulnerable communities face the double-edged sword of coping with high water scarcity levels while having the lowest water services, making access to sufficient water especially susceptible to climate shocks and extreme events.
Hawkins also noted that action needs to be taken now to address t both the water crisis in Nigeria to prevent it from getting worse and to meet the SDGs gaal.
He added that water security can only be achieved for every Nigerian including the Nigerian child through innovation, investment and collaboration, and by ensuring services are sustainable and well-managed.