Today is being observed across the globe as World Water Day. It is a day to celebrate water and make a difference for members of the global population that suffer from water-related issues. It is also a day set aside to draw awareness of the international community to the importance of the natural resource and how to manage it now and in the future. The first World Water Day, an initiative of the United Nations General Assembly, was celebrated on March 22, 1993.
The theme for this year’s commemoration is ‘Accelerating Change’. The theme is one of the key components of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which envisions that everyone must benefit from safe water as one of the basic necessities of life and which is a right for all humans and non-humans alike.
Water is the essential building block of life. About 60 per cent of body fluid in an average adult is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73 per cent water, while the lungs harbour 83 per cent. Water is also more than just essential to quench thirst or protect health; it is vital for creating jobs and supporting economic, social and human development.
According to the US Geological Survey, the land-to-water ratio is 29 per cent to 71 per cent. However, about 96.5 per cent is saline water contained in the oceans, while about 68 per cent of fresh water is largely inaccessible.
However, it is an irony that despite the fact that the earth planet is overwhelmed by water, about 650 million people do not have access to safe water, putting them at risk of infectious diseases and premature death. Recent statistics released by the United Nations show that unsafe water and poor sanitation account for the killing of more than 900 under-five kids everyday or one child every minute somewhere in the world.
A couple of years ago the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) painted a grave picture about the water challenge confronting humanity. It stated that more than 1.42bn of the 7bn people inhabiting the earth are living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability globally. Of the figure, 450m are kids. In other words, one out of every five children does not have sufficient water to meet their daily needs.
In Nigeria, more than 78m children are experiencing extremely high-water risk. UNICEF’s Nigeria Chief of WASH, Dr. Jane Bevan, who raised the alarm in a recent statement, called for urgent action to address water crisis in the country, stressing that one-third of children did not have access to basic water, while two-thirds did not have basic sanitation services.
It is common knowledge that children are usually the family water purveyors, especially in the rural communities. They are the ones that cover long distances in search of or to fetch water for household use, even at the expense of their education. Kids that trek several kilometres in search of water would have been physically spent to make it to school or have the capacity for class activities.
It is a universal fact that non-availability of safe water poses a serious threat to the survival of mankind. In Nigeria, accessing safe water is a mirage despite the establishment of ministries of water resources both at the federal and state levels. The rural communities which harbour more than 75 per cent of the populace do not have access to safe water. They largely depend on streams, ponds, rivers and other unhygienic sources.
Consumption of water from untreated sources comes with grave health consequences like diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. The story is also pathetic in the urban centres. Public water works are either inefficient or there is no electricity to power them. The populace is thus left at the mercy of the ubiquitous water vendors.
To fill the vacuum, the wealthy ones in our midst resort to self-help by drilling boreholes. It is also public knowledge that some businessmen have cashed in on the situation by drilling boreholes for commercial purposes. Promises of boreholes have also become instruments of campaign by politicians, resulting in the arbitrary perforation of the earth across various communities in the sub-urban and rural areas.
According to experts, proliferation of boreholes comes with its own danger, explaining that the earth crust is what the people are puncturing when they drill boreholes in their various homes. It is obvious that when the earth is punctured more than necessary, all that is needed for an earthquake to happen is just a shake from any source. He then charged government at all levels to intensify efforts at providing potable water for the people to discourage private sinking of boreholes.
The cliché, “Water for Life”, captures the importance of this basic social amenity to the survival of mankind and its environment. While Nigeria joins the rest of the world in commemorating the Day yearly, we enjoin all levels of government to take a harder look at the nation’s water policy which does not favour the masses with a view to redressing the pathetic scenario. Until this is done, the annual celebration of the World Water Day will be a meaningless exercise as far as Nigerians are concerned.