[Story by Dayo Akintobi]

All taps, no water…Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo credit: The Journalism Clinic)

Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria with a population estimated between 17 .5 million and 21 million, according to a top official of the State Water Corporation, has approximately 40% water pipework coverage; meaning 4 out of every 10 homes in Lagos has water mains pipeline installed; but roughly 5% of those homes are not connected to the supply grid. That 40% pipeline coverage(geographical) extends 2500 kilometers and  links up to roughly 3 million households.

Suddenly in February 2016, these households that had the luxury of pipe-borne water discovered that their taps had run dry. And not a word from the water corporation. It wasn’t until 3 months later that some reasons for the disruption were brought to light when the Water Corporation went public with an explanation and an apology.“The disruption of water supply is due to current vandalization of gas pipelines in the Niger Delta region of the country which has adversely affected the production at its various water facilities across the State,” said the Corporation in the statement.

Vandalisation of oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta came about as a result of agitation against perceived injustice being foisted on the people and the environment from commercial exploitation of oil.

The new administration under President Muhammadu Buhari  slashed the existing amnesty budget by two-thirds. According to the Economist magazine, President Buhari would like to phase out the payments completely,  but this notion has precipitated a whole new era of violence and militancy in the region.

Water supply to Lagos households was disrupted when a pipeline supplying the  Akute Independent Power Plant(IPP) was vandalized.The  Akute IPP, which was commissioned in January 2010, generates 12.15 megawatts of power and is responsible for 80% of the water supply to Lagos.

Akute Independent Power Plant  (Photo credit: http://www.oando.com)

Once the power plant became inoperational due to the disruption in gas supplies, well over 2 million Lagos homes which had hitherto enjoyed piped water, found themselves having to depend on private sources for water. Those private sources private include wells, boreholes, public taps, collected rainwater, and surface water such as rivers, lakes, canals, ponds, or streams.

Problem is, water from these sources is generally untreated or unimproved, meaning it can be unclean, unsafe, and more often than not polluted and germ-infested. And with better than 65% of Lagos’s populace relying on these unimproved sources for their daily water supply, the prevalence of several types of diseases that pertain to unsafe water has become a public health nightmare for the government.

With many Lagos households now joining the private water market, public health officials are worried about the threat of water-borne diseases to the populace.  So worried in fact that they were reticent to share recent numbers of the prevalence of water-borne diseases being reported anew. Nonetheless, we have it on good authority from a nurse that the empirical evidence at her facility does indeed suggest a rise in the incidence of water-based diseases in Lagos between the period of March 01, 2016 and June 30, 2016.

The government is not sitting idly by. It continues to be relentless in its quest to improve the supply of safe, clean water to inhabitants of the state.

According to the Executive Director, Operations, of LSWC, Engr. Deji Johnson, under a planned Public Private Partnership(PPP) initiative, the Water Corporation will expand existing water works and create new ones to exceed the current daily demand.

Engr Johnson says that to further alleviate the scarcity of clean, safe water for the inhabitants of Lagos, LSWC embarked on other interventions, including  the commissioning of a water project with 18 million litre daily supply capacity of water to 9 communities between  Itoikin and Agbowa from the Regional Water Works at Otta-Ikosi, Ikorodu. Phase II  of the expansion project will supply water to Imota, Isiu, and Ikorodu town.

The Corporation is also working on a planned expansion of Iju, Adiyan 1-3, Isashi, and Odomola 1 & 2 in continuous amelioration of the water shortage as well as the construction and commissioning of 28 additional mini water works across Lagos State, with capacities running between 0.3 and 3 million gallons per day.

Also in the works is a plan to increase geographical pipework coverage from the existing 2500 kilometers to roughly 7000 kilometers.  And under the aforementioned PPP initiative, supply and installation of prepaid meters and household connections are part of the partnership. Concessionaires will bring finance and technical expertise to the PPP venture.

A private water seller, lagos-Nigeria  (Photo credit: Silvia Macchi 2013)

To give some relief to consumers, the water connection fee has already been reduced from N10,000 to N5000.

All these and other interventions come under a “Water Supply Master Plan”, by which LSWC aims to increase Daily Water Supply by 2020 to 745 million gallons to accommodate a Daily Water Demand of 733 million gallons, with an excess supply of 12 million gallons.

That Master Plan also envisages the introduction of a Water Distribution Kiosk System, whereby water consumers can purchase government-issue clean water from designated retail outlets.

For as long as there are power problems in Nigeria though, government water supply cannot be efficient. Because piped water is required continuously without let, on demand, uninterrupted power supply is a necessary ingredient for optimal safe water availability.

\While we remain optimistic about LSWC’s chances of actualizing its plans for 2020, we nonetheless appreciate the risk Lagosians continue to endure that they may access this ingredient that is so necessary to life.

Steps can be taken to minimize the health hazard of unregulated water though, water that is not protected from contamination and is not safe to drink.  Some of these steps include boiling, filtration, distillation, and adding chemicals.

As a city built largely on swampland and water, it seems incongruous that Lagos would have a water shortage problem. Truth be told, there is plenty of water available from numerous sources that fill our acquifers; water that can be treated and supplied to the fulfilment of the daily water needs of every one of the roughly 20 million people inhabiting Lagos State.

It only requires the right political capital, the will, and the strong desire to nurture a healthy society, to resolve the water “crisis” in Lagos once and for all.