Report: Over 10m Lagos residents lack access to potable water despite N16bn allocation in 5 years

By Lukman Olabiyi

Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling economic hub, shines as a beacon of growth and opportunity in West Africa. However, beneath its vibrant exterior lies a sobering reality: more than 10 million of its residents lack access to potable water.


•Sefa Ikpa

This staggering statistics, revealed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), underscores a critical and growing crisis in one of the world’s most populous megacities.

The state, with an estimated population of over 20 million, faces significant challenges in providing basic amenities to its rapidly expanding populace. Water, a fundamental necessity of life, remains a luxury for many in Lagos as they struggle to survive despite the presence of the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC).

The city’s water supply system is under immense strain, unable to meet the demands of its residents. Yet, from 2019 to 2023, the LWC received a total budgetary allocation of N16 billion.

From the Lagos Central Senatorial District to the West and East Central senatorial districts, the plight of common Lagosians regarding access to potable water is uniform, except for those who can afford to drill boreholes.

Many Lagosians no longer see the provision of potable water as government’s responsibility but as a personal duty, relying on drilling boreholes or buying from vendors.

The lack of access to potable water has profound implications for the health and well-being of Lagos residents. Waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid are prevalent, particularly in low-income areas where sanitation is poor. Women and children are disproportionately affected, as they often bear the burden of collecting water from distant or unsafe sources.

Interactions with stakeholders and sources within the government reveal that, between 2019 and 2023, the LWC received N16,848,965,127.75 in total capital expenditure. The breakdown of the funds showed allocations of N3,208,982,257 in 2019, N6,465,845,812 in 2020, N3,714,446,910 in 2021, N2,510,713,656.75 in 2022, and N949,030,492 in 2023.

Stakeholders have criticized the state government’s attitude towards providing potable water, noting a drastic cut in budget allocations for the LWC, the agency responsible for supplying water to the state’s growing population.

Beyond budget cuts, other factors contributing to the water crisis include outdated infrastructure, rapid urbanization and inadequate investment in water management.

Environmental expert, Salam Adekunle, noted that Lagos, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, has not seen its water infrastructure investment keep pace with its growth. He pointed out that while there have been efforts to improve the situation, funding and political will are often insufficient.

Corruption and mismanagement further complicate these efforts, leading to delays and inefficiency in water projects. He added that lack of access to potable water profoundly impacts the health and well-being of Lagos residents.

Also, Sefa Ikpa, programme officer, water campaign, at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), expressed displeasure at state government’s approach on the issue. She said moves by the state government to privatise LWC would amount to imposing unnecessary hardship on the masses.

Ikpa used electricity as a case study, saying, despite privatization of electricity sector for effectiveness by the Federal Government, 10 years after, Nigerians are still in darkness. She added that the problem of water scarcity in Lagos is exacerbated by the state government’s frequent glorification of profit-driven partnership models as supposed solutions, despite ample global evidence illustrating the shortcoming of privatizing water supply and infrastructure.

Ikpa said: “I think USAID is a little modest with that number. If you look at the situation realistically, you would safely estimate that up to 90 per cent of Lagosians do not have clean water. The people who have access to water are the ones who live in Ikoyi, Lekki, etc, places that are more economically empowered to pay for water.

“The larger percentage of Lagosians who live in the slums, in areas considered not economically viable don’t have access to clean water. The large percentage of Lagosians who do not have access to clean water is also not a surprise when you consider the historic and systemic defunding or underfunding of the water sector in Lagos State.

“If you look at the Lagos State fiscal budget from about 2019 to 2023, you would see that the Lagos State government has not allocated more than one percent of its fiscal budget to the Lagos State Water Corporation. In fact, in 2023, the LWC was allocated less than 0.5 per cent. Is that a government that is serious about providing water for a population that is growing faster than New York?

“The Lagos State government has also sacked up to 800 workers from the Water Corporation, both permanent and contract staff, between late last year and early this year. Who is going to supply the water to Lagosians if the government is retrenching the people who work in the sector?.”

However, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while speaking at the 2024 Lagos International Water Conference, emphasized that his administration considers the provision of clean water a human right. At the event, themed: ‘Financing Water and Sanitation for a Greater Lagos,’ which was organized by the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LASWARCO), Sanwo-Olu cautioned that the conference could become just another talk shop if decisive actions are not taken to address inadequacies in providing safe drinking water to promote hygiene and sanitation.

He noted the recent cholera outbreak, emphasizing that water is a critical component in addressing such health crises. He called for moving from lip service to action, investing resources and identifying necessary skills to resolve the issues.

The governor urged stakeholders to support the state with technical expertise and infrastructure financing to complete the ongoing Adiyan Scheme II water project, which will produce 70 million gallons daily for Lagosians. He expressed hope that by the next year’s conference, the Adiyan Scheme II would be completed.

Minister for Water Resources and Sanitation, Prof. Terlumun Utsev, noted that rapid urbanization and inadequate infrastructure are key factors contributing to water shortages in Lagos. He urged government agencies to leverage private sector investment to enhance public water supply.

State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab, highlighted the pressure on existing water supply infrastructure, making it imperative for the government to find sustainable, innovative ways to finance and manage water supplies.

He urged stakeholders to identify best practices and design inclusive models for water governance, capacity building, and community engagement.

LASWARCO executive secretary, Mrs. Funke Adepoju, stated that the conference, the fifth of its kind, aims to address governance concerns in the water and sanitation sector. She emphasized the need for actionable strategies to contribute to broader Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) goals in Lagos and the water sector.

Sustained effort and collaboration are necessary to ensure a future where every Lagos resident can enjoy their basic right to clean, safe water. The water crisis in Lagos is a pressing issue that demands urgent attention and action. With over 10 million people lacking access to potable water, the city faces significant health, economic and social challenges, stakeholders contended. 

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