Water security is the unavailability of quality water needed to sustain life, support economic activities, and fend off diseases or disasters. Every year, 1.4 million people die from a lack of access to clean water, sanitary conditions, and good hygiene, with developing countries accounting for almost 90% of these deaths. Although an average of 67% of the Nigerian population has access to a basic water supply, 30% of Nigerians living in the North do not have access to adequate sanitation and clean drinking water.
UNICEF estimates that developing countries will need about 114 billion dollars annually to meet targets linked to Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) by 2030. Particularly in rural areas, a lot of families use the water from streams and rivers for household chores like cooking, washing and cleaning. Water bodies in industrial locations are contaminated by heavy metals and chemicals like lead, arsenic, and fluoride, as well as oil spills and non-biodegradable microplastics, endangering aquatic and human life.
Unsafe water can lead to diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections, protein-energy malnutrition, and health risks from pollutants and chemicals. In schools, hospitals, and public spaces, water is used to maintain hygiene and stop the spread of infections. Climate change worsens the incidence and mortality of vector-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, and malnutrition, particularly in children, thereby reducing school attendance.
Declining water quality as a result of climate change, which has also increased the frequency and intensity of droughts, flooding, and extreme weather, Urbanisation, indiscriminate waste disposal, rapid population growth, and poor recycling practices make the dire situation worse. Some communities continue to practice open defecation because they either lack water or the resources to build a basic sewage disposal system. This poses a colossal problem for their health and safety as it promotes the spread of intestinal worms that live in the soil, which are disease vectors, and autoinfection, which leads to an increase in the number of illnesses and expensive medical bills.
Lack of adequate water for farming and processing raw materials and the destruction of farms by floods and other devastating climate events contribute to the scarcity of agricultural products, the high cost of food, and other locally manufactured commodities. The bipolar nature of this problem is such that desertification in northern regions and heat waves, wildfires, floods, and heavy storms in riverine areas are posing a threat to food and livelihood.
Given that hydroelectric power plants provide a considerable amount of our electricity, producing energy will eventually suffer if precautions are not taken. Exploring alternative sources of electricity like solar, wind turbines, and biomass is imperative to prevent an unexpected blackout.
We may not have contributed much to climate change, yet its repercussions nevertheless affect us more severely. Strengthening health systems, clean and renewable energy grids, a circular economy for all UN member states, and cross-sectoral collaborations as prioritised in the COP28 Global Climate Action are integral to maintaining health standards in the face of water insecurity and other climate-related challenges.
Integrating and using WASH facilities in educational, health, and public facilities will certainly reduce the transmission of infectious diseases and their death toll. Long-term public and private investments are required to enable the sector to withstand the risks imposed by climate change. For example, more boreholes should be drilled, irrigation systems and water recycling facilities should be designed, and trees should be planted in drought-prone areas.
The rainforest and swampy areas will benefit from good drainage systems, the protection of water bodies from contamination, a stop to deforestation, and the destruction of natural barriers against flooding and erosion. For us to achieve a secure and sustainable water resource profile by 2030, government agencies and ministries must monitor the implementation and coverage of these policies, establish a conservation fund, and address challenges swiftly.
Angelica Uwaezuoke (MBBS; Nig) is a medical doctor, health business manager and climate advocate.