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Story Publication logo March 31, 2012

Nigeria: President Promises Water, Slashes Budget


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Abandoned water and sanitation projects deprive the people of Nigeria of a basic human right: access...

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Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Image by Annaliese McDonough/Commonwealth Sectratariat/ Flickr. Perth, 2011.

A year ago, President Goodluck Jonathan told the country that in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 75 percent of Nigerians would have access to safe drinking water by 2015.

New estimates from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water and sanitation suggest that based on the country's rate of progress in the past, it would take 28 years for this target to be met. Sarah Ochekpe, the minister of water resources in Nigeria, says that Nigeria is on track to reach the 75 percent target.

She says that her ministry is "focusing on completion of abandoned water projects and repairs of basic infrastructure such as hand pumps and motorized boreholes." Nigeria, in the past two decades, has not been able to keep up with the global and regional average rate of increase in water coverage. JMP reports show that between 1990 and 2010, there was only an 11 percentage point increase in access to improved water supply in Nigeria. Currently, 58 percent of the country's 160 million people have access to potable water. For the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of 75 percent coverage by 2015, access must increase by 17 percentage points within the next three years.

Making this challenge more significant, the population of Nigeria is expected to increase by over 40 million in the next eight years. "So we have a shortfall," says Timeyin Uwejamomere, acting country representative for WaterAid, "and that shortfall gives us the impression that we will take another 28 years to make that shortfall and we have only three years to go. The issues that we have are issues of legislation, structure, finance, planning and attitudes and these are issues that we can control. Even the issue of population growth, which seems out of our hands, we can also control, but Nigeria has not been serious about population control." Rising population in Nigeria, like in most parts of Africa is one of the main drivers behind the slow progress in water provision and in the increasing demand for and degradation of water resources. Nigeria's rapid population growth means it must keep reaching more people just to keep its percentage access up. This requires strong political will, and massive and consistent deployment of resources.


In January 2011, the federal government launched the water road-map, a blueprint that describes the government's objectives in developing the nation's water resources between 2011 and 2025. The plan includes the promises that 75 percent of Nigerians will have access to potable water by 2015, and 90 percent by 2020. With the launch of the plan, Jonathan's administration announced the availability of special intervention funds for several projects.

They include drilling one motorized borehole in each of the 109 Senatorial Districts, rehabilitating 1,000 dysfunctional hand pump boreholes in 18 states, supplying and installing 10 special water treatment plants, and completing all abandoned urban/semi-urban water supply projects. All of these and more were to be completed within 2011, with officials describing them as "a quick measure to accelerate water coverage". A year on, none of these short-term targets have been met, though a number of projects are in progress.

As of September 2011, ministry documents reveal that only two water treatment plants have so far been completed and commissioned. The failure by government to meet its first year goals adds to Uwejamomere's frustration in the administration's use of an impossible, but appealing objective to score political points. "It's not enough to have a roadmap," he says, "It's about making what is written in that document happen. It is about action planning and action implementation. That is what we are lacking in Nigeria."

Hassan Kida, the World Bank task team leader for community-based and urban development in Nigeria, notes that he has been telling the water resource ministry that they have "a long way to go" to reach their goals, much longer than they may realize is necessary to bring water to over 27 million people in the next three years. Kida says that a lot more could be achieved if officials are more aware of what is happening in the field and if the federal government took more responsibility in directing contributions from donor agencies so projects get to the most needful communities. "In several meetings we've had with the ministry of water resources, I tell them that you still have a lot of work to do in the sense that nobody knows what is happening there in the field," Kida states.

Drawing attention to abandoned projects littered all over the country and existing water infrastructure in decay which makes the challenge to expand access more difficult, Kida further explains that the issue then goes beyond mere completion of projects as Nigeria's maintenance culture across board still remains very poor, describing this as the biggest problem. Thus in a couple of years progress made will most likely become progress not maintained; unless there is a radical change in attitudes which would take time. "Putting in the infrastructure is not a big deal but managing the infrastructure that is the biggest deal," he adds.

Where is the money?

Significant annual investments are needed to address water and sanitation problems in the country. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) office costing model says $2.5 billion (about N375 billion) is needed to meet the nation's water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015, while government notes that an extra N200 billion is further required to provide additional development in Dams with hydropower components amongst others. The idea as presented by the federal government is to fund the water roadmap via direct public and private sector financing, in which, budgetary appropriations as well as cost sharing arrangements with states, local councils and communities would be the public proposed fund-raising approach, while private funding will be accessed via multilateral credit, loans and internally generated revenue.

Juanita During, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Partnership at the African Centre for Water and Sanitation, following the launch of the roadmap, described the government's funding strategy as "unpredictable and poorly targeted." What each of these private sources of funding can provide is just a fraction of projected requirements, and donor support to the water sector is estimated at less than three percent of needed resources. Thus, the bulk of investment has to be made up by government. But despite government promises, there has been a steady decline in budgetary allocations to water and sanitation. In 2010, the federal government budgeted N112 billion for water and sanitation but by 2011, budgetary allocations had dropped to N62 billion. For 2012, the budget for water is only N39 billion.

So while the president promised Nigerians 75 percent access to clean water by 2015, his government slashed the budget for the sector by 65 percent, contradicting his continued claims of being determined to reach the targets on time. Ayo Adebusoye, a lawyer and Secretary General for Nigeria Network of NGOs, says that the possibility of budgetary allocations for water improving any time soon is slim. He explains that the precarious state of security in the country is diverting resources away from the water sector, among others.

Indeed the security budget has risen from N348 billion in 2011 to N921.91 billion for 2012. This follows deteriorating security conditions in Nigeria with increased attacks from the extremist Islamic sect Boko Haram. The group has been linked to Al-Qaeda and is currently blamed for the deaths of at least a thousand Nigerians. "It's a shame that our figures are dropping. For us to have come from a point of N112 billion to N39 billion within three years is an embarrassment to everybody in the sector and to the government of Nigeria.

We need to improve our budgets, and the way we target the use of this money," says Uwejamomere. Ochekpe doesn't see the declining budget for the water ministry as an indicator of the government's commitment to keeping its promise to expand access dramatically. She says "There are issues with the budget generally. You cannot judge government's interests by the envelope [budget] it has allocated for 2012."

Meanwhile, the government claims that internal generated revenue in form of payment for water related services will begin to play a greater role in the sector. In theory at least, water utilities can be self-sufficient, and not need any support from the government, but presently few fees are collected and those that are do not come close to covering the actual cost of providing the water.

According to a World Bank study, it costs N150 on average to produce a liter of clean drinking water yet consumers in some states are billed as little as N25 for 1000 liters of potable water. The government is providing a huge subsidy, but consumers are blissfully unaware. In the short-term, this funding source is grossly inadequate to make up for the cuts in the water sector budget.

The water ministry does say that it has started designing strategies to reverse the situation. Still, at least 90 percent of the country lacks a clear framework for the metering, billing or collection of payments for water. Water bill payment defaults are estimated to have accrued to an outstanding debt of N1 billion.

Will access improve?

So, will 75 percent of Nigerians have access to safe drinking water in 2015? Hassan Kida of the World Bank says "definitely Nigeria would not meet the MDG target for water supply."

The slow progress in Nigeria's drive to provide water for its people is clearly not for lack of effort but more about not enough in the right place. Thus it is safe to say president Goodluck Jonathan's sweeping declarations a year ago that , "no Nigerian child in the next few years shall trek long distances to carry water" is just another statement that sounds good but lack the elements that would ensure it is a reality, at least not in the near future.


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