In my father’s stories of his posting to Karazau, a remote location in Northern Nigeria, during his job as a station master with the Nigerian Railways in the 1950s, was an account of how Fulani herdsmen would emerge from the bush and the villages asking for ‘sweet water’.
“Esh Em, a bamu ruwa mai dadi” (S.M., please give us some of that your sweet water). They were referring to clear, boiled water, free of harmful bacteria, guinea worm and other parasites that my mother drew from the well, treated and stored in their quarters situated between the train station and the village. My parents’ home was the only source of clean water for miles around.
Ironically, 60 years on, the search for ‘sweet water’ continues. At home, the Water Corporation bills us monthly for mains water supply, yet we have been buying our supply from private water tankers for over six months.
Most of my neighbours have boreholes. Yet, the cost of sinking and maintaining one is so high. Securing water for our uses costs a LOT of money.
At the recent Commonwealth Regional Law
Conference in Abuja, one of the speakers asked whether water is the new oil; not just for us, but for the world. We are contending with a natural resource that is being consumed at a greater rate than it can renew itself; communities migrating across international boundaries to follow shrinking lakes; declining rainfall that most rural population rely on, urban spread and struggling water utilities.
Do we realise how much drinking water costs?
Think about it. One litre of bottled water costs more than a litre of petrol!
How many of us, like me, pay the Water Corporation monthly not to supply water?
How many, like me, have bought new water pumps and paid for new lines to be laid, with no results? We should prioritise water security above the elusive 6,000 kilowatts that the Ministry of Power has been promising us. We are buying both water and diesel, and while our industry and businesses will become moribund without reliable and cheaper power supply, our health and bodies will become impaired without reliable and cleaner water supply.
More importantly in comparing oil and water, people have died in fights over access to water. Access to water continues to be a matter of life and death between farmers and herders.
Aah! Sweet water! In the developed world, drinkable water is truly sweet. It is available everywhere for free - at water fountains on the streets and from taps in restaurants, offices and homes. For more discerning palates, there is a selection of waters. What strikes your fancy? Still water from the French Alps? Sparkling water from Scottish highlands? Water that tastes sterile, or slightly salty. Don’t like the taste of plain water?
You can opt for a variety of flavoured waters-lemon or strawberry perhaps? Feeling weak? Go for vitamin-infused water, or water with an energy boost. Need a bottle that is pleasing to the eye and decorative for your table? Go for the designer bottles in cones and cylinders, or water presented like wine.
A natural refreshment
And where do we find ourselves on this continuum between no potable water, abundance, and designer water? Day after day, the poor still trek for miles to fetch water. Each day, the mass of our urban citizens get their drinking water from ‘pure water sachet’ sellers by the roadside. The bulk of office workers get their drinking water from water dispenser suppliers.
The majority of homes have supplementary water storage facilities that they pay private contractors to fill up. Cart pushers plying our roads with six to twelve 25kg kegs of water are common sights.
Bottling companies that used to make their money from bottling imported spirits and wines for the local market, are now largely bottling water! Our own Nigerian Bottling Company, the makers of Coca Cola went so far as creating their own brand of water - leveraging their existing distribution networks for sales.
The developed world has moved on from water purely as a necessity to water as also a desirable and fashionable consumable and accessory. Water resources for basic needs are managed, conserved, and rationed. More sophisticated technology to desalinate water is being developed.
Our technology is ramshackle water tankers creaking, rattling, and leaking their way between their depots and private deliveries to the water storage tanks of homes and offices. The streak of darkened wet tarmac marks the trail of their passage on our roads.
The criminals have also gotten in on the act.
While the government and civil society are fighting to ensure the availability of basic potable water, the established bottled water brands and distributors are combating ‘pirates’ who refill used bottles with untreated water, recreate the seal, and resell them as genuine.
More than one glass of red wine a day is injurious to the health. Other alcohol clouds our minds. Packaged fruit juices, minerals and sodas are fattening. The caffeine in tea and coffee over-stimulates our hearts. It is best to go the natural route. Drink clean, odourless, sweet water!