Opinion

Tahir Sherrif: Water Resources Management; Looking Beyond The Problems Of Oil

Practically every development challenge of the 21st century – food security, managing rapid urbanization, energy security, environmental protection, adapting to climate change – requires urgent attention to water resources management. In other words, the opinions of Minister of Water Resources Mrs Sarah Reng Ochekpe during her presentation at the Ministerial Platform should gain as much audience as that of the Minister of Petroleum. But of course, this is Nigeria, and oil is the main source of income.

But unlike oil, water has not technically become a source of income. Mrs Reng pointed out the several contributions of the Sector to Agriculture, Energy, and Human Capital Development as well as all the efforts that were being put in place to ensure that a large proportion of Nigeria’s citizens in rural and urban areas get access to clean drinking water. She almost failed to point out that unlike oil; water is the source of life on planet earth.

Of the water resources on Earth only three percent of it is fresh and two-thirds of the freshwater is locked up in ice caps and glaciers. Of the remaining one percent, a fifth is in remote, inaccessible areas and much seasonal rainfall in monsoonal deluges and floods cannot easily be used. At present only about 0.08 percent of all the world’s fresh water is exploited by mankind in ever increasing demand for sanitation, drinking, manufacturing, leisure and agriculture.

Do we need to manage our water resources? Yes, and very effectively too. If there’s one thing Minister of Information Labaran Maku got right while speaking at the event, his statement that water management had become a ‘Global Issue’. Much effort in water resource management has been directed at optimizing the use of water and in minimizing the environmental impact of water use on the natural environment.

Take Agriculture which has become the largest user of the world’s freshwater resources, consuming over 70 percent according to the World Bank. An effective management of the nation’s water resources could boost the country’s efforts at reducing food shortages and ensuring food security in the future. But beyond that, it would solve a variety of health hazards associated with common practices.

In the areas surrounding urban centers, agriculture must compete with industry and municipal users for safe water supplies, while traditional water sources are becoming polluted with urban wastewater. As cities offer the best opportunities for selling produce, farmers often have no alternative to using polluted water to irrigate their crops. There are significant health hazards related to the use of this water. Wastewater from cities can contain a mixture of pollutants. There is usually wastewater from kitchens and toilets along with rainwater runoff. This means that the water usually contains excessive levels of nutrients and salts, as well as a wide range of pathogens. Heavy metals may also be present, along with traces of antibiotics and endocrine disruptors, such as estrogens. The pathogens of most concern are bacteria, viruses and parasitic worms, which directly affect farmers’ health and indirectly affect consumers if they eat the contaminated crops. Common illnesses include diarrhea, which kills over a million people annually and ranks as the second most common cause of infant deaths. Cholera outbreaks are also related to the re-use of poorly treated wastewater. Actions that reduce or remove contamination, therefore, have the potential to save a large number of lives and improve livelihoods.

The challenge is a global one. Water is one of the most basic human needs. With impacts on agriculture, education, energy, health, gender equity, and livelihood, water management underlies the most basic development challenges. Water is under unprecedented pressures as growing populations and economies demand more of it.

According to the World Bank, groundwater is being depleted faster than it is being replenished and worsening water quality degrades the environment and adds to costs. The pressures on water resources are expected to worsen because of climate change. There is ample evidence that climate change will increase hydrologic variability, resulting in extreme weather events such as droughts floods, and major storms. It will continue to have a profound impact on economies, health, lives, and livelihoods. The poorest people will suffer most.

This among other reasons is why the World Bank has placed Water Resources Management at the center of its efforts to help countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.  It also seeks to ensure that Water issues are effectively addressed in related sectors, such as agriculture, disaster risk management, energy, and health.

The challenge has been immense, but if continuous attention is not given to the Ministry of Water resources in terms of resources and human capital development to meet the challenges as they come, it is likely that the implications will be staggering. One of the biggest concerns for our water-based resources in the future is the sustainability of the current and even future water resource allocation. As water becomes scarcer the importance of how it is managed grows vastly, and finding a balance between what is needed by humans and what is needed in the environment is an important step in the sustainability of water resources.

Attempts to create sustainable freshwater systems have been seen on a national level in countries such as Australia, and such commitment to the environment could set a model for Nigeria and the rest of the world. Although successful management of any resources requires accurate knowledge of the resource available, the uses to which it may be put, the competing demands for the resource, measures to and processes to evaluate the significance and worth of competing demands and mechanisms to translate policy decisions into actions on the ground. Yet if Nigeria as a country is to remain committed to improving the standard of living of its citizens, it must begin at the heart of it all, the source of all life; a commitment at managing water resources effectively.

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Article written by Tahir Sherrif from Abuja

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