Sunday, 13 June 2010

Overcoming Nigeria’s water woes

Joachim Ezeji

The 2010 edition of the National Council on Water Resources recently held in Abuja, Nigeria. I have had the privileged of being personally invited to the past three editions, though, regrettably I have only been able to attend only one, and that was that of 2008. Responsible for my absence has been my regular local and international peregrinations. But this has in no way diminished my contributions to critical debates in the sector.
In the water and sanitation sector, a common problem is that many projects fail to provide the benefits originally envisaged. The success of water and sanitation projects often depend on a number of factors, for example demand, affordability, sustained functioning and maintenance, management and user behaviour (hygiene and use). In addition there are other factors such as planning, monitoring and evaluation which are also crucial. It is in realization of all these that funding agencies such as the World Bank and other international groups value monitoring and evaluation and make it a central underpinning of all their projects. Above all, it an imperative strategy to check and control error and optimize the benefits of projects as reported.
It therefore came to me with mixed feelings when I read in the newspapers that the Federal Government of Nigeria has expended a whooping sum of N46 billion to provide water for Nigerians between 2006 and 2009.This amount of money was expended directly by the office of the Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through funds that accumulated via negotiations on the debt relief gains with the Paris Club of creditors.
Speaking at the Abuja meeting, a director in the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) revealed that the money was used to complete 41 urban water supply projects; 26 rural water supply projects and water supply to four federal universities; the construction of 27 small earth dams in 22 states; irrigation and water supply; and the construction of irrigation structures through three River Bain Development Authorities.
Other projects listed were grant to states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to offset the cost of 1,176 solar boreholes, 946 hand pump boreholes, 130 motorised boreholes, 1423 VIP toilets and 74 solar electrification scheme in 2007 amongst many others.
What came into my mind after reading the news report is the tragedy of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in Nigeria. I say so because in Nigeria, government at all levels, Federal, State and Local etc are ever quick to reel out readymade statistics on contracts awarded without any follow up of actual number of beneficiaries at both time of commissioning and possibly three or five years later. In Nigeria awarding contracts is a favourable pastime because it often enriches both parties and also often short-changes the people – the actual beneficiaries who often had to put up with non-functioning infrastructure a few weeks after commissioning.
For example, in 2007, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma, gave a shocking revelation that over N24 billion spent on water supply boreholes between 2004 and 2006 by the Federal Government was a waste. The minister explained that as at the time he assumed duty, there was a balance of N3 billion for boreholes that have not been completed. There were others that were said to have been sunk but could not be seen or be validated. According to the minister, 65 percent of the money spent by government in the provision of boreholes in the last five to six years had been wasted as 65 percent of the boreholes is either not functioning or cannot be seen. As a matter of fact, he revealed that most of them cannot be sufficiently proven to be functional.
In view of the importance attached to the provision of water and the need to reduce by half the number of citizens without safe water before 2015, the government had, between 1999 and 2007, increased its budgetary allocation to the water sector from N8.3 billion to N116 billion. But in spite of the colossal amount of money pumped into the sector, the provision of potable water to majority of Nigerians has remained elusive, regardless of the fact that it is one of the achievable set targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015. So, tell me, if this is not a case of absolute corruption or woeful project monitoring, then what is it?
It baffles me on why the vibrant Civil Society in Nigeria could not be trained and involved in all facet of project monitoring in the country. The least I expect from the MDG office is to shirk responsibility on project monitoring. Why work directly with private contractors who are simply out to make money? Why give more money to States when facts have shown that such funds are most vulnerable to misappropriation? No evidence currently exists to indicate that contracts awarded at state and local levels undergo any scrupulous monitoring.
We need a paradigm change in Nigeria, such that a special fund is created for the activities of the civil societies in Nigeria because these organisations have proven to be more prudent with funds than Government and its agencies. For example, NGOs undergoes more scrutiny in both financial accounting and project implementation (monitoring and implementation) than the government, yet the government hardly extends any monetary support to them to aid their activities. The common, but erroneous feeling is that NGOs must get their funds from international donors, while local funds, shared amongst government and its agencies are massively looted by government officials. This is sad!
No water utility in Nigeria currently supplies water to up to 40% of its urban residents. Most local communities lack functional water schemes provided by government. What we commonly have is a resort to self help where communities are either sponsoring their own water project or doing so in collaboration with local NGOs. The same scenario plays out in most urban areas where wealthy individual sink their own private wells. A growing phenomenon is the informal water market of water kiosks and vendors in most cities, yet government annually make huge budgetary allocation to water supply without any result at the end of the day.
The objective of Monitoring and Evaluation of projects include the need to measure progress against objectives and performance standards, and to enable accountability to donors, partners and people affected by the project. This is often done to ensure that the overall objectives of the project are being met. Strategies often consist of relating the extant situation with situations pre- and post project introduction periods with a view at assessing any likely improvement in a project’s life cycle. For example to assess baseline surveys there is need to adopt a coterie of participatory tools that are part of one methodology, like the Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST).
Project Monitoring need to be understood as the systematic and continuous collecting and analyzing of information about progress of a piece of work over time, hence every contract or project must have it as a basic component. No doubt, it is a tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses in every project because it provides stakeholders with sufficient information to make the right decisions at the right time to improve project continuity and sustainability. It also has to be noted that monitoring is relevant not only to progress in the field but also to managerial, administrative and financial processes within every organisation or institution awarding a contract or implementing one.
On the other hand, evaluation means much more as it enables stakeholders to compare actual project outcomes with those intended, and from such draws lessons to guide future projects or subsequent phases of the same project. Evaluation should be used to guide strategy; measure performance; correct errors; and verify cost benefit analysis in the WASH sector. Project sustainability is commonly underpinned by a monitoring and evaluation system that both collects relevant information on progress and communicates it to relevant parties. This is the way Nigeria’s WASH sector should go.

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