Although water has remained with mankind for
ages, the quantity and quality is a matter of
concern to many. The question on the lips of
people, particularly in Nigeria where meeting
water needs has remained a mirage, is how safe
is the little available. Nigerians are said to be
surrounded by water yet they find it difficult to
access potable water for drinking and other
domestic needs. Water that is safe for drinking is
called potable water..
However, with the latest report of the United
Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which shows
that Nigeria and 36 others are currently facing
extremely high levels of water stress, there are
fears that water-related diseases in the country
may double. Unfortunately, children will be most
Undoubtedly, water is one of the most important
substances on earth. All plants and animals need
water to survive. If there was no water, there
would have been no life on earth. Apart from
drinking it to survive, people have many other
uses for water. These include cooking, washing
their bodies, clothes and eating utensils. Water is
also essential for the healthy growth of farm
crops and farm stock and is used in the
manufacture of many needs of Nigeria’s growing
population and economic development.
Scientists say the amount of drinking water
required by individuals varies. It depends on
physical activity, age, health issues and
environmental conditions. According to them,
water constitutes about 60 per cent of the body of
men, 55 per cent in women, 45 per cent in the
elderly and about 70 to 80 per cent in infants.
They also warn that no man can survive for more
than three days without water.
Research has also proven that water flows
through the blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients
to the cells and flushing wastes out of the body.
They say it also cushions the joints and soft
tissues and that without routine intake of water,
the food we eat cannot be digested or absorbed.
According to experts, it is most important that the
water which people drink and use for other
purposes is clean water. This means that the
water must be free of germs and chemicals and
be clear (not cloudy).
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO,
3.4 million people die annually as a result of water
borne diseases associated with inadequate
provision of drinking water and sanitation and
most of these people live in Asia and Africa.
WHO also estimated that currently more than 10
percent of the world’s population consumes food
produced with wastewater and 40 percent live in
Also unconfirmed statistics showed that about
130,000 Nigerian children die within the same
period because of water related infections.
According to a new report released, last week, to
mark this year’s World Water Day, UNICEF, says
about 600 million children worldwide (1 in 4) will
be living in areas where water demand outstrips
supply by 2040
The report expressed concern on how depleted
sources of safe water and climate change will
intensify risks in coming years for children.
According to the UNICEF Executive Director,
Anthony Lake, millions of children globally lack
access to safe water which in return endangers
their lives, undermine their health, and jeopardize
To her, “This crisis will only grow unless we take
collective action now.”
He added: “For Nigeria, the greatest challenge is
the availability of physical infrastructure to
harness rainfall and ground water effectively.
There are huge variations in rainfall between
north and south Nigeria, making it all the more
important to better plan and manage water
resources to minimise the impact of floods and
drought. Unfortunately, these factors force
children and adults to use unsafe water, which
exposes them to potentially deadly water related
diseases like cholera and diarrhoea.”
Experts say water related diseases are caused
by drinking contaminated or dirty water.
Contaminated water can cause many types of
diarrheal diseases, including cholera, and other
serious illnesses such as guinea worm, typhoid,
Children, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis A are
all caused by ingestion of causative water
inhabiting pathogens. Guinea worm,
schistosomiasis and a host of other parasitic
nematodes likewise find their way into the human
body through drinking or bathing with
The UNICEF Executive Director explained that, the
changing climate, the world must change the way
it works to reach those who are most vulnerable
and the most effective way is by safeguarding
their access to safe water.
The report also notes that 260 million children
around the world live in areas where the risk of
floods is extremely high and open defecation is
widespread, threatening to contaminate water
sources with human waste.
“Over 800 children under the age of five die every
day around the world from diarrhoea linked to
inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene; globally,
women and girls spend 200 million hours
collecting water every day. The impact of climate
change on water sources is not inevitable,” the
Health watchers are worried that, currently in the
country, statistics on access to water and
sanitation are inconsistent. Shortage of water
has remained the norm across Nigeria; even
where it is available, no one could vouch for the
safety of the water.
For instance, in Lagos, about 90 per cent of the
residents do not have daily access to clean and
safe water. With that scenario, the prevalence of
water borne diseases in the city cannot come as
a surprise. Meanwhile, this can explain why
some students of Queen’s College, Lagos died in
circumstances linked to contaminated water and
the protest by environmental activists over
provision of water infrastructure in the state.
At the national level, more than half of Nigeria’s
population have no access to clean water and
more than two thirds have no access to
sanitation, according to official statistics.
Unfortunately, despite studies which showed that
potable water could help eradicate water related
diseases, helpless Nigerians both in the urban
and rural areas depend on water vendors known
as ‘Mairuwa’ for their daily supply of water, while
others patronise water tanker vendors or retailers
who own shallow boreholes.
Most of the water pipes across Nigeria have
become rusty because water has not flowed
through them for a long time, a situation, medical
experts say it exposes users to water borne
WHO and UNICEF report in 2012 ranked Nigeria
third behind China and India as countries with the
largest population without adequate water supply
and sanitation coverage.
Unfortunately, there is no pointer that Nigeria is
striving to put enough structures in place to
achieve the UN target on water and sanitation.
This is because there are still low levels of
access to improved water source and limited
access to improved sanitation in the country.
It is no longer news that hundreds of thousands
of people have died because disease-causing
germs have been spread through a community by
a polluted water supply.
In an interview with Sunday Vanguard, a
consultant epidemiologist and public health
physician, Prof Akin Osibogun, said poor water
supply in terms of quantity and quality can
increase the risk of various types of water related
diseases classified as water borne, water
impounding, water vector, water shortage and
water chemical diseases.
He said these diseases are transmitted through
the contamination of food and water.
Osibogun, a former Chief Medical Director, Lagos
University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, posited that
lack of clean water will make people to resort to
the use of unclean water and increased use of
unclean or contaminated water will lead to
increased incidence of diarrhoeal diseases.
Also commenting, UNICEF’s Chief of Water,
Sanitation and Hygiene, Kannan Nadar, said: “In
Nigeria, as we work towards achieving the
Sustainable Development Goal of reaching
everyone with access to safe, functional,
affordable and accessible water, we must
manage water resources more efficiently to meet
the needs of Nigeria’s growing population and
However, the UNICEF recommends that
Governments plan for changes in water
availability and demand in the coming years.
It also recommended that there is need to
prioritize the most vulnerable children’s access
to safe water above other water needs to
maximize social and health outcomes.
Four other major recommendations are that
climate risks should be integrated into all water
and sanitation-related policies and services,
investments should target high-risk populations
and communities themselves should explore
ways to diversify water sources.
However, critical health watchers are of the view
that since the causative factors of these diseases
and their habitats are known, the only thing
lacking for their eradication in Nigeria is the
political will and better coordination in the water
resources management sector for effective
service delivery, to meet the defined national
access targets for sanitation and drinking water.
They worry that if nothing urgent is done, with the
latest report showing that Nigeria ranks among
the 37 countries facing water stress, increase in
water will be inevitable.
They called for proper awareness and education
of the people on the far reaching consequences of
water borne diseases especially in terms of the
huge financial implication of treating these
diseases and the number of lost man hours and
even possible death when a person is afflicted
with any of them.