LAGOS, Nigeria- In Nigeria, 63.2 million people do not have access to safe water and over 111 million people—two-thirds of the population—do not have access to adequate sanitation. Even more harrowingly, over 97,000 children die annually from illnesses that would otherwise have been preventable if only they had access to safe potable water and adequate sanitation. Each year, many children succumb to diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid and cholera—all of them waterborne.
Nevertheless, in towns and villages across the country, the situation is improving. Leading the progress in access to clean water and sanitation are the women of Nigeria. Undertaking the already traditional role of providing water for their families, many women in Nigeria now find a venue to demonstrate their leadership and management capability in developing the infrastructure to provide clean water for their communities.
Much credit can be attributed to the civil society of Nigeria as well as to international effort in this regard. For example, through Community Lead Total Sanitation—part of the projects in Nigeria by Global Sanitation Fund—women’s involvement in water related committees has always been emphasized.
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Committees, for example, used a process of selecting local leaders according to their personal traits of which 60% of the people hired were female. Already, this has proven its efficiency. Letters have been sent to spouses of state governors to ask for their support and funding for water and sanitation projects and they have been well received. Some of the state governors’ conjugal partners even accepted to become ambassadors for the WASH Committees.
Furthermore, the WASH Committees have also been advocating for many clean water and sanitation related policies and trying to engage Nigerian political parties on the issues as well as to raise public awareness on the gravity of the situation many of their compatriots are facing.
Another group, the Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN,) helps to train its members equipping them with the necessary wherewithal to both help to develop their own communities as well as increase employment capability. Out of over 2,250 members, 75% of those belonging to this group are women. To mark the World Water Day of 2014, WOFAN distributed water pumps to women as well as trained women who, as mentioned, are the main provider of water for their families as well as water vendors on matters relating to water sanitation and hygiene.
These developments may not seem to be as impactful on the status of women in Nigeria, however, there are certain figures that are emphatic. Out of all women in Nigeria, 69% of them do not have safe toilet and in Lagos alone nearly one in five women have experienced verbal harassment and intimidation when they go to use the lavatory. Open defecation, for example, poses a very pressing sanitary and hygienic challenge in the country.
In addition, the lack of clean water is costing Nigeria 1.3% of its annual gross domestic product. The fact that many women must spend a significant amount of time looking for clean water and an adequate location to serve in lieu of an adequate washroom means that the time that should be spent on education or income-generating activities are instead wasted on such trifling but crucial tasks. Fortunately, the government of Nigeria is aiming to increase access to sanitation from 31% to 65% and access to water from 61% to 75% by 2015.
Thus, organizations and projects that are working to improve access to water as well as building the capacity of women are tactfully addressing the group that is most adversely affected by the problem. It is hopeful that in the near future, not only will more people have access to clean water and adequate toilets, more women will also be involved in the country’s decision-making.