BY MICHAEL OWHOKO
Help! Lekki residents are exposed to water-related diseases engendered by sub-standard and unregulated sources of water supply. Increasing cases of dysentery and diarrhoea-induced pathogenic bacteria infections have sparked concerns on public health in the area.
Water is an essential element in human life, and an inability to have access to clean water makes healthy living a hazardous matter. It is particularly worrisome for a cosmopolitan community like Lekki to live without guaranteed portable water, especially, during this COVID-19 era when the importance of regular washing with clean water is emphasised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It is a fact that Lekki conjures an image of affluence and comfort, going by splendid architectural edifice and exquisite relaxation spots sprawling all over the place, but beneath these allures, is a menace – lack of drinkable water. If water is life, yet, it is extremely difficult to source, it means there is no life in Lekki, and unfit to be part of the “Centre of Excellence”.
By Lekki, I mean the geographical area straddling between tollgate and Victoria Garden City (VGC). Despite its aquatic location bordered by the sea and the lagoon, clean water is hard to find due to its peculiar topography.
Unfortunately, the Lagos state government has failed over the years to address this challenge, and nothing on the ground to suggest it is a priority. There is no water infrastructure in Lekki. Of all the network of water mains and spur service lines that run throughout the state, none is linked to the area. And there appear to be no plans by the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) to build water facilities.
Regrettably, this has encouraged all manner of water merchants, using boreholes, tanker trucks and bottled water with questionable hygienic conditions lacking the capacity to pass purity test, to flood the area with their products.
With estimated water consumption of 90 million gallons per day (MGD) by Lekki residents out of the probable 800 MGD demand in the state, LWC is indifferent to the plight of the people as nothing to show succour is on the way. Desperation to bridge the supply gap has forced residents to embrace these questionable boreholes, water tankers and bottled or sachet water, worsened by the absence of quality control and assurance by regulatory authorities. Therein lies the danger.
Take the boreholes for example. The peculiar topography of Lekki makes borehole water not reliable. The water is characterised by a mixture of iron, salt and colour due to contamination induced, perhaps, by the non-availability of a thick protective layer. Even the recommended borehole depth of approximately 230m to 260m by the LWC is defied by the water table structure and does not guarantee purity.
Though a few of the estates in Lekki have boreholes and treatment plants and complying with the recommended depth of LWC, the water is not clean and fresh enough to reassure residents of its wholesomeness. Residents are therefore compelled to limit usage to other forms of domestic activities, save for drinking.
Ironically, Ajah, an area adjacent to Lekki, has a good water table with a thick protective layer. This has led to the emergence of water vendors who use trucks/tanks to deliver and sell water to Lekki residents. Notwithstanding, there are concerns about hygiene.
These tanker trucks are seldom washed and are prone to contamination. Some of these trucks have been in operation for over ten years, yet, operators do not deem it fit to wash them, thereby exposing residents to infections. Besides, in the course of dispensing water, tanker trucks pollute the environment through the generation of noise and carbon monoxide, causing health hazards.
This leaves Lekki residents helpless, confining them to bottled water, which they believe, are reliable. But they are wrong! The risk of contamination in bottled and sachet water is also high due to adulteration and imitation fueled by greed.
There are so many bottled water brands in circulation, all contending to capture the Lekki market share. Those who believe their brands lack the capacity to compete, resort to producing counterfeit by faking notable brands already enjoying market patronage. That is why at party venues in Lekki, empty bottles of consumed water of big brands are quickly taken away by quacks for recycle.
The impact is manifested in poor sales returns for these notable brands when compared to their visibility in the market. This simply means that some of those known products are just synthetic of genuine brands. This has forced some of the honest big water firms to rebrand and redesign their labels, bottles, caps and lids. It is aimed at reestablishing their unique identity and retention of market share.
But has this rebranding strategy worked? Who can differentiate original from fake? Your guess is as good as mine. As the genuine ones rebrand, the interlopers are also quick to raise their bars by cloning the rebranded models. They too want to remain in business.
Despite a lack of full-proof purity, Lekki residents believe they are better off with bottled water than drinking directly from boreholes and tanker trucks. This desperation to consume any water in bottle has exposed residents to unprepared risk.
If the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) did its job proficiently and refusing any form of corruption infection, the activities of fake water dispensers would have been curtailed.
Recalled that in February 2016, a former Lagos commissioner for health, Dr Jide Idris, was reported to have disclosed that 25 children died after drinking pathogen-infected water at Otodo Gbame community, Ikate, Eti-Osa local government area of the state. There are still many such communities along the Lekki corridor with their peculiar water tales.
Implicitly, it is not by fluke that the biggest private hospital and, diagnostic and laboratory medical centre in Lagos state are located in Lekki. Obviously, the presence of these medical facilities is the outcome of well-researched feasibility studies. Even in elementary economics, proximity to the market is a strong consideration for the location of industries.
With water-related diseases on the rise in Lekki, there is guaranteed and fertile business for promoters of medical facilities. Patients are not only available, financial capacity of patients is also a reassuring incentive.
Rather than draw the Lagos state government and the public to their plight, residents appear aloof, perhaps, overwhelmed by the mentality of “big boy”, preferring to endure the water hardship silently. There are also low-income brackets who live in Lekki. No class is immune from the water stress, which is exerting heavy health and economic toll on residents.
It is unhelpful for LWC not to have extended water mains to this area, as if it has a hidden axe to grind with Lekki. The only part of Lekki that currently enjoys water supply from LWC is the segment close to the tollgate, where services are either epileptic or not available.
It is the responsibility of LWC to provide water for residents, and the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LSWRC) can ensure there is improved water supply, rather than paying more attention to the issuance of licences for boreholes. There is no consumer interest to protect where there is no water.
With a regular supply of water and a good billing system, LWC can generate more revenue. It is affordable. I strongly believe Lekki residents are willing to pay for the cost of water if it can be made available. It is indeed depressing when you can afford a thing but cannot find it.
Water is as critical as other infrastructure. If LWC is incapable of piping water to homes, it should collaborate with private entities to surmount this challenge. Inability to supply water places a heavy burden on the corporation and its motto – “Working to serve you better.” How do you serve people better when your delivery capacity is near comatose?
The Lagos state annual budget for water is particularly unhelpful and discouraging. It is not commensurate to the growing demand for water in the state, and it is suggestive of the government’s unpreparedness to improve on water infrastructure.
With implication on sanitation, it is indeed, a sad situation. Eko o ni baje.
Mike Owhoko, journalist and author, is the publisher of Media Issues, an online newspaper.