• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Price hike threatens access to safe drinking water

…As sachet water goes out of reach

…Resorting to other sources puts Nigerians at risk of water-related diseases

No respite in sight for the citizens of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, who are being pummeled on all sides of life with the accelerating inflation resulting in soaring prices of every commodity in the market.

With headline inflation settling at 29.9 percent in January 2024, sachet water, Nigeria’s most common and cheapest source of sanitised drinking water, is becoming a luxury, going out of the reach of the masses.

The economic headwinds have resulted in a sharp rise in prices in recent times with retailers selling a bag for between N300 and N400 depending on the location and temperature of the water bag.

Read also: FG mulls ban on exportation of LPG to crash prices

This development, experts say, could trigger a serious health crisis if the poor Nigerians whose source of drinking is the popular sachet water begin to depend on boreholes and other unsafe sources of water to meet their drinking water needs.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 declares the importance of achieving ‘clean water and sanitation for all’. It promotes universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

Universal access to safe drinking water is a fundamental need and human right because securing access for all would go a long way in reducing illness and death, especially among children.

Though access to clean water is a basic human right, it has remained a challenge for millions globally as about 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services as of 2020.

In Nigeria, about 26.5 million Nigerian children lack access to safe water as of 2021, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

This means that 29 percent of children in Nigeria experience high or extremely high-water vulnerability. This, experts say, is life-threatening as lack of safe water affects people’s health, well-being, and economic productivity.

It can lead to waterborne diseases including cholera, diarrhoea, and typhoid fever, which cause millions of deaths yearly, especially among children under five.

Already, UNICEF said about 100,000 Nigerian children are said to die annually of water-related diseases.

Owing to the inability of governments at both Federal and State levels to provide safe pipe running water to citizens, many Nigerians rely on self-dug boreholes to meet their cooking water needs.

Today, these boreholes have also become a source of drinking water for many, especially the poor masses who could not afford to buy either sachet or table water.

“Tablewater producers now supply a bag of sachet water to retailers at a price between N250 and N300 per bag while the retailers sell for N400 per bag. I bought five bags of sachet water on Friday, February 23, 2024, for N1,250 from the factory and this amounts to N250 per bag,” said Efifong Ntak, a Lagos-based accountant.

He said he used to buy the same number of bags of sachet water for N1,000 in 2022.

According to Ntak, the soaring prices of commodities including sachet water are becoming a source of concern for families who are faced with diverse financial burdens, especially at this time.

Sachet water is cheaper to produce than plastic bottles and easier to transport. In Nigeria, it is popularly known as “pure water”, and it has become an increasingly important part of drinking water access for many.

BusinessDay Sunday checks revealed that the price of sachet water started rising in 2015 when a bag of sachet water, initially sold for between N70 and N100 per bag as well as a sachet sold for N5, was hiked to between N140 and N150 while a sachet was sold for N10.

Then, the Association for Table Water Producers of Nigeria cited the rise in the cost of production especially the price of the waterproof used in packaging the product as a reason for hiking the price.

After the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2021, table water producers increased the price of a bag of sachet water to N200 per bag and N20 per sachet due to a further increase in production cost resulting from soaring inflation and naira devaluation.

The situation worsened in 2022 after the pure water producers announced a nationwide price increase from N200 to N300 per bag and N20 per sachet, according to Clementina Ativie, its national president.

Today, with the naira trading for N1, 488.896/$ on the Central Bank’s official foreign exchange window as of Friday, February 2024 and N1,750/$ at the black market, many Nigerians are lamenting over the leap in the price of staple foods and other commodities including sachet water which now sells for as much as N400 per bag and N30 per sachet.

Presently, many families are relying on borehole water, which is rarely filtered or sanitised before it can become fit for drinking.

“I stopped buying sachet water in 2021 when a bag was sold for N200. We are a family of seven persons, my wife and I with five children. This means that we need at least two bags of sachet water per day, which was becoming too expensive for me when I had other bills to pay with the limited money at my disposal,” said Timothy Adebayo, an artisan.

He said his family depends on the borehole water for cooking and drinking, and it has been so for close to three years now.

Adebayo said he did not buy sachet water when it was N200 per bag and he is not planning to do so now that it is N400 per bag and there is no money anywhere now to even eat food not to talk of buying water.

“Whenever I’m tasty, I go to the nearby borehole to fetch drinking water and that has been the practice,” he added.

But he confirmed that three of his children have always been typhoid patients, which could be attributed to drinking unsafe water.

Akpan Okon, a vehicle mechanic, told our correspondent said he does not border himself with buying bags of sachet as he takes drinking water from a nearby borehole.

Okon said buying drinking water at home for his family is the least of his worries.

Meanwhile, Ifeanyi Onyebuchi, a tricycle rider, told BusinessDay Sunday that five bags of sachet water in his part of Lagos sells for N1,500 from the company which amounts to N300 per bag.

According to him, his family has decided to start boiling borehole water to serve as drinking water for the whole family rather than depend on buying bags of water because the current pricing would not be the end of a hike in price.