Queen’s College is one of Lagos’ oldest and most popular schools. However, just over a year ago, tragedy struck the institution when three students, all under the age of 15, died from drinking contaminated water.
The students died, swept away in an epidemic that affected dozens of students in the school. Parents and guardians who boarded their children in the school were called to come and take their children as the school’s sickbay was soon overwhelmed.
The three girls who died, Vivian Osuinyi, Binthia Itulua and Praise Sodipo, all had dreams and goals. Vivian wanted to be a gynaecologist and nun, Binthia was academically gifted and wanted to be an astronaut and inventor, and Praise wanted to be a chartered accountant like her late father and had also shown great skill in fashion design and tailoring. All those dreams are shattered and lost forever now. The three girls died from infections caused by drinking contaminated water, their intestines compromised by the typhoid that ravaged their bodies.
These three girls have names and we know their hopes and dreams, but they are just three of many. According to UNICEF, 50% of all deaths of children under the age of five in Nigeria are from a lack of access to potable water. Meanwhile, cholera cases are on the rise from rural areas to urban metropolises like Lagos. In Lagos, in 2017, there were 27 cholera cases with 2 deaths. The cases are caused by a variety of issues including flooding which causes a strain on the sewage system causing it to fail and contaminate drinking water sources. Other causes include lack of infrastructure causing people to rely on contaminated water sources.
Nature for Water, the theme of this year’s World Water Day, is therefore very apt. According to the UN, there are 663 million people without access to a safe source of drinking water. This year we are encouraged to look at how we can use nature and positive conservation practices to mitigate and eventually overcome the water crises we currently face.
If we don’t consider our water usage now, by 2050, at least 25 percent of the world’s population will live in countries where there is no access to fresh water or it is at a premium. Water is a matter of life and death; ourselves, our livestock, our industries and our agriculture among other things depend on fresh or non-contaminated water.
According to the UN, “Nature-based solutions have the potential to solve many of our water challenges. We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure and harmonize it with ‘grey’ infrastructure like buildings, dams and factories wherever possible. Planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands will rebalance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods.”
In Nigeria, we can look into more efficient ways of dealing with wastewater. We can work on establishing water recycling and treatment plants instead of just allowing it to flow back into the ecosystem without being treated, recycled or reused. Not only will this reduce the incidences of water-borne disease epidemics, it will improve the lives of people in the community. Government will be able to spend less money on combating these epidemics and can allocate these funds to other much-needed sectors in society.
If there are more safe water sources, people will also spend less time having to go and fetch or transport water to their households and communities. This will also help girls and young women as it they who, for the most part, handle the water-fetching duties.
Although the planet is 70% water, it turns out that it is not an unlimited resource and it’s time for us, as individuals, communities and government to stop living like it is. It’s time for us to show that we’ve learned something from all these deaths; all these broken dreams and forever-lost potential.