On March 22 countries across the globe marked World Water Day, an annual United Nations observance that stresses how important freshwater, and the sustainable management of it, is to our survival.
The theme of World Water Day 2021 was ‘Valuing Water’ and XR rebels in Benue Valley, Nigeria, used the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of freshwater locally.
Freshwater is in abundance thanks to the Benue River, but many inhabitants do not have access to clean drinking water. Rebels also emphasised the responsibility local and national governments must take for providing people with access to safe water.
According to WaterAid statistics, three in ten people in Nigeria do not have access to clean water close to home, three in five people don’t have a toilet of their own, while four in five people - around 170 million Nigerians - lack basic handwashing facilities.
Young women carrying clean water back to their homes in Benue, Nigeria
While shocking, these statistics are not anomalous; across the world, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water. Four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month each year and the UN predicts that this situation will worsen without urgent action, with up to 5.7 billion living in water-scarce areas for at least one month a year by 2050.
Water scarcity can be as a result of a physical shortage of water, or the failure of institutions to provide adequate infrastructure and regular supply. Climate breakdown is contributing to the former as extreme weather events become increasingly common.
More frequent and extreme flooding pollutes water sources. This leads to people becoming sick as they are forced to rely on unclean water. Meanwhile droughts cause rivers and springs to dry up, often leading to crops failing, less produce, and so less for people to eat.
Bart Shinyi (third from right) and other activists at the World Water Day event in Benue, Nigeria
XR activists in Benue, Nigeria, including Bart Shinyi, carried out advocacy on the issue of water scarcity in their region on World Water Day. Gathering in various locations they spoke to local people about the importance of water for all aspects of life, focusing in particular on the issue of water-borne diseases.
Governmental mismanagement of freshwater sources in the region has caused populations to rely on unsanitary sources, putting them at risk of illness. They discussed how improved water management would lead to more secure economic circumstances for households, as families would no longer have to rely on expensive medicines for the treatment of water-borne illnesses.
Bart’s discussions also centred on the issue of climate breakdown. He emphasised how in the past, most rural villages and hamlets could access freshwater from local streams and rivers; but now, due to increasingly dry weather, many streams have dried up, leaving communities forced to travel long distances for water. Meanwhile, local governments are offering no long-term solutions to the issue.
The sessions run by Bart and his colleagues included a question-and-answer segment designed to remind people not to contaminate the water around them. The main aim, though, was to raise awareness of the government’s responsibility to provide potable, treated water for communities.
A large group of XR activists at another of the World Water Day sessions in Benue
The activists are hopeful that the UN's COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this year will make more explicit the message that climate breakdown is responsible for water shortages and food insecurity in their region, and others across the world.
It is hoped that COP26 will lead to improvements in the provision of safe drinking water and hygiene services in Nigeria.
They believe it is essential that the conference marks a shift towards greater collective action and international policies to effectively mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
However, the activists also remain conscious that local authorities are responsible for ensuring the fair and efficient distribution of water, and that pressure must continue to be placed on them to ensure that demand for water in all parts of Nigeria is met.
For more information on World Water Day please see here.