Growing up, I was taught that about 70% of the earth surface is covered by water; in my curious mind, I imagined what could be achieved if the earth surface was split 50:50 between land and water mass. It was an exciting idea to think of; if humans are barely living on a portion of the allotted 30%, imagine all the estates I will be able to build around the world when I am wealthy! Well, childhood fantasies that was all it was.
I grew older to learn something else; my hometown relies mostly on collected rainwater as a source of freshwater, and on the other hand, purchasing water from water tankers from neighbouring communities.
So, there is water everywhere, but none here???
Legend has it that once upon a king got furious at the community “stream” for drowning his princess, so he used his staff of authority to chase the stream away from the community. Now, it is believed that even with a very powerful borehole drilling machine, you will never strike water. It is a community that doesn’t boast large population, but imagine what the scenario will be like if urbanization hits the community and there is infrequent rainfall over a few years.
All over the world, the issue of freshwater scarcity is one that continues to loom every now and every then in various local communities and cities. Most of those who have enough of it regularly, have never thought that water is a resource to be conserved. Probably as much as you, I share the blame, spending long minutes under a running shower — it is a fun thing to do, really — until I started coming across the news of global water scarcity in 2017…
A Focus on Africa
Late 2017, water scarcity hit South Africa, and by mid-January 2018, Cape Town was on the verge of shutting down most of the city’s water supply to limit water usage and conserve water. Even the government beckoned on the masses to pray for rain — like it is the oldies all over again — while making speculations for a Day Zero, when each person will have to queue up at collection points, to collect about 25 litres of water for a day’s use. Various cities in South Africa were faced with a similar situation, and the neighbouring country Mozambique had a really rough share of the scarcity which threatened their agriculture and economy as a whole. Though good amounts of rainfall blessed the lands of southern Africa in mid-2018; repetition of such scarcity is still being braced for in 2019.
In Nigeria, we feel a bit out of the equation, as we boast of rich water resources. What we make up for in bountiful water resources we lack in proper water management and sanitation. Ogudu community in Lagos state, Nigeria, got a taste of what water scarcity will be like when for one reason or the other, the Water Corporation was unable to supply water to the community for about three weeks in 2018. It was a dire situation that saw a keg of water which was ordinarily sold for ₦10 getting hiked for as high as ₦100 per keg. But that only happened for a few weeks. What about areas that have been living in such situation since forever?
Rural riverine communities in oil-rich Niger Delta which have over time lost media focus, are invariably forced to drink and complete their daily tasks with unsafe water — year in, year out. And the story is not particularly different from most other communities across the country, as most of the rural population fall into the cold hands of water-borne disease while relying on trickling reliefs from the government, NGOs, UNICEF, WHO, etc.
So does the story continue across Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo, New Guinea; basically half of the continent is in one way or the other lacking clean water supply for its population.
The Significance of Water Scarcity, Unclean or Unsafe Water
At what instances does the lack of clean, safe water give Africa a nosedive?
African countries dominate the top part of any list that details the name of countries that are lagging in the area of sustainable clean water supply — and it is nothing to be proud of. A 2012 report by Africa Public Health under WHO indicated that,
“Lack of clean water, sanitation & hygiene costs Sub-‐Saharan African countries more in lost GDP than the entire continent gets in development aid.”
I decided to do a quick check to understand what the probable range of economic loss implied, and quite frankly my mind was blown. And that’s just the economic downturn; with more losses the chances of mapping out budgets to fix the water situation is minimized.
Child health and mortality rate
Following the report above, an estimated 23–59% of children in African countries that lack clean water supply suffer from stunted growth. The news of cholera outbreaks and other diarrhoeal diseases surfacing every now and every then is not particularly new. As nearly half a million African children under 5 years die yearly from diarrhoeal diseases — diseases that can be easily prevented through the consumption of safe drinking water, and improved environmental hygiene.
Life expectancy and diseases
Have you ever taken a look at life expectancy across the world? (Check it out in one peek, here) What can you make of the life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa? The truth is, water scarcity or unavailability of clean water will not take all the blame here, but it still plays a significant role. A good portion of average life expectancy in any African country is attributed to the condition of water within its region.
