Thursday, April 4, 2013

Counting the Cost of Nigeria’s Water


BY Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai.

Not many Nigerians may know Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and fewer still would have any reason to. Born in 1772, he was an English poet who lived long before any notion of Nigerian nationhood was forged, but his most famous work, ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ which was written in 1798, aptly describes the Nigerian situation: ‘Water, Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink’.
Through a press release on the 28th March last year, Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister of Water Resources said that the country would require some $2.5bn (about N396bn) to provide potable water for 75% of Nigerians. It is 2013, barely 2 years to the Millennium Development Goals target of providing water to the 75% of the populace and official release from the ministry puts the percentage of Nigerians with access to safe drinking water at only 32%.
If this picture is not bad enough, at a briefing in Abuja just before the Presidential Summit on Water, the Minister confirmed that Nigeria will not meet the MDG goal on adequate water supply by 2015 if the country is not willing to commit an annual budget of some N360bn for the next 3 to 5 years.
Consider the impact of the nation’s water situation on our health indices and you would see where exactly this government is taking Nigeria. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that about 361,900 people die yearly due to poor water and sanitation conditions in Nigeria, while the UNICEF estimates that 194,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhea yearly. Gruesome as they may be, these figures are the direct impact of federal, states’ and local governments’ continued neglect of this all important sector, and the Jonathan administration shows no signs of providing leadership that will turn the tide.
In light of these figures and the very little success that has been achieved in water provision, this column would today examine the federal budgetary provision for the water resources ministry with a view to addressing very pertinent questions like how much of the ministry’s N30.4bn 2012 capital budget was implemented? How much of Nigeria’s 267 and 92 billion cubic meters of surface and ground water respectively are currently targeted for the use of Nigerians? What were the gains of the much talked about Presidential Summit on Water? Has any progress been made in implementing the Water Road Map? What should the National Assembly be doing in this vital area of our national well-being?
In 2012, the ministry’s total allocation was N39bn or 0.82% of the Federal budget. N8.6bn (22%) was set aside for recurrent spending while N30.4bn (78%) was voted to capital expenditure. This sectoral ratio exceeds the 70% we have always advocated as the minimum for capital expenditure. The 2013 budget reveals an even better picture; the total allocation is N47.8bn consisting of a capital allocation of N39.8bn (83%) and a recurrent expenditure provision of N7.9bn (17%).
In an administration where costs seem to continuously escalate, the Ministry of Water Resources deserves some commendation as it is one of the few ministries with a reduction in its recurrent budget. The personnel cost for 2013 of N6.4bn is a reduction of about 6.2% from its 2012 N6.8bn figure. According to 2013 Capital Expenditure plans, some N17.9bn would be used to complete various irrigation projects across the country: 24 projects in North Central Nigeria, 21 projects would be completed in the North West, 18 in the South South, 11 in the South East, 9 in the North East and 7 in South Western Nigeria.
However, examining the figures closely, one notices that there is a 2013 provision of about N122.7m to complete the Zobe Dam in Katsina; there was a similar provision of the same figure allocated to the same project in the 2012 budget. Simply put, budgeting (and spending?) on this project in 2012 and 2013 would add up to N245.4 million. Incidentally, this same project was awarded at some N52m and was brought to about 80% completion by the Shagari administration by December 1983!
In February this year, the President announced the intention to host an overdue Water Summit with the theme ‘Innovative Funding of the Water Sector in Nigeria’. Unfortunately, Mr. President himself could not make out time to attend this all important summit; he was however represented by the much ‘freer’ Vice President Namadi Sambo. The highpoint of the occasion was the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the Bank of Industry which would enable private investors in the water sector access loans with very low interest rates. This is an interesting development, and it is hoped that the MoU will be developed further to provide another source of funding the implementation of the water road map which President Jonathan launched with much fanfare in 2011..
The water road map has as its main objectives a 75% water coverage by the year 2015 which would increase to 90% in 2020. This might lead discerning Nigerians to question, if between 2011 and 2013, we have not recorded an increase of even ten percentage points of coverage, what hopes do we have of achieving moving from our dismal 32% coverage within the next 2 years?
A more realistic forecast must be made. According to the Water Sanitation And Hygiene (W.A.S.H) 2013 report, at our current rate of progress, the water target of 75% coverage will be achieved in 2033, 18 years after MDG target of 2015.
When the decay in the nation’s water infrastructure is considered, neither the executive branch nor the federal government cannot be wholly blamed for this massive failure. The states’ and local governments bear most of the responsibility for the failure to ensure reticulation of potable water in our urban and suburban areas.  The legislative arms of the states and federal government must be held responsible for part of the failure.
The national and states’ assemblies have a substantial say in appropriation decisions, so must be held responsible for any under-funding of the water sector at federal and states’ levels respectively. The legislatures’ law-making powers have not been diligently discharged as well. For instance, the bill for the establishment of a National Dam Commission has since been presented to the National Assembly. This bill which would establish a commission whose sole responsibility is maintaining and upgrading dam infrastructure is worth revisiting, revising if need be, and passing into law. It is obvious that if a bill like this is passed and the commission set up, the pitiable state of Nigeria’s oldest dam, the Kainji dam would probably be reversed.
In spite of our combined 359 billion cubic meters, our inland water systems of about thirteen lakes and reservoirs both of which have a surface area of between 4,000 and 550,000 hectares, Nigeria is still classified as a ‘water short’ country. From all indications this government neither has the vision, nor the political will to bring Nigeria out of its present crisis. Thus, the sad reality is that more Nigerians may die from water related illnesses, while the ministry continues with its current budgeting practices.  For most Nigerians, the words of Coleridge, ‘water, water everywhere not a drop to drink’ rings true today, as when it did when it was first written over 200 hundred years ago.