For many years, access to potable water has been increasingly challenging in many sub-Saharan African countries. This is even more worrisome in view of the stifling cost of living and infrastructural shortcomings that people in the third world region have to grapple with. Reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that over 780 million people around the world do not have access to potable water, with water-related diseases responsible for 80 percent of all illnesses and deaths in developing world. Clearly, this is a sore touch point that needs to be aggressively tackled by all concerned.
Significantly, poor access to potable water has the capacity to stifle any nation’s economy. No meaningful economic activity can be carried out when the productive segment of the population is vulnerable to all manner of environmental diseases. Also, people’s inability to access clean water comes with dire socio-economic challenges that may impact negatively on individuals and households. For example, a student may have difficulty in attaining his or her potential if the student is continuously absent from school due to illness arising from constant consumption of unsafe water. On a broader scale, lack of access to potable water may have serious consequences for investors as businesses may have to spend more to provide water for their own use. When this is the case, there usually exists a ring of higher and added costs for such businesses.
In response to this global challenge, WHO through its Goal 7, Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), reiterated its commitment to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the end of 2015. It is noteworthy that governments at the local, state and federal levels and the organized private sector have keyed into the vision.
This is perhaps why a few organizations such as the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Limited and Guinness Nigeria Plc keyed into the global vision of unhindered access to safe drinking water in various host communities across the country. These two multinationals, Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd and Water Health International Nigeria, set the tone through a partnership, The Safe Water for Africa Project, with the objective to provide healthy drinking water to underserved communities in Nigeria and equally provide job opportunities for the communities.
In tandem with its commitment to enrich the lives of its communities, NBC has invested tremendously in the provision of water infrastructure in over 20 underserved communities across Nigeria. Under its ‘Water Stewardship Programme”, the company has ensured that over 300,000 people in these water-stressed communities have access to clean and safe drinking water. One of the communities that benefited from this gesture is Mbaikya Community in Makurdi, Benue State. Prior to NBC’s water intervention in the community, residents used to walk a distance of 5km before they could access water in neighbouring communities. During rainy seasons, they sourced their water from ponds that are formed whenever it rained. For residents of this community, raining season was always a season of celebration. Now, people no longer need to walk that long as potable water is at their reach due to support from NBC’s Water Stewardship Initiative which has brought succour to communities across Nigeria.
David Aki, a 90-year-old resident of Mbaikya community, said, “Since I was born, we have been drinking from the ponds when it rains. In fact, the entire community depends on these ponds for domestic uses such as bathing, washing and cooking. The good news is that the story has changed for us in the community with the intervention of NBC through its water project. On behalf of the community, I like to say thank you to the company.”
Beyond the provision of clean water facilities to communities is the important role that knowledge plays in sustainable water practices. Knowledge sharing makes for a positive, more inclusive and active participation by many more people as the world seeks to make clean water available to all, while also highlighting the need for a collaborative approach in water management. The issue of water management and conservation is no longer an option, but an urgent matter that requires the attention of all stakeholders.
In a bid to cultivate young people as part of efforts aimed at driving enhanced public awareness about water use, NBC recently upped the ante at this year’s World Water Day. The company, in collaboration with key stakeholders such as state Ministries of Health and local governments, enlisted select students as ‘Water Ambassadors’. About 200 students from 10 secondary schools in Owerri and Kaduna State were trained and taken on a guided tour of NBC’s waste water treatment plants. The main idea behind this strategic initiative is to equip the ‘leaders of tomorrow’ with the requisite knowledge on water management and conservation. These young people, as water ambassadors, will support the company’s drive towards sustainable water for all. Armed with the requisite information, it is expected that these young people will become key influencers in their families and communities and help promote best water practices, by propagating NBC’s sustainable water conservation philosophy, particularly in the areas of water conservation and sanitation.
Uzo Odenigbo, head of public affairs and communications, said, “NBC, as a prominent player in the beverage industry, is committed to upholding sustainable practices in its business operations. Water is the most important ingredient in our production process, therefore NBC places premium on water issues, particularly in the area of access to potable water.”
With water playing a critical role in its manufacturing process, the leading non-alcoholic beverage company in Nigeria is committed to programmes that drive its policy of Recycle, Reuse and Replenish to protect water resources with a view to promoting sustainable development in its operating environment. One of such initiatives is the establishment of state-of-the-art effluent treatment plants in all its bottling plants across the nation. This ensures that only treated water certified fit to sustain human and aquatic life is discharged into approved sites to further consolidate its environmental stewardship programme.
It is important to note that there are still many more communities in dire need of potable water in view of the MDGs’ target of making clean water accessible to all. However, this dream can only be achieved if everyone, including all key stakeholders, from the private and public sectors, and not-for-profit organizations, embrace policy formulation that can incorporates broader values of sustainable water as well as walk the talk in the provision of clean and safe water for people in thousands of communities across the country.