Surging Water Prices Force Lagos Residents to Unhealthy Choices

By Damilare Adeleye, Reporter

IT IS EVERYDAY struggle for Jaiyeola Confidence, a 300-level student of Political Science in Lagos State University (LASU) to get potable water in her hostel area. With her condition as a person with disability, it is usually a battle for Confidence, who walks on crutches, to get water for her domestic needs.

Her hostel, situated at Shittu Close in PPL, a popular residential community in Ojo-Alaba, has only a pale green coloured well that serves as the source of water for her and more than a hundred other occupants of the compound.

Similarly, Adeniji Azeez, a 200-level student of LASU had to battle with facial sunburn and body itch for weeks after bathing with the water from a shallow and untreated well in his hostel.

It is the same reality for many other residents of PPL Okokomaiko community in Ojo-Alaba area of Lagos State where the prevalence of anti-social vices like insecurity, unstable electricity and lack of proper source of water system are a daily challenge.

Economically, as a fast-growing mega city in Africa, Lagos is the economic capital of Nigeria with huge commercial activities that attract people from different walks of life. Although the Centre of Excellence is surrounded by wet lands, lagoons and the sea, many of its residents continue to grapple with lack of access to safe and reliable water, especially in PPL Okokomaiko.

PPL, a popular residential community in Ojoo-Alaba, shares land border with LASU’s main campus. With its proximity to the university campus, students readily find PPL a handy alternative residential area due to the shortage of hostel accommodation within the main campus.

But rather than being a blessing, the anti-social vices in PPL makes life miserable for many of its inhabitants, especially the students who confront different hurdles during their stay in the community.

Common in the community are shallow and repulsive wells where many of its inhabitants source water to meet their daily needs.

Because many of the wells are in bad conditions as they are left without coverings, the water sourced from them are naturally unhygienic for human consumption.

Narrating her predicament with regard to potable water, Confidence said using the available well water in her compound is not only stressful, but the water itself is a threat to good health.

She said: “It is well water that we use, but we don’t drink it. We would rather buy pure (sachet) water. My roommates also go for borehole water.

“There is a borehole somewhere in the next street at Suya Junction where they go to fetch water.

“For the well water, we bathe with it, wash  the plates and cook with it, but we are always careful. We boil it before we use it to cook.

“I am always conscious of the water,  because most times, there are particles and earthworms in it.

“Using the well water is a bit stressful for me. I just fetch the little I can carry, not the full bucket, to make things easy for myself.

“My roommate, who fetches water for cooking, usually takes bike. We pay N200 to fetch a 25-litre keg.”

Asked what would make water more accessible for her, she said: “I would appeal for maybe a well constructed borehole to be able to easily get water. That would be preferable.”

High Cost Of Sachet Water: Financial Obstacle For Many Residents

Due to the unhygienic nature of the well water, many PPL residents have resorted to purchasing sachet water for drinking. However, the rise in the price of sachet water, also known as pure water, is reducing the purchasing power of many residents who are now seeking affordable alternatives.

Akintola Michael, another student of Lagos State University, who lives at Bello Tapa in PPL, described the situation as tough for many students.

He said: “Two major challenges confronting students in this area are electricity and good water. To be factual, the major source of water is the well. And while using the well is not convenient for most students, some do not even have well water in their hostel compounds.

“And for students who have these wells, the water is not actually safe in the sense that the wells do not have covers and the water is not by any means treated before use.

“It is unarguable that the water is not drinkable because it is exposed to particles that could have contaminated it. To use it for cooking, it has to be well boiled.

“Students have however made provision for pure water to drink. But, the current economic situation has affected a lot of things.

“The price of pure water has gone up. When I came to the area in 2022, a bag of water sold for N200 per bag. Now it sells for between N400 and N450 for a bag.

“So, buying pure water for drinking is getting difficult for many students who are already battling with other expenses at home and inbschool.”

The Well And Its Health Hazard

Corroborating the distasteful water situation in PPL, Adeniji Azeez, another LASU student who stays at Omobalufun Street, recalled how the water from the well in his hostel harmed his face after using it for bathing.

Azeez said: “Essentially, for cooking related stuff, I use the tap water of the bakery close to my house. But for bathing and clothing stuff, I use the well water in our compound, which is so bad that it caused my face sunburn.

“Initially, I thought that mine was caused by the sun, but within weeks, I noticed that my cheeks were dry. I did not notice it early due to the fact that I had no mirror in my hostel.