Not sure how life expectancy and water condition relate? Well, such confusion can be squelched by a simple understanding that
· When there is water scarcity, then people do not have enough water intake to maintain their metabolism at optimal levels, neither do they have enough to carry out various tasks such as cooking, bathing, defecating, washing, etc., hygienically. Or carry out sanitation effectively.
· When the available water is unclean or unsafe, the consumption of ridiculous amounts of contaminants which are borne within, will in the long run, affect the state of one’s health, significantly.
In both cases, the state of health is affected, making individuals prone to various diseases, and it is not surprising that life expectancy is lowered.
Agriculture, forestry and food
Climate change. No rainfall. Rivers, lakes, surface and ground water dry up.
Trees get desiccated. Crops wither. Livestock die off. Stunted livestock and plants.
Wild animals fight humans for the surviving yields. Low harvest. Soil is too tough for local farmers to till.
They give up. Famine. Food becomes very expensive in villages and cities. Poor families reduce number of meals per day. Hunger.
Immune systems weaken. Eventually prone to more diseases. Exponential increase in mortality rates.
How Did We Get To Water Scarcity, Unclean And Unsafe Water?
This will probably be best discussed extensively, later. To paint a quick picture; climate change stands on the fence of two extreme ends, drought and flooding. Extreme temperatures mean that water leaves the earth surface at faster rates, creating a loss in plant and soil water, and drying up water bodies which communities rely on, thereby causing water scarcity. The warm air which held the evaporated water results in very heavy downpours leading to flooding which can break dams used in supplying cities with clean water; or flooding that carries generous amounts of dirt to freshwater bodies and wells which communities rely on for manageably clean water.
That’s a small picture.
This is a case almost everywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, both in urban areas and rural communities. The result leaves a direct impact on our water resources no matter how we choose to look at it. In this, probably more than 90% of the population will be tagged as sinners.
This significantly puts a strain on water resources even if abundant — Lagos in view. And with a larger uncontrolled population, sanitation becomes a huge task.
Tragedy of the commons
I have always been of the school of thought that pollution in any circumstance is embedded in the tragedy of the commons. People in a community act independently but the result of their actions in one way or the other affects the community disadvantageously.
In this case, I will categorise the tragedy of the commons surrounding scarcity and lack of clean water thus:
· You and the people you never cautioned
· big corporations
You and the people you never cautioned
How do you handle waste management? How much water do you use every day? If you answer these questions and you feel a little righteous, then how about all those you never cautioned about their injudicious actions towards management?
Recently, we have been coming across a lot of news about the influx of plastics in water bodies across the world. We see pictures of aquatic animals that were rescued from plastic intoxication, and we go, “awwwwnnn, that’s so sad, I hope they get more care.” And then we swipe to the next page for other news without a resolve to take any action in response to that, no matter how minute.
Improper waste disposal — Using Nigeria as an example, it is not uncommon to find all sorts of weird rubbish in drainage — the spirit of proper waste disposal is one that is yet to be inculcated by the greater percentage of Nigerians.
Some streets and even traders in big markets rely on the power of rainwater, to flush their trash away from their surrounding — so they dump their rubbish in gutters. If these rubbish doesn’t get stuck at some point and cause flooding, they get dumped at coastal areas, making life a little more miserable for people who rely on the water body to survive in such areas. Not only does the number of contaminants in water increase, people who have no other option but to make use of this water are put in the way of diseases.
On the other hand, while 70% of the earth is covered by water, only 3% of that water is available for use by man. You should bear that in mind if you are being supplied water by a water corporation that doesn’t adhere by sustainable management. For that 20 minutes, you leave the shower running; there are probably a thousand more persons like you who use water excessively, slowly diminishing the contents of water reserves. And with the almost unpredictable spate of climate change, possible drought is always a factor to consider. Take South Africa for example.
You and I commit the sins, our communities suffer.
