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The irony of an International Water Conference in Lagos

The Lagos State government on 23 June 2021, threw its doors open to welcome delegates from different parts of the world. The goal of the conference was to facilitate the efficiency of the water sector in the state. But when asked, a typical Lagosian like Isaac Moses said that the last time he drank water supplied by the state’s water corporation was in 1999, when the public water works close to his old compound used to function. The pipes that connect this precious liquid to his compound have remained broken and rusty. Since then, his major source of drinking water has come from boreholes. Lagos is an island city surrounded by water yet, there is very little for the population to drink. At the water conference, the Governor of the State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu disclosed that less than 40 percent of the residents have access to potable water. The World Population Review estimates the population of Lagos at above 14 million. In other words, less than 7 million Lagosians have access to potable water. As of 2016, Lagosians needed as much as 724 million gallons to function efficiently, but the state could only manage to provide 317 million gallons, leaving a gap of 407 million gallons. At the conference, Sanwo-Olu said the state has yet to resolve its sufficiency problem. The Lagos State Water Supply Master Plan said that, current water demand stands at about 540 million gallons daily (MGD) but the Lagos Water Corporation (LSWC) can only produce 210 MGD. Read Also: A case for tackling challenge of potable water supply in Lagos Sadly, not all the 210 gallons of water reach households due to perennial fractures from dilapidated transmission pipes and old trunk lines. Also, the water supply is very erratic and frequently subject to prolonged outages. For the over 8 million Lagosians without access to potable water, it is a public health threat. It is also a threat to environmental sanitation, a challenge the state has failed to address. Apart from that, residents in the state are left with no choice but to provide water for themselves with boreholes. The LSWC estimates that there are up to 200,000 such boreholes across Lagos State. Interestingly, even when they use their money to provide themselves water to drink, some agencies of the state penalise them for it with illegal levies. We believe that with efficient management, Lagos easily can surpass its water target and even position itself as the primary market for supplying potable water to other states in the country. The solution can start from revisiting the Lagos Water Master Plan 2010-2020. One of the failures of that plan was the government’s fixation on funds to revamp water infrastructure. In the current economic climate raising $2.5 billion which is the target, from the state’s budget may not be visible. However, the government can take a different tack to water production, and positioning the sector in such a way that investors can see the value in investing capital, would be a way to address the poor infrastructure. While the proliferation of boreholes has provided some respite for residents, the state requires a permanent fix to the water crisis. This is especially given that borehole drilling is widely unregulated and most of the water that people get from them is contaminated. This is where we think the plan to licence borehole drilling has its merits. Nevertheless, it requires transparency and the goal must be to help Lagos residents get the best portable water. In that sense, licensing should not be an avenue to extort and make access to drinkable water difficult, rather it should be a way to monitor the quality of the water people will drink. It should also be a way to help people live a quality life. After all, as the late afro-beat crooner said, “Water does not have an enemy.”

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