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Environment focus

Nigeria
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15/09/2010

On a visit to South Africa, I walked into some Nigerian street hawkers in Johannesburg. One of them, noticing I was just visiting, commented, “Do you see how clean and nice this place is?” It reminded me of the conversation between two South Africans on my flight. They were returning home after a business trip to Lagos. “Did you get to visit Abuja after all?” asked one of them. “No, I was so fed up with this place, I decided to cut my trip short and return to Jo’burg. Even the hotel had no water this morning!” he said.

I thought the discussion was cruel and stuffy, but of course I was eavesdropping and had no business joining a conversation I’d not been invited to. Even if I did contribute, what was I going to say in defense of Nigeria? How does a “Centre of Excellence” surrounded by water, produce dry taps? Lagos is mild compared to other places in this country where incidences of cholera, typhoid and guinea worm are commonplace enough to send the water and health authorities back to continue their sleep.

Johannesburg is one of the few big cities in the world not located near a major water source. Some of the water supply to Johannesburg is pumped from over 45km away. Nevertheless, that city enjoys a much better and more efficient water supply system than the almost submerged Lagos, or any city in Nigeria. Two sources of water common in Nigeria actually result from earth’s infinite generosity - groundwater and surface water, the latter including, lakes, rivers and wetlands.

The problem in Nigeria is, therefore, not so much the occurrence of water, but the technical capability to manage its abundance, to design and execute infrastructure to clean it and pipe into homes. It rains so heavily in Nigeria that we do not need a foreign technical adviser to coach on how rainwater could be collected, stored and used. This is simple technology that dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, but virtually unknown in modern Nigeria.

Yet, every university faculty of science in the universe has a brilliant Nigerian in it. Something at the governance level discourages innovation and intellectualism in Nigeria.

I asked those compatriots in Johannesburg if they intended inviting their South African friends to visit Onitsha or Aba over Christmas, and the answer was roaring laughter. Nigerians living abroad hardly invite their friends to spend time in Nigeria.

And we’re supposed to be a hospitable people? The reasons are obvious - constant stress of having to repeatedly apologize and make excuses for poor sanitation, for the toilet that cannot flush, indeed for lack of water and epileptic supply of electricity.

Notice that strangers are never shy to ask, “Could I have some water to drink?” because we intuitively believe that water should be a basic human right and must be available all the time in a home. Leaning on the 1968 paper called The Tragedy of the Commons by the ecologist, Garrett Hardin, water is the ultimate commons. But whatever seems boundless is naturally easily abused, and that is what is going on with water resources in Nigeria.

Ecuador is the first country in the world to put the rights of nature in its constitution so that rivers and forests are not simply property but maintain their own right to flourish. Under these laws, a citizen might file a suit on behalf of an injured watershed, recognizing that its health is crucial to the common good.

We have a long way to go in Nigeria.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.

    

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