Of correlation between COVID-19 prevention and access to clean water


Having access to clean water is, according to analysts, sine qua non to preventing Corona virus. TEMITOPE MUSOWO reports on this and other matters.

As the world currently faces unarguably its worst challenges in recent times which is the lethal Corona virus pandemic, different precautionary measures have been recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO), local public health agencies and medical professionals alike, chief among the recommended measures is to reduce the chances of being infected and spread the virus. This is by regular handwashing with soap and water.

Not too long ago, the  minister of water resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu  reiterated a strong connection between COVID-19 pandemic and cleanliness which he said has reinforced the need for Nigerians to embrace the ministry’s hand washing and basic sanitation campaigns.
According to the minister, ‘’The first thing that everybody tells you, including the most sophisticated countries in the world is that you should wash your hands and keep to basic sanitation.

I hope that going forward, all this time that the pandemic started, I have been asking myself about the lessons we learnt from this pandemic. And you know that I reflected so much on our campaign against open defecation and the campaign for people to wash their hands.’’

Access to water in Nigeria

This much trumpeted connection between water and COVID-19 pandemic brings us to the question of access to water in Nigeria.

Nigeria a party to the United Nations Declaration of the Right to Water that entitles everyone living in the country to sufficient, affordable, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses. A survey conducted by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF last year showed that millions of households in Nigeria do not have access to clean water sources.
The report also added that while the supply of clean water in Nigeria can be said to have improved, three out of 10 people still lack access to water.
According to aid agencies, 60 million Nigerians or 33 percent of Nigeria’s population do not have access to water.

Although, some water and environmental experts still believe the above figure is conservative or underestimated given the fact that more than half of the population live in rural areas, and it is a common knowledge that rural population don’t have access to clean water. They struggle for water every day, sometimes spending hours scooping water from underground spring.

Access to water supply according to WHO and UNICEF

Another concern about this campaign is the frequency of hand washing recommended and how regular hand washing practice can be in an environment with poor access to water. The frequency of hand washing of course, can only be proportional to the level of water supply and access.
WHO and UNICEF in a Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment carried out in the year 2000 defined reasonable access to an improved water supply as the availability of, at least, 20 litres per person per day from a source within one kilometre of the user’s dwelling.
Going by the above scenario, Blueprint investigation in both rural and urban part of Lagos shows only 56% of the respondents in the urban area have access to more than 20 litres of water per day, while only 35% of the people interviewed in rural urban Lagos have access to 20 litres of water a day.

Talking of proximity of water source to their abode, it was also discovered that only 72% of respondents in urban areas in Lagos and 65% of people in rural area of Lagos have their water sources in less than one kilometre away from their dwelling place.
The implication of this is that a good number of Lagos residents, most especially the rural/urban slum dwellers, do not have enough water supply to ensure regular hand washing.

Predictably, if access to water supply in Lagos as a coastal city is this bad, one cannot be wrong to conclude the situation in the northern part of the country would be worse since many of the northern states lie on the fringes of Sahel Desert which therefore means that access to safe water would be a luxury in this areas during the dry season when water level is low.

Running water as a luxury to many households in Nigeria

This campaign is not just about washing hands with water but clean water because it not enough to wash contaminated hands with contaminated water inside a contaminated bowl; hence, the recommendation of running water. We also tried to find out the people’s major source of water and how many of these people have access to running water.
As usual, urban and rural Lagos were surveyed differently. For the respondents in the city centre, the result revealed that 23% of them have pipe borne water in their dwelling place running in the kitchen, washrooms and so on.
Another 25% have pipe borne water in their yard/plot/compounds and not exactly in their washrooms, while 17% depend on public tap/standpoint for their water supply. 20% of them, however, get water from tube well/borehole on their streets while the remaining 15% get their water from some unprotected dug wells from neighbouring streets.
The statistics is worse in the rural/ urban slums of Lagos where only 14% of them have water piped into their dwelling running in the kitchen, washrooms and so on. While 15% of them have water piped into their yard/plot/compound and not exactly into their washrooms, kitchens and so.

It was also discovered that 14% of respondents in the rural communities in Lagos depend on public tap/standpoint for their water supply.
27% of them also get water from tube well/borehole on their street while the remaining 15% get their water from some unprotected dug wells in the neighboring streets. Yet another 7% rely on unprotected spring for their water supply; another 3% depend majorly on rain water collection and the last 10% are patronising surface water (river, dam, lake, pond, stream, canal, irrigation channels) for their water use. 
The above statistics expressly explains why running water remain a luxury to many households in Nigeria, if this is coming from Lagos, the commercial nerve-centre of the country.

Between compliance and enabling environment

However, anyone who pays attention and follows basic instructions on his/her personal hygiene like regular hand washing campaign, such a person does so for personal benefit and maybe by extension, benefit of the society. Nonetheless, making it easy for the people to obey such instruction becomes the responsibility of government; therefore, the government must be seen to have played her own role in providing water infrastructure before making demand of the people to reciprocate with compliance.
According to the water resources minister, “The importance of personal hygiene measure like regular hand washing would continue to resonate post COVID-19 pandemic and people must continue to observe this.”

He said further that, ‘’You know we also celebrated the World Hand Washing Day recently. I just hope that going forward, people would now see the real importance of personal hygiene and sanitation and I don’t pray that this pandemic stays for too long. Beyond this, I hope that people would take this issue of personal hygiene much more seriously, especially in the poor communities and urban slums where people take a lot for granted’’.

Just like the global pandemic has exposed the inadequacies, inefficiency and years of neglect in the Nigeria health sector, this has also brought to fore the unimpressive efforts of successive  governments in the provision of something as basic as water in the 21st century in Nigeria.

It remained to be seen if Nigeria would be able to meet up with the UN 2030 agenda, particularly Goal 6 of the 17 SDGs which talks about ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
“This is because millions of Nigerians still lack access to safe water, sanitation and hand washing facilities, meanwhile, the data before us is showing that achieving nationwide access to water and basic sanitation services by 2030 would require us to double our efforts and not continue to play politics with development issues like this.”

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