Exclusive: Lagos: Thirsty aquatic city

Augustine Udeme

Lagos is arguably the most prosperous state in Nigeria. Its $91billion annual GDP places it in the elitist, 5th largest economy in Africa. 25 percent of its land mass is covered by water which explains why it is dubbed the aquatic state.

But its gift of the aquatic, is residents’ worst nightmare. The aquatic city, investigation by newsclickng.com reveals, is one of the thirstiest cities in the world. It has a poor water infrastructure and utility performance. Almost 90 percent of its estimated over 22 million residents, lack access to potable water.

Today, the production of fresh water in the state is in the hands of businessmen, who are taking advantage of a vacuum that has existed for a long time. This subjects quality control to a ridicule and some residents end up in hospitals. The biggest informal players in the water supply chain in the state are; cart pushers, street hawkers, PET bottle and pure/sachet water producers.

In April 2017, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode said the daily water need of the more than 20million residents in the state, was put at 720 million gallons. He however noted that the state only produces 215 million gallons per day, leaving a huge deficit of more than 400 million gallons for residents to fill.

This pushes residents to resort to self-help. Their options are between meeting their water needs and contracting water-borne diseases. Most homes in Lagos have either a borehole or a well; and in some cases, some houses have two of either options.

Public Health Crisis
In 2017, the state government declared that 50 percent of patients accessing its hospitals had water-borne related infections. This rather unfortunate revelation, did not surprise stakeholders who have been monitoring the regressive trends in the turn of events over the years.

Apart from the government’s supply utility, the quality of water supplied by other informal players either fall below or stand above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) acidic standard (ph. levels) or may have been contaminated. We must be quick to add here that not all of them are caught in this web. Millions of residents depend on sachet and bottled water for quality water. This is why, PET bottles and sachet water packs, locally referred to as ‘pure water’ are about the biggest waste materials in the state today with its attendant environment hazards.

Are Pure Water/Sachets Water, truly Pure?

Experts have maintained that besides water-borne diseases such as typhoid, diarrhea, cholera and hepatitis which people could contract by drinking contaminated packaged water, it can also expose the body to carcinogenic agents.

A 2017 investigative report by Hannah Ojo of the Nation Newspaper showed that a good amount of sachet or popularly called ‘pure water’ are in truth, killer water. 30 pure water brands were selected for investigation and 15 of them were contaminated. The 15 brands showed the presence of contaminants such as coliform, microbial count, acidity and pathogenic bacteria. In a layman’s language, the sachet water brands were poisonous.

The findings also showed that the polythene bags used in package of ‘pure’ water, are disasters in disguise. Some of them are cancer agents. Experts say that carcinogenic agents find their way into human body when the polythene bag is of low quality and could discharge dangerous agents into the water when exposed to sunlight or stored in an unwholesome condition.

With a biting and highly fluid economy, many manufacturers of sachet water patronise low-quality polythene bags, which causes dissolution of chemical into the water.

Some sachet water have offensive odours. The odour is said to be a product of metabolism which shows some form of decay with grave implications for the human body if ingested through contaminated water.

Until the investigation, thousands of residents had patronised the 15 contaminated brands and we can only imagine how many households were routinely poisoned by the producers.

Disturbing Timeline
In 2014, the General Hospital Orile Agege, Lagos recorded a total of 1,690 cases of typhoid fever and 3,213 cases of diarrhea. The Ijede Health Centre also in Lagos recorded 48 cases of cholera; while the General Hospital, Epe recorded 15 cases.

Also, in the year, the Massey Children Hospital on Lagos Island also recorded 2,612 cases of diarrhoea while the General Hospital, Epe treated 893 patients out of a total diarrhoea prevalence rate of 12,413.

Data from 2015 and 2016 unearthed by newsclickng.com showed a slight reduction in the prevalence of water borne diseases in the state but places such as Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry recorded highest prevalence rates.

In 2016, 25 children died in Ikate Eti-Osa Local Government Area after drinking the community’s pathogen-infected water.

Year 2017 was particularly challenging in the state. In March, three students died and several others hospitalised at the elite’ public school, Queens’ College, Yaba Lagos. This incident caused a national uproar that attracted a probe of the country’s national Assembly. The deceased students contracted gastroenteritis epidemic through contaminated water sources within the school environment with many admitted for longer months at different hospitals in Lagos State. In the same year, there was an outbreak of diarrhoea, two residents died and 25 others were quarantined.

In July, a cholera outbreak was announced in the state. In one month, 26 cases were reported and two persons died. At least 10 people died as water-borne disease hit Araromi, Ibafo and Anuoluwapo streets in Somolu Local Government Area of Lagos State. But the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, linked the disease to flood. It is a shocking irony that a state with abundant water resources is suffering from what it has in abundance.

In the midst of this growing public health crisis, the authorities shut down 100 pure water companies for failing to meet the set standards for fresh water production in the state.

Government’s Side of the Story
Over the years, findings by newsclickng.com reveal that the state has been talking about its plan to boost public water supply through its 15 micro water works, with a capacity for 30 million gallons of water per day. There had been news headlines about the rehabilitation of old water works such as the Adiyan and Iju water works; and a partnership with the private sector.

The Managing Director of the Lagos State Water Corporation, Muminu Adekunle Badmus published an epistle of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s achievements in improving water supply in the state on Facebook. He once granted an interview where he reportedly said that the state was financing new water stations at a cost of N57billlion and there is still a deafening publicity stunt about the new Lagos Water Road Map that will meet the water needs of residents by 2020.

In the face of this noise, the output of the Lagos State Water Corporation remains 210 million. The 500 million deficit still stares all in the face. All the polished propaganda of government about its ‘fantastic’ efforts, has not amounted to increased supply, rather, the state is rationing its production. It introduced a metering system to better manage its production which has some residents protesting the initiative but there is still no increase in supply.

The Clarion Call
It seems Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s priorities are tourism, infrastructure development, amongst others. While we at newsclicnkng.com are not unmindful of the strides recorded in some sectors and the Governor’s passion for pursuing public good, he is enjoined to make the provision of potable water supply, the priority of the government he leads. He is urged to double efforts to address the decades old problem – create a more conducive environment for private public partnership – to achieve the state’s new water road-map and build desalination plants that turn sea water into potable supplies to residents of the metropolis as obtained in other aquatic cities around the globe.

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