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Facing a future without water

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IMAGE: Greg Odogwu »

“Scarcity of water is caused by these water board people (water peddlers). They have formed a cabal, and will make sure there is no pipe-borne water because they are making money from the situation.”

—Gabriel, a phone-in contributor in a radio discussion programme.


Monday June 17, 2013, was the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, and this year’s edition was aptly themed, “Don’t let our future dry up”. For me, the import of this theme is better appreciated when I cast my mind back to my growing up years. Then, in the Coal City, we knew little of the term, “borehole”.  There was adequate supply of water through the government-owned pipe-borne water infrastructure. When the taps dried up, I remember how we went in search of other neighbourhoods with their own taps running; and there were always such places to fetch from. The other natural alternatives were streams, lakes and rivers found in the rural areas and some satellite towns. But today, when I travel to the same places where I grew up, I am accosted with various types of privately-owned borehole water supply systems. In the few places where government water supply still exists, people have already got used to the fact that you cannot bank on those taps to supply your daily need of water. This is why there are wells and boreholes in every corner of the country; and the trouble is that this trend, considering its seismic potential, is not properly regulated in Nigeria.

 Just like the human physical body mass which is made up of about 75 per cent water composition, the earth is almost covered with water, a reminder that there is nothing as critical as water security. In fact, recent occurrences have shown that lack of water is directly linked to security challenges in many regions of the developing world, including Nigeria. In the same vein, a sustainable future for the youths of today is surely dependent on access to water. When you consider that many of the boreholes dug actually dry up in certain seasons of the year, you could actually see the possibility of a dry future. More so, when climate change is gradually provoking both extreme dry seasons and extreme wet ones, there is a challenge to ensure a sustainable supply of water all-year round. Many experts have averred that scarcity of potable water is a future challenge the world must learn to prepare for and adapt to.

Directly related to water scarcity is desertification. In Nigeria, there are 11 states found in the sub-Saharan Belt where desert encroachment is an everyday reality and gnawing dilemma in the psyche of the citizens. But the situation is not peculiar to us, or even to the developing world. According to the United Nations, drylands – arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid areas with seasonal, often unpredictable rains – account for 41.3 per cent of the world’s land mass, including 44 per cent of cultivated land. Drylands are complex ecosystems whose utility to humans is vulnerable when land and water are not sustainably managed. Each year, more than 30 million acres of productive land degrade into desert. Surprising to those who might hear desertification and immediately think of the so-called Third World, the continent with the highest proportion of its dryland areas termed severely or moderately desertified is North America, at 74 per cent.

Desertification is not a ‘‘natural’’ development. It is driven by human action, such as over-cultivation, deforestation, and poor livestock management. This is why I always advocate our government to institute a national grazing strategy for the itinerant Fulani herdsmen, in order to save the environment and to also prevent conflicts between these nomads and their host communities. In the absence of such a grazing route and livestock management policy, the worsening effects of climate change will create a situation where they will have what I call The Locust Effect: the grazing pattern of the herdsmen which up till the recent past was not noticeable shall suddenly become a stress on the encumbered biodiversity. Today, 1.5 billion people worldwide depend for their food and livelihood on land that is losing its capacity to sustain vegetation, and every environmental nuance easily touches on survival instincts. It has been estimated that half of today’s armed conflicts can be partly attributed to environmental strains associated with dryland degradation. Moreover, a number of scholars cite desertification as a key factor in the fall of some civilisations like Carthage, Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome.

As a country, Nigeria has what it takes to fight desertification and to ensure access to water for her teeming population. Four strategies will be useful in achieving this: Tree planting, drip irrigation, agro-forestry and mainstreaming Nigerian youths in the water and sanitation sector. Trees bring several benefits to farming: decreasing wind speed; protecting soil against water and wind erosion; controlling temperature; providing food for livestock. An NGO, The Eden projects, asserts that the world needs to find a way to plant 30 billion trees each year, for the next 10 years. Crunching from the math, Nigeria needs to plant 150,000,000 trees each year. In any case, the survival rate of trees planted in dry lands is only about 20 per cent; therefore, it will be apt to adopt agroforestry in Northern Nigeria. Chris Reij, a Dutch geographer, explains that agroforestry is integrating trees and croplands by relying on the trees to generate naturally, as opposed to planting them, and that it is the major tool for farmers to adapt to climate change as well as improve food security. He noted that while Niger suffered a series of crop failures in 2011, the areas with the highest number of on-farm trees did much better.

What is more, agroforestry could be best illustrated by the brave innovation of yet another celebrated African. Yacouba Sawadogo of Burkina Faso, who was featured in the popular documentary, ‘The Man Who Stopped the Desert’, had a lot of land that was degraded. He took traditional techniques, digging basins, or zai pits. He made the pits deeper, to collect more rainwater, and added manure, to nourish plants, and used these to grow crops and trees. He started a 15-hectare forest this way. I am also convinced that drip irrigation will help the Northern states of Nigeria to conserve water and achieve quick and better agricultural yields. Last year, the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shetima, became the first to launch into this at a governmental level.

An encouraging development is that the Nigerian youth is not left behind in this global quest to ensure a “watered” future. During the recent meeting by the African Ministers Council on Water in Cairo, Egypt, Nigerian youths were represented by Nature Uchenna Obiakor, the Regional Coordinator for Youth Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network Africa or YouthWASH. When briefing journalists on his arrival to Nigeria, his submissions were cogent, informed and redolent of the new paradigm our present leaders should seek to engage in order to bring their government closer to the critical youth constituency. He disclosed that, “In 2010, the United Nations announced right to water as a basic human right. Our strategy in YouthWASH is to bring this reality closer to the Nigerian youth and give them the proper platform for engagements in order to ensure a future of nationwide access to water. The many borehole water systems in the country are not functional because the youths are not actively involved in the surveillance and maintenance. We will also ensure that our country is part of the implementation of the African Youth Water and Sanitation Strategy, which will be launched at the Youth Water Summit from the July 1 to 8, 2013 in Gauteng, South Africa.”

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago

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