Lagos: lacking water security

Olivia writes*

Lagos, Nigeria, is a city surrounded by water, yet for most people, obtaining it is a daily struggle. With around 65% of residents living in urban slums and an increasing population of approximately 21 million, providing water and public services is a complex obstacle that the city has yet to overcome. This post will discuss some of the logistical issues that limit water accessibility, as well as population growth as one of the causes of water shortage.

It can be argued that the growing population has been the driver of water related issues in Lagos. During the early 20th century, infrastructure was developed to supply the rapidly growing population. However, these facilities cannot support current demand, and were not maintained to a high enough standard to ensure cleanliness. One reporter found that the majority of factories in Lagos were providing water that contained contaminants and did not meet the standards of the World Health Organization. In 1980, the state created the Lagos Water Corporation to operate the existing water systems and improve public health. They are government owned and the largest water supplier in Lagos. Despite this, the LWC still only serves around 10% of the city’s residents. The remainder of the population, if lucky, purchase their water from vendors or from private boreholes. This water access is also metrocentric. This is mainly due to the poor socioeconomic conditions in Lagos as well as the antique piping that only exists in certain areas.

Men filling up jugs at borehole in Lagos

As mentioned previously, lacking infrastructure and poor facilities are also a major hindrance to water accessibility. Less than 30% of the population have access to piped water in any form, and even then, their supply is random. Power blackouts combined with the poor quality of production facilities result in very unreliable water supply. In addition to this, equipment and pipes are outdated and poorly maintained, leading to expensive leakages and breakdowns. Cracked pipes provide opportunity for contamination, leading to waterborne diseases such as cholera and chronic diarrhea. Around 80% of Lagos residents depend on informal water to fulfil their domestic needs, including for consumption. Allegedly, there have been many deaths in Lagos due to ingesting contaminated water and it is no secret that informal water is more likely to be a health risk. In 2014, an Al Jazeera reporter interviewed a member of the Lagos Water Corporation to gain a better understanding of water accessibility in the city. He stated that their main obstacle is the lack of electricity and infrastructure. In addition to this, he was concerned about the adverse environmental impacts of over abstraction of ground water. Despite this, there does not seem to be a choice for most residents.

Until supply can be increased and made accessible, the use of informal water is likely to increase and for many will be the norm.

Bottom Line: Lagos has to change, quickly. Rising population means the government needs to address its water challenge if it wants to preserve public health.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

6 thoughts on “Lagos: lacking water security”

  1. You describe a quite desperate case here. The residents of Lagos seem to be fully reliant of groundwater abstraction, but this is probably not sustainable because of the increasing population. Also, contamination is a serious risk. What is not completely clear to me is whether the groundwater is also contaminated. Is the groundwater extracted from a confined or unconfined aquifer? And is this aquifer situated under the city (which increases the risk of contamination)? and how is this aquifer recharged? It looks like Lagos is fully dependant on rainfall for the recharge of its aquifer. What about climate change and increasing variability of rainfall? These are just some thoughts that I immediately think of.

    Nevertheless, a very interesting case! I am looking forward to hearing more about it from you because it seems to me that Lagos has arrived at a dead at with regards to its population growth.

    1. Hey! those are all really good questions and I am glad you asked. Contamination is a serious problem especially with the threat of rising sea levels. The groundwater comes from the Coastal Plain Sand Aquifers that practically sit below the urban parts of Lagos as well as the more agricultural areas in the north of the state. Groundwater in the area is higher in certain minerals than is to be preferred but the real threat is that it is contaminated with sea water. From what I have been told, it has a bit of a salty taste to start with, but the huge amount of private wells and boreholes that are dug put it at risk for not only sea water contamination, but also chemical and sewage. Pretty much everyone has to rely on it but this is really not by choice. The main water provider is government owned and lacks the infrastructure to meet demand/produce a hygienic product, and the government lacks the incentives to help them improve. It is a real disaster. I hope I have answered most of your questions!

  2. Hi Olivia! Thank you for these really interesting insights on the water crisis that Lagos is currently facing.
    After having read your post I actually found an article from the CNN (you can have a look at it if you want: emphasizing the same issues that you rose concerning the causes of this water crisis, namely including a lack of efficient infrastructures and of qualitative management. This article also mentioned the fact that the Nigerian government should tackle this water crisis by considering water as a human right and that it should also stop prioritising the wants of big corporations, mainly wanting to take advantage of the poor residents of Lagos through the water industry. I thought this could add up to your analysis of this thematic. Once the government will seriously tackle this situation and preventing corporations from taking advantage of this situation, I think that the lack of management will be solved and will also lead to better water sanitation and thus infrastructures. I, therefore, hope that this shift in the Nigerian government’ intentions will happen and that the situation will improve soon.

    1. Hey Helena!

      Thank you so much for commenting on my post 🙂 Also for the article recommendation, I will read it immediately. That is really interesting thought and I agree with you that the corruption in the government is definitely an obstacle. I honestly struggle a bit on where to start with my case study because there are so many different issues that feed into and exacerbate each other, but I think that the lack of government incentive and corruption are definitely the main hindrances.

      I am looking forward to discussing this more!

  3. Dear Olivia,
    This webpost really caught my attention. I could not stop making parallelisms with the city of Rome. They both have a similar problem: poor water supply infrastructures. Despite this, Lagos could definitely work around investing in new, leaking proof infrastructures. Instead, the very popular informal water supply system could be taken to a whole other level. Instead of re-working the pipelines, as Rome could invest in, the government owned LWC could think of expanding the informal water supply system by investing in the water purification of those supplies as well as ultimately reducing water scarcity. From what learned in class, point water sources assist low-income families more than we could imagine. My suggestion would be looking into alternative ways of managing the resource (reducing the bias of coming from a high income country). I know it will be difficult, but the situation in Lagos is fascinating to investigate. I wonder if there is a way to make a problem such as informal supply into the actual solution. The wepost really made think about alternatives that I could apply myself on my case study. Thank you for this!
    Good luck with the report! Keep up the good work!

    1. Hey Irene 🙂

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on my post! It is really cool to think about the parallels between what I would have initially thought to be two completely different cities. I also am really excited about your idea about investing in the informal water sector. I was just trying to brainstorm recommendations today and I had not even considered something like that. Now I am really excited to investigate it more.

      Good luck and best wishes! Olivia

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