New Project to Bring Clean Water to 50,000 Households

April 22, 2010

  • Only 45 percent of Nigeria’s population has access to safe drinking water
  • Challenges to water provision include poor infrastructure and management
  • A new IDA-financed project is expected to bring clean water to 50,000 households in two states

ABUJA, April 22, 2010 — “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” This quote from Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge seems to have defied time and space, especially in Nigeria.

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) year is just around the corner but Nigeria is far from meeting the MDG target of providing 75 percent of its population with safe drinking water and 63 percent with basic sanitation by the year 2015. Meanwhile, 4,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and dysentery.

Nigeria is blessed with abundant groundwater and with the Niger River, from where the country derived its name. The country has an annual rainfall of 500-750 millimeters in the north and up to 4,000 millimeters in the south. However, these water sources are not drinkable. In order to have water for human consumption it needs to be treated. This requires massive financial investments and a good infrastructure.

According to WaterAids International, currently only 45 percent of the Nigerian population has access to safe drinking water.

“We hardly get water in this place,” said Mrs. Esther Ayodeji Olubukola, a resident of Lagos Island. “God will bless you if you will provide us with water.”

Providing water in Nigeria is the responsibility of the federal, state and local governments, although individuals, communities and non-governmental and donor organizations are contributing in various ways.

Key Sector Issues and Constraints

Poor Utility Performance. Production facilities are rarely operated to capacity due to broken down equipment, or lack of power or fuel for pumping. Due to acute problems of power supply, water agencies spend many resources on diesel, standby generators or even building of Independent Power Plants (IPP). Mechanical equipment and pipes are poorly maintained, leading to frequent breakdowns and high loss of water through leakages. Lack of metering, outdated information systems and inconsistent billing practices cause severe revenue losses. State Water Authorities (SWA) are weak and rarely proficient in customer billing, fee collection and cash flow management. Therefore, most SWAs do not recover their operating expenses and remain dependent on state governments for subsidies.

Restrictions on SWA Autonomy. State governments have created SWAs to manage and operate systems for water service delivery in all urban areas. SWAs are usually established as autonomous companies but suffer from a high degree of political interference, due in part to the continuation of state subsidies. This interference reduces incentives for operational and commercial improvements and adds un-necessary bureaucratic overhead.

Lack of Enabling Policy Environment. Most states today perceive private sector participation (PSP) as a potential means of improving service delivery and investment in the water sector. However, states lack the policy, legal, and regulatory environment and expertise to attract and sustain private investment.

In the urban water sector, the Nigerian government would like to separate the functions of infrastructure investment and ownership from service operation. The government hopes that through this, significant private sector funding could be made available for urban water investments. On the service side, the goal is to improve service delivery through optimal PSP for the management and delivery of water services.

In view of these enormous challenges, the Nigerian Government requested the assistance of the World Bank.

World Bank Assistance

Over the past 25 years, the World Bank has completed seven water projects of which three are still ongoing, including in Kaduna, Ogun , Enugu, Lagos, Cross Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Total World Bank/International Development Association (IDA) investment for the 10 projects is about US$1.4 billion. US$345 million covers the First Urban Water Reform Project (US$120 million) for the states of Kaduna, Ogun and Enugu. The project aims to rehabilitate existing water facilities in 13 towns, establish state water policies, and foster the engagement with the private sector.

The second Urban Water Reform Project worth US$200 million is operational in Lagos and Cross River states. This is for the extension of a piped network in Calabar, and the rehabilitation of water treatment plants and distribution systems in Lagos and another three urban towns in cross River State.

Under the Privatization Project, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Water Board is being assisted with a US$25 million IDA credit for the improvement of the networks. It is expected that the project will improve water distribution to about 50,000 households.


Presently, 80 percent of the credit for the first Urban Water Project has been disbursed and there are appreciable and visible improvements in water delivery, piped networks, rehabilitation of dilapidated equipment and engagement of the private sector in managing the productions and revenue cycle management.

There has also been increased awareness and understanding through well designed communication strategies. This has helped the public appreciate that though water is “God’s gift” it costs the agencies a lot to produce and supply the water.

Presently, I even spend two hundred naira per day purchasing water for the family from borehole vendors,” said Pastor Peter Obot, a shopkeeper in Calabar. “I am very ready to pay my water bill regularly if I have constant supply of water to my house by the Cross River State Water Board.”

The reform project has also improved discipline in the use of water, reduced political interference and ensured capable utility management.

A Drop in the Ocean

Public expectations of the World Bank assisted water projects are high as it works to improve the lives of about 12 million of Nigeria’s 140 million people. Yet, when considered in the context of the size and population of Nigeria, the assistance seems like a drop in the ocean.

Currently, only half of the urban population and a third of the people living in rural areas has access to potable water.

Increasing coverage to 80 percent by 2020 would require over US$10 billion annually. Total investment costs would thus be approximately four percent of Nigeria’s GDP.

Despite the pains and gains in the provision of water to Nigerians, development partners have been hesitant in engaging in this area. The inadequate exposure of the sector’s challenges by the Nigerian Government to the international community, the country’s large size, its early stages of decentralization, lack of regulation, and low levels of cost recovery have all contributed to the World Bank being the only large international development institution now active in the urban water sector.

We sincerely appreciate the assistance of the World Bank. The challenges facing the water sector in Nigeria are enormous and require continuous funding, and collaboration amongst national and international institutions and development partners,” said Ajisegiri Benson, National Project Coordinator of the National Urban Water Sector Reform Project (NUWSRP) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources.

For further information on Water and Sanitation Projects in Nigeria, please contact Hassan Kida and Andrew Makokha.