WaterAid Nigeria: Climate Change is Putting Health, Millions of Human Lives at Risk 

Climate change is putting the health and lives of millions of people around the world at risk, says Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere.

According to her, a report by the civic group is showing that climate change has intensified the sanitation crisis, with increasingly frequent and extreme weather events, destroying toilets and sanitation systems.

“The government must respond now to the urgent threat of climate change, and recognise the vital role climate-resilient sanitation plays in helping vulnerable communities be more prepared for climate change; because despite contributing the least to it, it’s the world’s poorest people currently suffering the brunt of its destructive impact”, she adds.

Living without a toilet endangers the health and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people – and the risk of living without proper sanitation increases as climate change bites.

WaterAid’s briefing Living in a fragile world: The impact of climate change on the sanitation crisis highlights the link between poor sanitation and the transmission of fatal, but preventable illnesses – such as cholera – and examines how these are now compounded by the effects of climate change.

Only 88 million people living in Nigeria (that is 44% of the population) can rely on safely managed sanitation – that is a toilet serviced to allowed human waste to be treated and disposed of safely. About 32 million people (16% of the population) have limited sanitation – that is the use of improved latrines where there is hygienic separation of human faeces from human contact but that is shared by two or more households.

A staggering 112 million people still do not have access to a private toilet of their own, and about 46 million have no choice but to practise open defecation.

Where decent toilets are lacking, human faeces can contaminate the groundwater or end up in rivers and lakes, polluting what is often the only supply of water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

Children play on ground rife with pathogens and as a result of faecal contamination, whole communities can contract diarrhoeal diseases.

Further, inadequate sanitation in healthcare centres increases the risk of them becoming the epicentres of epidemics as only 7% of healthcare facilities in Nigeria have access to basic water and sanitation services and only 3.6% to combined water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services; putting the lives of doctors, nurses, midwives and patients at risk.

Now climate change is aggravating the sanitation crisis. Extreme weather – floods, rising temperatures, prolonged droughts – are causing irreparable damage to weak sanitation systems and causing illnesses to spread further in vulnerable communities.

An estimated 250,000 additional deaths per year are predicted between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change and many of these deaths will be linked to poor sanitation.

Poor sanitation impacts the entire country – it is estimated that Nigeria loses 1.3% of its GDP annually due to poor sanitation. In 2018, the Nigerian Federal Government declared a state of emergency in its water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and launched a National WASH Action Plan in response to the huge challenges linked to the poor sanitation and hygiene.

This was followed the next year by the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ campaign, which aims to end open defecation by 2025. However, there is a $20 billion annual funding gap for WASH in Nigeria to achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2030.

It is clear that there will need to be a significant upscaling of resourcing over the next decade if the National WASH Action Plan is going to create real results for the people of Nigeria.

WaterAid is calling for urgent action from the Nigerian government and the international community to increase investment in sanitation services. Safe, reliable, and inclusive sanitation services help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

The international charity is encouraging governments to include ambitious sanitation plans in their climate change adaptation strategies so communities are better prepared to withstand the impacts of climate change.

“Whilst the world has rightly urgently risen to the challenge of Covid-19, every year hundreds of thousands of lives are silently lost because of lack of clean water, decent toilets and hygiene.

“Having these basic human rights in place helps to stop infectious diseases in its tracks and decent sanitation systems are even more vital as the impact of climate changes bites on vulnerable communities’’, the WaterAid chief said.

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