“The scratching part began and it hurts a lot, especially when I walk in the sun. So I had to Google how to cure small sunburn, since I’m not someone who uses bleaching cream.”

He continued: “I use an antiseptic cream to massage my cheeks in the morning after which I place ice in my cheeks. I also always make sure to use sunscreen before I go out and in a week, my face is as good as new.

“There was a day I saw a child drinking from the water. The next day, the child had a very bad stomach pain; so bad that they had to carry him to the hospital.

“When they got to the hospital, the nurses asked the parents what the child consumed  in form of water and food. That incident made me know that the water can be too dangerous for drinking.

“Most times, because of my health, I buy pure water. But my roommate fetches his drinking water from Aiyepe Junction, close to FSS gate. He told me the water is good.”

Uchenwa Henry, a PPL resident in Suya Junction street, who has been in the area for more than 26 years, said though the water from the well is used for other domestic works, drinking is out of it for many people.

His words: “I grew up here and our major challenges are security and water. Our well water is not drinkable.

“Naturally, we use the water for cooking, washing and other stuffs. But for drinking, it is a no-go area. The reason it is not drinkable is that most times it has tastes whereas water is supposed to be tasteless. That is why many of us don’t drink it.

“Although it is odourless, it has a different taste compared to pure water. We get our drinking water from borehole and we pay to get that.

“Some go for pure water, but we don’t usually buy it because we are many in my household. The price of pure water is unaffordable for a family of six members. We have to go for borehole water which has been treated.

Another resident, who identified himself as Pastor Peter Yemi, also lamented the situation as he called on government to come for firsthand assessment of the community to know the plight of the people and observe the critical need for potable water.

He said: “Well water is like a part of the community because most people use it to meet their water needs. Personally, I don’t see well water as very hygienic.

“Well system in this area is not really okay. Borehole water would be far better here, but few people here have access to it.

“If you take a step further, you would see that people buy drinking water from somewhere else in 5  or 10 litre kegs. If you go further, you we see that some go for pure water.

“Even for me, I take bottled water to keep safe because I don’t see pure (sachet) water as very hygienic.

“The government has the responsibility to change the narrative here by providing better alternatives through the already established federal and state Water Corporation.

“If they come here for assessment, they will discover that this community has a peculiar problem of having wells that are not good enough for drinking.

“Some drink from their borehole while some go for pure water or bottled water.”

Alfa Musa Abdulrauf, an Islamic cleric in the area, also decried the situation, noting that it is capable of leading to epidemic among the people.

He said: “In Okoko and PPL, there is hardly tap water. What we do here is to excavate the land to construct well or buy water.

“This has been so since the onset of the community. We mainly depend on wells, preserved or not. That is why we sometimes have epidemic disease.

“Those who can afford pure water or bottled one go for it. But in terms of washing the clothes and plates or bathing and other domestic works that requiring water, we rely on the wells.

“When it comes to drinking, we drink pure water or bottled water for those who can afford it. But for those who cannot afford it, they buy water from those  who have boreholes.

“For drinking, majority of Okoko-PPL  inhabitants depend on boreholes.”

Many Hurdles, No Leadership

Many residents attributed bad state of the community to absence of solid leadership structure. Efforts to reach out to any recognizable community leader proved futile as there was no existing leader recognized in the community.

The Islamic cleric confirmed the foregoing, saying: “No CDA chairman. No king. But they have peer groups and everyone has their leaders. On having a unilateral leader, I have not come across it.”

Meanwhile, one of the youth leaders known as Baba Ibeji on Yaro Street blamed government for not keeping its promises on providing adequate access to clean water in the community and the country at large.

He said: “All the problem is attributed to government not giving us water. If they have provided us water we would not be anxious to dig wells in our compounds because there will be regularly running water for use.

“Just like we all know, government has been promising us water for a very long time,yet such does not happen. That resulted in people digging wells.

“It is only people who are privileged to afford boreholes that can go for boreholes which they have to treat to make it drinkable because the well is not drinkable.

 “We need clean water in PPL. Since we were young, there has been this agitation on this situation.

“Government has only been making promises on providing potable water, but none of the promises has been fulfilled.

“All over the country, what people clamour for most times is good water, health care, electricity, proper education and so on.

“We need water. They should provide a better system of water because we all need to drink water every day.”

Though Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation targets universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all people by 2030, the United Nations report in 2023 indicated that over 133 million persons were without access to potable water across Nigeria. This signals the need for government at all levels to assiduously work to improve the water situation in the country.

This Report Is facilitated by Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusivity and Accountability (CMEDIA) Project.

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