Alternative World Water Forum

The legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti famously sang that ‘water has no enemy’. He was right. Water is seen by many as the symbol of life due to its basic importance to human survival and happiness. However, history has shown that access to safe and clean water has forever been disproportionate, between the have and have-nots; what should be a ubiquitous commodity, like air, is scarce, especially in developing countries where the standard of living is still crawling in the mud. This inadequacy, obviously, has prompted the international community to consider ‘access to safe drinking water’ as one of the 10 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

To achieve universal access to safe drinking water, there has to be a responsible and efficient management of water resources and quality infrastructures must be put in place and maintained to ensure proper distillation and distribution. Assuredly, this will cost money. And this leads to how this money should be sourced. In solving this problem, three schools of thought have been developed. There are those who believe that the government should provide water to the public, as parts of its basic responsibilities. Here, taxation will cover up for the costs of running water services. Some others are of the opinion that private corporations should be entrusted with water resources, and charge the public appropriately for water usage. Toeing the middle line, the third school of thought argue that public-private partnership is the best way to run a viable water services. There are those who argue that this third option is simply a euphemism for privatisation of water resources.

In highly populated cities like Lagos, the problem posed by water scarcity is put under adequate spotlight. In an exhaustive article titled, ‘Privatisation of Water: An Historical perspective’, Naren Prassad wrote: “In colonial Lagos, the lack of financial support for developing water supply system led to the segregation between wealthy enclaves (colonial administrators and local elites) and the rest of the city. At the end of the colonial period in 1960, a mere 10 per cent of the households were connected to piped water supply and the rest depended on shared taps, standpipes, wells and unsafe creeks. This situation further deteriorated during the civil war and the successive authoritarian regimes. Industries in Lagos are now using around 20 per cent of their capital to providing basic services like water. Currently only five per cent of households are connected to water supply. Others still depend on wells, boreholes, water tankers, illegal connections, street vendors and open drains.”

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