Wells and public health

The hygiene logic behind the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s policy of denying a license to those who wish to produce bottled or bagged water on the same premises as a burial ground, should also prevent it from being located a water well in a local that has an absorption pit.

This may sound cynical and the apparent creation of a storm in a teacup. But you must acknowledge that there is some degree of reality (or truth) to the suggestion, although those who produce bottled water may not like the idea.

And here’s why; The suggestion that the remains of a dead person could sink into the water table and contaminate the water at that location is valid for the possibility that fecal contents in a soak pit seep into the water table.

Those who argue that open defecation into a river or stream can become a health hazard must also acknowledge that the toxic contents or human waste from a soakaway can leach into the water in a well on the same premises. .

Some experts argue: “The immediate environment where the well is dug can impact the water with contaminants. If there is a high level of contamination in the area near the well water, it is likely that the water will be affected.”

So you can see that it’s not just open defecation that can lead to an epidemic of waterborne diseases. The potty movement you make in the privacy of your bathroom can also have deadly consequences.

You will understand this argument better when you appreciate that the effluents or externalities expelled from a manufacturing factory can mix with water in the well drilled within the premises of the same factory.

Everyone who drinks water from the well on the premises of that factory is surely drinking contaminated water. The way out of drinking contaminated water is to install a purification system to ensure that the water is safe to drink. But not all households can afford the installation.

Remember the environmental pollution resulting from oil exploration in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Soil and water contamination has compromised agricultural and fishing businesses in most of that region.

To date, no one has fully addressed the soil and water pollution, despite the attention paid to the disaster on Ogoni land which drew the attention of the international community through the patriotic interventions of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who lost life in that company.

I might add that people’s unsanitary habit of clogging the drain with rubbish in their neighborhoods causes significant environmental pollution that has not only flood implications, but also adverse consequences for people’s health.

So you could argue that water from any source is potentially dangerous. Someone, remembering the chemistry he studied in high school, suggests that only rainwater is pure until it becomes contaminated with ions in the atmosphere.

State governments that cannot provide piped water through their water corporations force people, who pay income taxes and water fees, to drill wells, which have the potential to cause health risks, in homes and industries.

Many of Nigeria’s water corporations and their water supply facilities have become moribund and function more like sinecures, employing idle lackeys without expecting to be productive.

Before the Second Festival of Black and African Art and Culture in 1977, water supply was available to most households in Ikeja, Lagos Island and Surulere. In fact, most of the residents of the urban areas of Lagos had piped water in their residences.

But after the Lagos State government under Navy Commodore Adekunle Lawal diverted the water for the use of the FESTAC ’77 guests who were staying in the FESTAC town of Amuwo Odofin, running water was no longer was available in those neighborhoods.

Sometime in the late 1980s, residents of the Ijebu Ode Local Government and adjacent local governments were unable to obtain a regular supply of piped water and had to resort to purchasing water from tankers for domestic and industrial use.

It was during this period that the residents of the Ijebu division of Ogun State went into a well-digging frenzy. Just as the English talk about the weather, wells became a major topic of discourse at dinner tables.

And where some government-owned water works facilities are productive, the pipes that carry treated water to homes have rusted and leaked. Therefore, they cannot discharge the water.

And that’s why Nigerians became their own water corporations and dug wells at their homes. If they didn’t, they would be going into streams with buckets on their heads, or catching rainwater.

So Nigerians turned to self help due to the failure of state governments. Fortunately, Peter Mbah of the Peoples’ Democratic Party promises to tackle water scarcity if he is elected governor of Enugu state in 2023.

The various attempts by the federal government to harness Nigeria’s water resources, through draft water bills, may stem from their frustrations with inattentive state governments that consistently fail to initiate sustainable water production strategies.

However, many Nigerians, especially those in the southern region, read hidden motives to the water bills. They think it is another attempt by RUGA to appropriate their land and water bodies for the use of foreign herders. The government has been unable to allay their fears.

A well is a narrow hole (what else?) drilled into the ground to extract liquid which could be water, oil, gas or other mineral resources. The wells can be vertical or even horizontal. A pit could also be an underground tank used to store any type of substance.

There is an argument that when groundwater is extracted from a well, the environmental impact is a considerable reduction in the groundwater level. But that doesn’t mean the water would disappear.

You just have to drill deeper into the ground to get to the water and have a regular flow of water recharge. This suggests that those with shallow wells will not get much water unless they go deeper into the aquifers.

Happily, Francis Uzoma, a geologist, who is also president of the Nigerian Well Drillers Association, has reassured Nigerians that drilling wells will not necessarily harm the environment or cause earthquakes. You may be right in saying that he couldn’t have said anything otherwise; he earns his living by digging wells.

The issue of clean water and sanitation is so important that it is the subject of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 on ‘clean water and sanitation’, with specific targets to be achieved by 2030.

Some of the goals are to guarantee the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water; and access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene.

Some of the other goals are to improve water quality by reducing pollution; increase water efficiency; protect and restore water-related ecosystems, and support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

These goals should cascade from the federal government to states, local governments, and communities across the country. The people must appropriate these noble goals for their own good.

But state governments should get their water supply systems running so Nigerians are not reliant almost exclusively on potentially contaminated wells. That shouldn’t be too difficult.

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