Will There Be Potable Water For Nigerians? —Olufemi Oludolapo Ogundipe

Despite being blessed with water from the numerous rivers criss-crossing its massive land mass, a tad less than 924,000 square kilometres in area, most Nigerians have no access to potable water to drink. A 2009 UNICEF Report said that about 100 million Nigerians out of a total population of 160 million have no access to potable water.

Because of this, Nigerians from all the socio-economic classes have resorted to digging wells and boreholes to access ground water. This cannot be a satisfactory solution because of the undesirable chemical impurities in ground water that are inimical to human health. The presence of heavy metals such as lead, chromium 6 , cadmium and arsenic pose unacceptable risks of developing cancer after several years of consuming such water.

In the year 2000, in a most noble effort , that often-criticised world body, the United Nations, launched the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs.

The UN Millennium Declaration stated: “We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.

We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.” The UN enunciated eight goals for development called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a truly ambitious bold agenda to lift the poorest out of dehumanising state by the year 2015.

It is appropriate to zero in on the seventh goal of ensuring environmental sustainability because it is here that the plan to provide potable water is subsumed.

At the inception of the programme in the year 2000, one billion people did not have access to potable drinking water, 2.4 billion to adequate sanitation. Progress towards the goal will be measured by the proportion of the population in rural and urban areas, with access to potable water.

From the information provided in the first paragraph, Nigeria has been a laggard as of the year 2009 in meeting the expected target set for the year 2015. Just why is this so?

The answer sadly is : Corruption, corruption, corruption.

As far back as the year 2001, the highly respected Berlin-based organisation, Transparency International has been tracking corruption in all the countries of the world. and sadly. Nigeria has consistently been one of the most corrupt countries on this planet earth, with no end in sight. The most corrupt elements are found among the plutocrats and their comrades in arms among the commercial elite.

These “emperors” with heavy feet of clay are just too-big-to prosecute in a country suffused with massive impunity of the elites.

In 2008, Transparency International ranked Nigeria as number 121 in the corruption league, with number one, Denmark being the least corrupt country in the world . In that year’s ranking, South Africa was at position 54. Ghana at position 67 was much less corrupt than Nigeria, was much less corrupt than Nigeria. Nigeria, if she wishes, can take solace in the fact that she is less corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen Haiti and Somalia, an extremely low bar to set indeed.

In the year 2008, a study performed by Transparency International showed that there is “a significant linear correlation between the

quantity of bribery practiced in a country on access to safe drinking water , controlling for per capita income. This effect is robust even when the share of public investment in infrastructure is included as a control.”

For Nigeria to be able to provide potable water to her teeming population, she will just have to accept the rule of law in order to curb the monster of corruption. Otherwise, she will continue the slippery slope down to a failed state, a frightening prospect for the entire West African sub-region, where she is a self-deluding “giant.”

No one, no plutocrat, no oil baron or oil buccaneer should be too big to prosecute for the egregious corruption that has blighted the land and turned most Nigerians to destitute.

Now to some happier consideration. Nigeria is indeed blessed with ample water sources to provide potable water. River Niger from which the country derives her name is Africa’s third longest river and fifth largest in terms of water discharge.

Almost two-thirds of Nigeria lies in the watershed of RIVER Niger and its major tributaries: the river Benue, Kaduna river, Sokoto river and Anambra river. The River Niger empties into the Atlantic Ocean at the Niger Delta which itself is the third largest wetland in the world, coming after the Dutch wetlands in Holland the mighty Mississippi in the United States. There is also the Lake Chad in the northeastern region of the country. So for Nigeria, changing the current situation of “water, water , everywhere, but not a drop to drink” is a job that can and must be done. The water, first, has to be filtered and second, has to be chlorinated to make it safe to drink.

The material resources needed to build the water filters are available up and down Nigeria, that vast graciously -endowed country.

The country has inexhaustible quantities of clay all over the place, the main raw material for building filtration pots. The elegant work of two outstanding Nigeria-born scientists deserve honourable mention.

Alfred Olaiya Soboyejo ( Ohio State University) and Winston Oluwole Soboyejo (Princeton University) and their associates in their respective universities will enable the appropriate water-filtration jars to be built right in Nigeria.

The epochal work of this father-son duo was published in the Journal of Engineering

Materials and Technology, July 2011,Volume 133. The study demonstrated the optimal composition of clay and sawdust needed to build these filtration clay ceramic ware to achieve the appropriate porosity as well as the strength to prevent fractures/ breakages of the materials.

This is certainly an important potential industry for a product that would be immensely useful not only in Nigeria but in other countries in West and Central Africa.

After filtration comes chlorination. The chlorination destroys the microorganisms responsible for the water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and similar ailments. Indeed , since chlorine became widely used as far back as the early part of the twentieth century, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid had become rare except in countries with poor sanitation, such as Nigeria.

In Nigeria, there is:

‘Water, water every where and all the boards did shrink, water , water every where not a drop to drink.’

The challenge to Nigeria is to meet and surpass the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 so that “there would be water, water, every where and much more than enough to drink.”

•Ogundipe, MD, FACP, wrote in from Clovis, California, USA.

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