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It is not right for every house to have bore hole, says Minister Ochekpe

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The Minister for Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, in an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, allayed fears that Nigeria is water stressed as the country has abundant water resources which could be put to various uses like irrigation and generation of hydro power. But despite scarcity of the commodity and the high cost of buying from water vendors due to lack of water supply to Nigerians, she said it is not right for every household to dig a bore hole. She canvassed an active integrated water management commission to regulate water activities, amongst sundry issues.  Jamila Nuhu Musa was there.

What is the situation of Nigeria's water resources?

Unlike other countries which are recycling their water, and Israel which is now water stressed and takes water from the Mediterranean to sustain its water, Nigeria is not water stressed because we are blessed with abundant water resources even though we take water for granted and don't even think of harvesting it, for instance, rain water to be used during the dry season. But we have about 267Bn cubic metres of surface water per year and about 52Bn cubic metres of underground water. In the arid part of the country, in the extreme north and in the swamp at the coastal areas we have abundance of water that we can use to promote agriculture especially through irrigation and that is not just production of food crops but also development of fisheries and livestock.

How many dams does Nigeria have presently?

At present Nigeria have about 200 large and medium size dams that are owned by the federal government. They are located in different parts of the country.

What is the state of the country's reservoir?

We have in our reservoirs about 34Bn cubic metres of water which we have been able to impound over the years.

What is your opinion about inadequate water supply to Nigerians as many still buy the commodity from water vendors?

It is true that some places still have short supply but everything is being done by the appropriate authorities to improve the situation. The FCT Administration is responsible, in the case of the FCT, for reticulation and distribution to houses and industrial concerns. Recently, UNICEF declared that globally water target has been met, but Nigeria is yet to meet that. Given our own situation, however, water must be managed wisely so we don't experience water stress, for instance, it is not right for every house to have a bore hole considering the water table, and without putting your neighbours' into consideration. And with climate change there is high evaporation in some places, hence the need to regulate water management. Though there is an integrated water management commission in Nigeria to serve as regulator, the commission is not active we are still waiting for a law to carry out regulatory activities for water.

Nigeria has much arable land which can be cultivated with its water. What are its potentials in this regard?

Nigeria has a potential of about 84m hectares of arable land which can be cultivated if we develop the right infrastructure for agricultural purposes. The water we have impounded over the years is cable of irrigating about 500,000 hectares of land and we have been able to develop about 150, 000 hectares of land for irrigation. We have target of developing about 316, 000 by year 2015, and by year 2020, we intend to have covered the 5000 hectares that the water volume that we have can, to develop agriculture and also the rural areas.

What about the river basins?

The river basins in their projection for 2012, have potentials for the irrigation of about 21,250 hectares of land and we are hoping that in the different parts of the country they will be able to cultivate the land, about 2 to 3 times within the year and they will be producing a variety of crops like rice, wheat, tomatoes and assorted vegetables.

Are you worried that our farming population is aging and youths are not keen about farming now?

Yes, we have observed that the farming population is fast aging and most of our young people are no longer on the farms. That is why together with the federal ministry of agriculture, we have developed a graduate agricultural scheme of which we are starting the pilot programme in Gurara. The place is not far from the FCT.

Can you expatiate on the Gurara project?

For the Gurara project site we have 6000 hectares of land for irrigation. Presently we have been able to develop about 700 hectares which we intend to put to use for the purpose of training young farmers. Already a visit is being planned by our department of irrigation and drainage to Gurara, with the FCT for the purpose of getting young people back to land. The project is not just for agricultural purposes in terms of food production alone we also intend to train the youths on fish farming and livestock, already a consultant is working on that aspect and we hope subsequently that other dam sites will introduce the same project for us to avoid a gap resulting with farmers aging out because Nigeria needs food and there is need to ensure food security for the country so we hope to duplicate the graduate farmer's scheme in other places like Bakolori dam and the dams in Oyo, Anambra and so on.

What about irrigation sites, are they in good condition to enhance farming activities?

The national economic council has given approval to develop 57 irrigation sites across the country and about 82 000 hectares will be put into cultivation for the production of rice, sugarcane and associated vegetables and cereal crops, and we are looking at a tonnage of 3m per annum with job creation of about 2m across the country. The aim is to address unemployment challenges that we have as a country and enhance employment and human capacity development.

What is the coverage of water in terms of access to portable water?

We have coverage of about 58% in Nigeria for portable water and 38% for effective sanitation.  Although these are figures for 2010, we have commissioned a consultant to access coverage for 2011 and they are in the process of putting their report together for current coverage to see if we are making headway for 2015.

Poor sanitation and outbreak of diseases have resulted from poor water supply to Nigerians. What is the ministry doing to address this?

We have intensified activities in terms of sanitation campaigns, we have community based water quality surveillance, household water treatment and save water storage as well as sanitation activities especially the community led defecation free campaign in order to promote sanitation and hygiene in communities because we discovered that a large portion of our population are exposed to water related diseases so we have intensified our activities in that regard.

What are the major challenges of the ministry?

It has been bedeviled over the years with the problems of implementation of the projects and programmes due to lack of funding. Most of them are capital intensive and government alone can't fund them so we have strengthened our engagements with international development partners and the private sector, like the European Union, the Africa Development Bank, (ADB) the Chinese water supply initiative and the Japanese Cooperation Agency as well as the UNICEF.

What steps have the ministry of water resources taken to resuscitate abandoned facilities across the country?

We are aware that some facilities have been abandoned like hand pumps or motorized bore holes. So we decided to embark on their repairs and rehabilitation across the country. For a start, we commissioned repairs of 1000 bore holes of which 600 of them have been completed. The reason they have not all been completed is the poor response of state governments which are expected to provide some form of mobility for the team working on the rehabilitation of the boreholes.

What is Nigeria's role concerning the Lake Chad, in trans boundary water?

Nigeria is working with other countries and has been able to set up an observatory to monitor the water activities both natural and human, that will impact on the river Niger because we are on the downstream of the river Niger and if we don't engage in monitoring what is happening some other countries may decide to dam the river at some point and we may be left without any water and that would be catastrophic for us. The executive secretary of the Niger basin authority is a Nigerian and Nigeria contributes about 40% of the annual budget of the Niger basin, the same goes for the Lake Chad basin commission.  The Lake Chad has been experiencing a lot of problems of recent  because of its drying up from about 27000 square kilometres about 40 years ago, now it has shrunk to about 2000kms and for us in Nigeria, that is quite alarming as we have a south Chad irrigation project around the lake Chad basin set up to address the issue of food security in Nigeria following the drought of the 70s, and there are about 57000 hectares of land that is available for irrigation but with the water challenges that they are experiencing, much of the lands have not been put into use.

How would you handle the drying up of Lake Chad then?

On a recent visit to the Chad basin we discovered that they could only do about 10% of the land for now but Nigeria is taking the lead along with other countries on the Chad basin to sponsor studies on water transfer from the Congo to recharge the Lake Chad, so far Nigeria has committed about 5m dollars for the study and the consultants have almost concluded on the study and the report is ready for presentation to the summit of heads of states of the lake Chad  basin commission by the end of April. About two weeks ago, the chairman of the Lake Chad basin commission of the summit of heads of states was able to talk with the donor community in Marcel during the world water forum on the need to support the funding of the water transfer project.

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