How can Nigeria fill the funding gap to address its state of WASH emergency?

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Maria, 14, student washes her hands at Centre School Owo, Owo Community, Nkanu East LGA of Enugu State, Nigeria, October 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Tom Saater

How can Nigeria meet the US$20 billion funding gap needed to tackle widespread and deep-seated water and sanitation poverty? With new WaterAid research exposing this huge deficit, Adebayo Alao of WaterAid Nigeria and John Garrett of WaterAid UK argue for an urgent, substantial increase in financing from the Government, donors and the private sector.

Although Nigeria’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector made moderate progress during the Millennium Development Goal period in improving access to drinking water, coverage of high-quality, reliable and sustainable services remains low. Just 61% of people have access to an improved water supply – only 41% within a 30-minute round trip of their home, 31% on premises – and just 7% have piped water within their home. The sanitation sector is in critical condition – only 29% of Nigerians have access to unshared improved sanitation, and the open defecation rate is estimated to be 25%.

Inadequate access to quality WASH services can have major negative impacts on people’s health and huge socioeconomic consequences for a society. Contaminated drinking water and unsanitary conditions increase people’s vulnerability to waterborne illnesses including diarrhoeal diseases, which remain a serious threat to many Nigerians. Lack of decent WASH facilities is also linked to undernutrition, stunting and poor educational attainment among young children. It contributes to major economic losses and damage to the environment.

A state of WASH emergency

These are the principal reasons why President Mohammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in Nigeria’s WASH sector in November 2018 and launched the National Action Plan (NAP) for the revitalisation of Nigeria’s WASH sector. The overall goal of the NAP is to ensure that all Nigerians have access to sustainable and safely managed WASH services by 2030, in compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water (Goal 6.1) and sanitation (Goal 6.2).

New WaterAid research estimates a $20 billion funding gap

In our new report Equal to the task: financing for a state of emergency in water supply, sanitation and hygiene we consider the financing challenges facing Nigeria’s WASH sector. Based on research and analysis from Development Initiatives, the report highlights Nigeria’s past human development progress in the WASH sector and the challenges facing the country over the coming decade. These include the capability of key institutions; availability of relevant data; power deficits and outages; and limited equity and sustainability in the delivery of services. A growing population, rapid urbanisation and climate change add to the challenges facing the Nigerian authorities at federal, state and local levels.

Our research estimates the total cost of achieving SDG6 in Nigeria as $21.6 billion a year in capital, operations and maintenance. This compares with current public spending (by the Government and donors) of only $393 million (in 2018). There is therefore a major annual financing gap to address.

Our key recommendations for action

In the report we recommend several key actions to support the delivery of the NAP. These include improving access and finance data availability and transparency; tackling financial absorption constraints; addressing the problems relating to operations and maintenance (which currently undermine the sustainability of services), including creating a pool of WASH experts to serve the sector; making more equitable allocations of existing funding (by state, local government area, etc.); strengthening the enabling environment for the public and private sectors; mobilising a ten-fold increase in resources from the Government and donors; and increasing civil society engagement to strengthen accountability for services and budgets.

The NAP is an excellent opportunity to drive momentum towards universal access to safe WASH in Nigeria by 2030. With only a decade to go before this crucial milestone, now is the time to mobilise the resources that are equal to the task.

Adebayo Alao is Head of Programmes at WaterAid Nigeria and John Garrett is Senior Policy Analyst for Development Finance at WaterAid UK.