Of Nigeria’s population of more than 203 million people, 71 million do not have access to clean water and 130 million do not have access to basic sanitation. This lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene services—exacerbated by accelerated urbanization, poor cost recovery, and weak governance and institutional frameworks—adversely affects Nigerian citizens’ health, as well as their access to educational and economic opportunities and their work efficiency and labor productivity.
Further complicating the issue, Nigeria is divided into 36 states, each of which operates with different institutional structures, power dynamics, and little or no regulatory oversight. In most states, a State Water Board (SWB) is responsible for providing water and sanitation services. On the whole, however, SWBs are hobbled by nonexistent or weak incentives for better performance, aging infrastructure, inadequate or ineffective operations and maintenance, weak institutional capacity, and little accountability to consumers.
Helping to Improve Nigeria’s Complex Water Infrastructure
In 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted us to implement the Effective Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services (E-WASH) program to improve the availability of clean water and sanitation in Nigeria’s poorest urban neighborhoods. We expect to improve water delivery to 500,000 households by boosting the productivity and efficiency of SWBs, many of which are balanced precariously between top-down government directives and an ongoing responsibility to deliver services to millions of customers.
To point to just one example of how the existing system can be improved, incentives between state governments and SWBs are often misaligned. Democratically elected politicians promise free water to their constituents, but the SWBs, which ultimately provide this resource, need to be accountable to these same constituents as commercial customers on whom their revenue depends. Ultimately, the system erodes public trust in both state government and SWBs, with neither fully accountable for their water and sanitation services, while cost recovery for urban WASH services is severely constrained.
With USAID E-WASH, we are taking a four-pronged approach to improving the viability of SWBs. The components of this approach include:
- Working with state governments and SWBs to build common understanding via facilitated, mutually agreed-upon Service Improvement Plans (SIPs)
- Making SWBs financially and operationally viable through comprehensive technical assistance and by connecting them to private-sector actors and successful utility operators, thus securing long-term funding and investment options
- At the state level, facilitating the creation or strengthening of regulatory oversight that will improve SWB transparency and accountability
- Engaging with civil organizations as advocates, as well as the donor community, to measure and adapt USAID E-WASH activities, based on knowledge sharing and continuous learning
There are, of course, larger, country-level issues that impede the ability of SWBs to provide adequate water and sanitation services. Chief among these is the relentless growth in population and urban migration in Nigeria: In most cities, population growth has outstripped projections because of inaccurate data collection at the local level. The inability of state governments to keep stride with exploding populations results in declining quality of life and proliferating slums; meanwhile, SWBs are expected to manage growing demand from consumers while meeting unrealistic political expectations of free service delivery.
Through USAID E-WASH, we will help address the often-overwhelming challenge of urbanization. Densely populated cities offer SWBs the opportunity to test innovative methods of revenue collection, such as e-billing and geographic information system (GIS) mapping of collection routes. If utilities can increase the numbers of businesses, industries, and households to which they distribute water, they can increase revenue, fund additional distribution, and increase the productivity of the Nigerian economy.
Strengthening the Corporate Structure of SWBs
To succeed in a challenging environment, SWBs need to be equipped with the appropriate corporate tools and strategies. To that end, we will partner with the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, which is a $6 billion concern with offices in dozens of countries around the world, including Nigeria. As part of the partnership, SWB employees from various states will work side-by-side with Coca Cola employees, who will share their knowledge about water quality, sustainability targets, corporate culture, approaches to climate change, management tools, monitoring and safety systems, and staff incentive structures. By learning international best practices in water management, SWBs will be better equipped to serve their customers, and set Nigeria on the road to reliable and sustainable urban water and sanitation delivery in the near future.