Achieving clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all in Nigeria

3 min read
Boy child
Image: WaterAid/SOZO Films

Access to water, sanitation and hygiene are human rights and crucial for good outcomes in health, nutrition, education, gender equality, livelihoods and for the socio-economic development of a country. A lack of access to these basic life-saving services impact virtually all aspects of human development, disproportionately affecting the life chances of women and girls. Goal 6 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is focused on ensuring inclusive and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all. However, in lower and middle-income countries like Nigeria, millions of people are without access to clean water and sanitation. According to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASHNorm) 2018, about 55 million Nigerians still do not have access to clean water supply services, 110 million Nigerians lack decent toilets, and over 47 million practice open defecation.

According to UNICEF, poor water supply and sanitation costs the Nigerian economy about 1.3% of GDP annually, which is about NGN1.9 trillion. These losses are reflected in lost productivity due to water and sanitation related diseases, time spent in accessing water and sanitation services, avoidable expenses by government and households to address the diseases, and the lost human capacity in malnutrition and mortality. Furthermore, some of the conflicts in the North- Central region have been attributed to poor access to water sources.

Progress to address this water and sanitation crisis has been accelerated by the declaration of a State of Emergency by the Federal Government in November 2018 and the launch of a National Action Plan for the revitalisation of the sector. The Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH), the Open Defecation Free Road Map and the Water Resources Bill all support this drive to ensure universal access for all by 2030.

The estimated government investment needs for achieving SDG 6 by 2030 currently stands at 1.30% of GDP per year, which is $5.3 billion or NGN1.9 trillion. This compares with current public spending (by the government and donors) of only $393 million (in 2018). The Government needs to increase budgetary allocations for water, sanitation and hygiene and ensure that the monies allocated are effectively utilised.

There is need for effective governance and high-level political support to drive the implementation of the development goals. Delivering SDG 6 is a formidable challenge and can only be achieved by ensuring appropriate governance and coordination structures at all levels of government; improving access and finance data availability and transparency; addressing the problems relating to operations and maintenance (which currently undermine the sustainability of services); strengthening the enabling environment for the public and private sectors; and increasing civil society engagement to strengthen accountability for services and budgets. Additionally, flexible solutions need to be identified to tackle the problems within the sector in order to drive the needed reform.

At current rates, Nigeria is off-track and still a long way from achieving the promise of SDG 6 and ensuring clean water and sanitation for all. The National Action Plan is an excellent opportunity to drive momentum towards universal access in Nigeria by 2030. With only a decade to go before this crucial milestone, now is the time to mobilise the resources that are equal to the task.