ENVIRONMENTALISTS from India, Philippines, United States and other nations of the world, on Tuesday converged in Abuja to demand access to water as a human right.
The group which comprises of several Civil Society Organisations (CSO) kicked against planned privatisation of the water sector, especially in Lagos State.
There have been reported cases of International Financial Corporation (IFC), World Bank Group visiting Lagos state, last year indicating interest to allegedly invest in the state’s public water sector, through Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.
On 7th January, the IFC announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to support the Lagos State government to improve municipal infrastructure and increase revenues.
However, the idea was confronted by Environmental Rights Action/ Friend of Health Nigeria (FoEN), with support from international allies to protest against the proposed public partnership agreement in the water sector.
Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, during his remark at the National Summit on Human Right to water, described the move as unacceptable as it is against the human right principle. He said access to water should be promoted and its affordability must be prioritised.
The event is themed Nigeria’s Water Emergency: From Resistance to Real Solutions against Corporate Control.
Alston called on the Lagos State government among others to ensure human right principle is considered in its efforts to provide potable water to the people.
“Some principles as comfortability, transparency, acceptability and accessibility should be key elements for any decision making to water supply provision. So I call on the governments to ensure they honour the human rights of water and sanitation principles as the key guidance to any decision making in Lagos.”
Members of the US Congress in the course of the campaign also supported the advocacy in solidarity against privatisation of the state water sector.
In January 2015, the World Bank announced that it was terminating its discussions with the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC).
Dr Otive Igbuzor, Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD), in his keynote address, titled, “The Nigerian Water Crisis and the Imperative of Rights-Based Solutions,” canvassed for access to water right describing water as a necessity to human survival.
According to him, 59 million Nigerians, out of the estimated population of 186 million lack access to clean water.
He said 59, 500 children under five die every year due to poor water and sanitation. Igbuzor attributed the problems among other infrastructural decay to deceit on the part of the government
“Water is very important for life and human survival. But the challenge is that the poorest of the poor do not have access to clean water and sanitation. There is a global water crisis and a Nigerian water crisis.
“The Nigerian water crisis is exacerbated by the crisis of the Nigerian state. The Nigerian State has gone beyond mediating the competing interest of the elite groups or being an instrument of the ruling class to become an instrument of deception. The end result of a dysfunctional and deceitful Nigerian state is that there is a crisis in all the sectors: Political, economic, social, educational, health, water etc.”
However, he recommended a change of attitude, promoting visionary and committed leadership to build a society where there is justice, equity and prosperity.
“The water crisis cannot be solved in isolation. It requires the resolution of the crisis of the Nigerian state,” he added.
Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, Board Chairman, ERA/FoEN also lauded the campaign, Our Water, Our Right.
He said beyond the state level, the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission Bill currently at the National Assembly allegedly promotes privatisation of the water sector, which according to him, does not recognise water as a human right.
“The Our Water, Our Right coalition stood firm in opposing anti-people sections of Lagos Environmental Law. The media has remained a strong ally of the movement and this is very much appreciated.”
Recognising water deficit and significant water access in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2018 declared a state of emergency in the water supply, sanitation and hygiene sector.
The president admitted the grave impact of water shortage, stressing that 46 per cent of all water schemes is non-functional, thus the need for drastic action.