CAPPA – Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa

World Water Day 2024: Public Control of Water Promotes   Community Peace

Statement by Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) at the Our Water Our Right Coalition’s (OWORAC) Press Conference to Mark World Water Day on March 22, 2024

Today, on the occasion of World Water Day 2024, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) denounces the unjust reality that over 400 million people across Africa, including in our own country, still lack access to safe drinking water – a basic human right.

This year’s theme, “Water for Peace,” underscores the critical necessity of water for human survival and societal stability. In Nigeria alone, a staggering 113 million people suffer from painful hardship and crippling deprivation of water. This saddening neglect is not due to a scarcity of resources but rather a consequence of the profit-driven logic adopted by state authorities in managing water supply and amenities. The relentless pursuit of commodifying public resources, at the expense of community welfare, has led to the deterioration of vital public utilities and social services.

While this plight is widespread across the country, the situation in Lagos State is particularly alarming for us. Despite the state’s reputation as a lodestar and mega-city, over 8 million of its residents—equivalent to roughly 60 percent of its population—grapple with limited access to potable water.

In 2023, CAPPA drew attention to the sorry state of several water works in the state, which remain derelict to date. One year later, Lagosians still lack running water in their homes, with water works remaining padlocked, while citizens are forced to pay exorbitantly to non-state actors for basic water.

This issue is further worsened by the state’s frequent romanticisation of profit-driven partnership models as purported solutions, despite global evidence documenting the failures of privatizing water supply and infrastructure.

We wish to re-emphasize today that only democratic ownership and public control of water services can remedy the deep-rooted injustice of water inaccessibility. For emphasis, we categorically reject any plans by the Lagos State—aided by the influence of international financial institutions and development agencies with a pro-privatization stance—to outsource its traditional responsibility of providing water to its citizens to business owners.

The global failure of water privatization financing models is evident in countries like the USA, Chile, and France, which are still grappling with the adverse consequences. In African countries like Tanzania, Ghana, and Gabon, where water services were privatized, there has been a regression in access and supply.

Notably, last year, the Niger Republic terminated its over two-decade-long partnership with private water firm, Veolia, and its subsidiary, Société d’Exploitation des Eaux du Niger (SEEN), opting instead for remunicipalisation. Needless to say, this decision was influenced by the realisation that, despite the prolonged operations of Veolia in the country, access to drinking water remained critically low, with huge disparities between urban and rural areas.

The commodification of basic services and privatisation agenda, often advanced by entities like the World Bank, bears significant neo-colonial undertones and the risks of spurring higher water rates, sharp management practices that disregard community needs, reduced investments in public water infrastructure, inequitable water distribution, and labour losses.

We are already seeing the consequences of anti-people water management considerations across the country. In Lagos, the recent layoff of hundreds of contract workers at the state water corporation, along with threats to permanent staff, highlights these concerns. Similarly, in Enugu State, the state water corporation recently dismissed (and has since reinstated) about 20 employees for failing to meet a N50 million target in water sales, despite the ongoing low availability of public water services in the state.

It is in the light of the above that CAPPA makes the following recommendations to the Nigerian government and state authorities:

  • Abandon any ongoing or future plans to privatise water services. As has been stated repeatedly and demonstrated globally, public-private partnerships offer no real solutions to water challenges.
  • Increase budgetary allocation to revitalise the performance of the water sector. This also includes refurbishing dilapidated infrastructure, upgrading existing water works and building new facilities to ensure widespread access to clean and safe drinking water.
  • The Lagos Water Corporation must fulfill its responsibility of public water distribution across all areas of the state, not just economically viable neighbourhoods.
  • Strengthen regulatory oversight and implement proper reparation mechanisms in local communities affected by water injustices like contamination, scarcity, and inaccessibility. These mechanisms should include measures by state ministries of health to address the consequences of prolonged exposure to contaminated water, especially for women and girls.
  • Support and protect water sector workers by reversing any layoff plans, enhancing water infrastructure conditions, and ensuring adequate wages along with comprehensive training programs to improve their skills and performance.
  • Above all, foster a participatory approach to water governance that prioritizes the voices and needs of local communities into decision-making processes related to water management.

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