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State of Water Utilities in Nigeria saddens Water Activists

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Workers in the nation’s water sector as well as civil society activists have bemoaned the poor state of public water utilities in Nigeria, even as they called on governments at all levels to ensure increased prioritisation and funding of the sector.

At the close of a three-day retreat held last week in Calabar, Cross River State, participants advocated that public water utilities should be made efficient through the recruitment of competent staff, and ensuring that they are independent and autonomous of the civil service structure.

Organised by the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) with the support of the sub-regional office of Public Services International (PSI), the forum brought together the leadership of the AUPCTRE from several states, community groups and representatives of non-governmental organisation (NGOs).

It had “Water Sector Reform: Need for collaborative action between Labour and the Civil society” as its theme.

Welcoming participants, Mr. Sylvester Ejiofor, General Secretary of the AUCPTRE, said the retreat provided a platform for critical discourse by labour and civil society on ongoing structural changes in the nation’s water sector.

He lamented the failure of public water utilities to provide safe and adequate water services to citizens, saying this had given rise to the indiscriminate sinking of boreholes by individual households.

“Nigeria has the largest number of boreholes and largest brands of sachet and bottled water in the world, chiefly because of the failure of public water supply systems. Yet these alternatives are not sustainable options of water supply. For instance, the average life span of boreholes is between eight and10 years,” said Ejiofor.

He added, “We must raise public consciousness on the state of water sector in Nigeria, and get the water utilities running again under an efficient public management.“

Also welcoming participants, Mr. Babatope Babalobi, the Director of the Bread of Life Development Foundation, a Lagos-based NGO, said the poor performances of public water utilities is as result of non-prioritisation of the water sector by national and state governments; declining public investment over the years; and deliberate mismanagement of some public water utilities, which he described as an odious strategy of making them attractive for privatisation.

Saying that national and state governments must assume primary responsibility for delivery water services to the people to achieve the Water and Sanitation MDG in Nigeria, Babalobi advocated for “strategic partnerships and stronger ties between labour and civil society to oppose water privatisation in Nigeria.”‘

He therefore called on members of the AUCPTRE to use its national spread and numerical strength to drive forward the campaign against water privatisation in Nigeria.

Participants in the retreat in plenary and group sessions discussed on the state of water sector reform in Nigeria; follow actions on the communiquÈ issued at a meeting between Labour and Civil Society on Water Sector reform in Ota, Ogun State, last year; the outcome of the African Water Network meeting in Johannesburg last November, World Water Day 2008, and the draft National Water Resources Bill.