Over 26.5 million Nigerian children vulnerable to water-related diseases – UNICEF

The latest report by the United Nations’ children’s agency (UNICEF) has painted a grim picture of acute lack of potable water in Nigeria and its direct consequences on the health and growth of children.

The report was released on Monday in commemoration of World Water Day which is observed on March 22 every year, designated so by the UN to measure the world’s progress towards providing everyone with clean water for drinking and hygiene.

The annual event seeks to focus attention on the global water crisis. People and organizations mark World Water Day every year by taking action to tackle the water crisis in different ways.

In Nigeria, over 26.5 million children are extremely vulnerable to water-related diseases and antimicrobial resistance, the report found.

These children live with their families in vulnerable communities that face the double-edged sword of coping with high water scarcity levels while having the lowest water services, making access to sufficient water especially susceptible to climate shocks and extreme events.

According to the report, these communities depend on surface water, unimproved sources of water, or water that can take more than 30 minutes to collect.

According to the United Nations, by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater.

While the world is currently battling the outbreak of COVID-19, washing of hands, and other hygienic practices in Nigeria and other developing countries have become a difficult challenge as clean water is often in short supply.

Nigeria’s water minister, Suleiman Adamu said state governments through the state water boards are responsible for providing potable water for the public.

Despite billions invested in water supply over the years, a large population of Nigerians live in homes without running water.

Last September, the Nigeria Health Watch in partnership with EpiAFRIC conducted a survey in over 60 Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in Abuja and Niger State. The survey revealed the acute challenges of water in health facilities across Nigeria.

Vulnerable children are among the victims who suffer most from shortage of potable water.

UNICEF said over 100,000 children under-five die from water-borne diseases annually in Nigeria due to lack of access to clean water.

“The world’s water crisis is not coming – it is here, and children are its biggest victims,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“When wells dry up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water. When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water is not available in Nigerian communities, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases,” said Peter Hawkins.

The report, part of the Water Security for All initiative, identifies areas where physical water scarcity risks overlap with poor water service levels.

According to the report, more than 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children lack access to clean and potable water.

The UNICEF data showed that children in more than 80 countries live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability.

Eastern and Southern Africa has the highest proportion of children living in such areas, with more than half of children – 58 per cent – facing difficulty accessing sufficient water every day.

It is followed by West and Central Africa (31 per cent), South Asia (25 per cent), and the Middle East (23 per cent). South Asia is home to the largest number of children living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability – more than 155 million children.

Children in 37 ‘hotspot’ countries face especially dire circumstances, in terms of absolute numbers, the proportions of children affected, and where global resources, support and urgent action must be mobilized. This list includes Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, and Yemen.

Last year, the Nigerian Government and UNICEF released a WASH NORM study which showed that while there has been some progress, thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Water Resources and its partners to strengthen the sector’s planning and monitoring – there is still much more work to be done in the country to ensure that all Nigerians have access to adequate and quality water and hygiene services.

Although about 70 per cent of Nigerians are reported to have access to basic water services, more than half of these water sources are contaminated. And although 73 per cent of the country’s population has access to a water source, only nine litres of water on average is available to a Nigerian daily.

At the current rate, the country will miss the SDG targets on people’s access to water, unless there is a strong commitment and appropriate action taken by all stakeholders, the report noted.

“We have to act now both to address the water crisis in Nigeria to prevent it from getting worse and if we want to meet the SDGs,” said Peter Hawkins. “We can only achieve water security for every Nigerian – including the Nigerian child – through innovation, investment, and collaboration, and by ensuring services are sustainable and well-managed. We must act – for the sake of our children and our planet.”

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