Its world water week. So this post will be about water. It’s not about how we need to drink lots of water for better health. Though we should. Instead, It’s going to answer the question UNICEF keeps asking on social media, ‘’what does water mean to you?” For the millions of people in rural areas who are unable to answer, here goes…
In Nigeria, more than half of the rural population lack access to portable water. Many of them are forced to walk for hours to get water from rivers and streams that are unfit for domestic purposes. In places where manual boreholes or wells have been constructed, people have to wait for hours in long queues to fetch water. These boreholes are also liable to break down, because too many people rely on just one source.
Those who drink water from sources like rivers and streams are vulnerable to several water borne diseases like diarrhea and cholera. Diarrhea is responsible for the loss of millions of lives of children in Nigeria. Cholera kills thousands of people every year. Several people, particularly children have died from drowning as a result of trying to obtain water from rivers.
Proper hygiene and sanitation is terribly compromised when there is lack of water. Hand washing, a proper hygienic practice, is one of the most effective ways to stop spread of several diseases like diarrheal diseases and typhoid. But how can one expect people who have to walk for hours to fetch water to wash their hands at the proper times? Because water is so precious, no matter how much they may want to, regular hand washing will be a difficult practice to adopt. Lack of sanitation leads to the presence of rodents and insects which contribute to the spread of diseases. Furthermore, the lack of access to portable water means that people have to store water in drums, leading to the breeding of mosquitoes and the incidence of malaria.
Lack of water has a particular effect on women and girls. They are often tasked with the responsibility of fetching water, and because several of them have had to walk through long lonely paths to get water, many of them have fallen prey to rape. Moreover, women and girls particularly need water during menstruation in order to go through their menstrual periods hygienically and with dignity. Proper hygiene is extremely essential during menstruation to avoid the numerous adverse effects on their reproductive health.
Several people are forced to look for water in the mornings when they should be open for business instead. Children who have to fetch water early in the mornings miss school. Those who end up going to school after the hard task of fetching water (either from long distances or pumping manual boreholes or both) may be too tired to learn.
Water has led to tension and conflicts among people as a result of too many people depending on a single source of water. It is also particularly stressful and mentally exhausting to have to worry about water all the time.
Hence, because of water, people have died, women and girls have been raped, children have missed school, workers have lost productivity and people have had poor health. These have further severe consequences including stigma and STDs, loss of income and lack of quality education. One also needs to take into account the amount spent on treating these diseases, the lives lost that could have contributed to the productivity of the country, and the fact that the lack of access to safe water continues to widen the gap that exists between the rich and the poor. If the government does not provide safe and portable water for its people, how is the country expected to grow?
So what does water mean? Water is a luxury. Water is health. Water is dignity. Water is education. Water is cleanliness. Water is safety. Water is productivity. Water is peace. Water is life. And access to safe water is a right.
Happy world water week.