With a mineral-rich Africa comes the curse of water pollution; oil spillages, improper disposal of wastes generated from mining. And scarcity, from rechannelling and damming water bodies, that communities rely on, to feed the freshwater requirements of corporations. They commit the sins, the community suffers.
Most governments across Africa for one reason or the other just never put enough interest in the sustainable management of water resources as a means to achieving economic development. Hence, even systems that are set up for water management are neglected or are only directed at communities that can pay for it. Otherwise, it is assumed that water is abundant, and rural communities should make do with what they have. Government commits the sin, the nation suffers.
WITH AFRICA AND WATER; IT IS NOT SO GLOOMY — WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE!
In my tribe, there is a saying. “Ihe ọjọọ gbaa afọ ọ bụrụ omenala,” which translates to “when a bad habit is left unchecked over a year, it becomes part of the culture.” As Africans, we have been doing a lot of things regularly that affect our water resources — they are now part of us we almost don’t want to adapt to another type of normal. Let’s change some of those things!
What Can You Do As An Individual?
Keep the environment clean and dispose of your trash wisely — Make it a habit to keep your environment clean at all times, leave nothing for the rain to sweep away into the gutters. If you are unable to boycott single-use plastics, such as in sachet water, disposable cups and plates, well, be sure to keep them together and deposit them with various start-ups — they are everywhere these days — that recycle them into other finished products. Also, ensure that your organic wastes are appropriately disposed of. Inculcating the habit might be bothersome at first, but the result is rarely futile.
Educate those who do not know — The world is a network, and what you do today can influence the action of the next person. Thus, you can educate by acting judiciously or having a chat with them on the effects of their excessive usage of water, or improper waste disposal. Use water as if it is an expensive commodity — After paying water bills, individuals feel like they have been licensed to use water that can fill a stream to carry out their daily activity. Even if that was the case, DON’T DO IT. While using water, remember that there are people in cities around the world that have to queue up for hours to get water daily; then use the water like you don’t want to queue up for it anytime.
As A Group or an Organization
When an individual screams, a few persons hear them, when the few persons join in to scream together, the world hears them.
Push for sustainable policies — if the relevant authorities are blind to the water situation in your communities or other communities, call them back to attention. In places where there don’t seem to be policies governing the use and misuse of water, push for one.
Organize community education — the majority of Africans lack the understanding of what affects and what doesn’t affect the water they use, a little enlightenment can go a long way in making things right.
As The Government
Work for today and tomorrow — while governmental administrations are ever in transition, it will be cool to be part of the administration that pushed for sustainable management of water that ensured that your country never faced water crisis nor have a bulk of children below 5 die if diarrhoeal diseases every day.
Big corporations are not gods that communities should perish for their sins — it is not unheard that there is oil spillage in oil-rich rural communities across the world. It is not unheard that some corporations dump waste illegally in fresh water bodies across world. It is not unheard that freshwater bodies flowing down to communities get dammed or rechanneled to fuel the activities of some corporations, denying local communities freshwater for agriculture. All these are things any government can reject hush money, stamp their feet firmly and put a stop to it. And task the corporations with remediation and compensation.
Water management boosts economic development — while Africa heavily relies on foreign aids to run most affairs that affect masses on the lower class, a little investment on clean water and sanitation can result to more economic returns.
Conclusion — Tragedy of the Commons Reversed
In the course of speaking for the environment, everything is about today and the future, none is neglected for the other. Bearing that in mind, as we celebrate International World Water Day today, we should bear in mind that whatever actions we take to ensure that we have healthy drinking water today, is something our children and their children will be grateful for. We will be regarded as the generation that strived, by all means, to ensure that everybody gets clean water.
· Boosting the life expectancy of nations
· Enhancing economic growth
· Encouraging a healthier lifestyle
· Promoting the production of healthier foods and products
· Saving the mental and physical energy children and women have to waste looking for clean water in various rural communities. Saving valuable dreams
Be the change. Preach the change. Support the change. Remember; water is life.
PS: This article does not in any way completely address the issues surrounding the availability of clean water; there’s a lot more to be said from various perspective. This is just one perspective.