UNICEF Nigeria warns millions at risk of water contamination

On the occasion of the commemoration of World Water Day, UNICEF raises concerns about Nigeria, where it is estimated that 70% of water at the point of consumption is contaminated.

The UN agency said the contamination is the reason Nigeria has the highest number of deaths from waterborne diseases among children under five.

Nearby temporary shelters are the norm at IDP sites, such as Kuchigoro camp in Abuja.

Camp officials say up to 3,000 displaced people live in Kuchigoro after fleeing Boko Haram attacks in their homes. But access to water is a daily struggle, says Bitrus Yusuf, a camp official.

“Our women usually go to nearby properties to fetch water, begging for water,” Yusuf said. “We badly need water for our daily use. As you can see, the camp is compacted.”

Yusuf says cluttered tents and lack of access to water and good hygiene make the camp prone to disease.

He says cholera outbreaks are recurrent and other illnesses like dysentery or diarrhea are also common.

Last August, around 40 cases of cholera were reported and camp officials said at least 10 people had died, including Istifanus Bitrus’ four-year-old son.

“It affected two of my children, but one eventually died on the way to the hospital,” Bitrus said. “The other one was treated in hospital, people helped me with money and he got better.”

A young boy uses his shirt to dry water dripping from the bucket on his face, in Kano, northern Nigeria, February 19, 2019.

Camp officials said the cholera outbreak was later caused by sewage leaks into the camp’s only water source.

UNICEF said 70% of water at the point of consumption is contaminated and children are the most affected.

As a result, UNICEF says 117,000 children die each year in Nigeria from water-related diseases – the highest number of any country.

Jane Bevan is UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, or WASH, program manager.

“If there is no constraint on open defecation, for example people defecate in streams and on the surface, this contamination will inevitably seep into groundwater,” said Bevan. “So the only answer really is to treat the water safely before it’s consumed and ideally to reduce open defecation as much as possible.”

Nigerian authorities have tried to improve access to water, but experts said authorities also need to improve water hygiene.

The first-ever UN assessment of water security in Africa, released on Monday, shows that half a billion people live in areas designated as being at risk from water supplies, including Nigeria.

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