Makoko Waterfront: A Community That Thrives on Water Without Access to Portable supply
Although Makoko may be known as a community with half of its population living on the water, majority of the community residents are facing serious challenges regarding access to portable water. In this report, with support from Code For Africa, Justina Asishana took a trip to the community to observe the challenges faced by the community in terms of drinkable water.
She uses a spoon to break the ice block and scoop the pap with another spoon into a plastic plate and lace it with milk before giving it to the consumer alongside the bread that is paid for.
Mary Mekan sells tea, pap, and adoye (pineapple juice) on a canoe in Makoko waterfront, she moves from street to street to sell her wares and is patronized by a lot of people.
Mary buys water daily from the borehole close to her house which is located on Makoko waterfront to prepare the tea, juice, and pap she sells. According to her, she buys 100 Naira ($0.26) water daily.
However, one of the challenges of Mary is the quality of water she uses. According to her, she goes an extra mile to ensure that the water is of good quality to avoid her customers complaining or falling sick after patronizing her.
Speaking with The Nation at Makoko WaterFront, Mary said that although she currently has access to clean water, that can change at any time when the water starts having a taste.
Mary said, “In this type of work that I am doing, it involves people drinking water and because of this, I have to make sure that the water is clean and drinkable. Sometimes, when I use water from a particular borehole and get complaints about the taste, I stop patronizing the borehole and move to another one. I am always on the search of a borehole that is portable for my customers”.
According to WHO, 90 percent of the global population (6.8 billion people) used at least a basic service. A basic service is an improved drinking-water source within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.
The Global Health body also states that 785 million people lack a basic drinking-water service, including 144 million people who are dependent on surface water stating that globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces.
Makoko was established in the 19th century and has much of its structures constructed on stilts above the Lagos Lagoon. It is one of Africa’s floating inner-city slums, with a third of the community built on stilts in a lagoon off the Lagos mainland. Makoko is also a neighbouring community to Iwaya on the waterfront and Oko Baba.
According to Emmanuel Agunze, the Founder of Makoko Dream School, Makoko is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of Africa”. He stated that the population of Makoko is considered to be 85,840 but there are no official census records in this regard.
The waterfront part of the community is largely harbored by the Egun people who migrated from Badagry and the Republic of Benin and whose main occupation is fishing.
The rest of the settlement is on swampy land with little sanitation and few public services.
But the sad reality is that while the Makoko community thrives on water, the residents lack access to safe and portable drinking water.
Women and Water Challenges in Makoko
Women are the ones upon whom the burden of getting clean potable water in the home rests and they bear the brunt of taking care of sick family members who fall sick from consuming unclean water.
To this end, Mary explained that women in Makoko have to go the extra length to ensure that they have access to clean water in their homes.
Mary said, “We do a lot of investigations before deciding on the boreholes to get water from. Usually, we fetch water from three different boreholes, put it in buckets, and observe it for a while.
“We examine the water after some time to know if the water has changed colour, have dirt, or change the taste. We do this to enable us to know exactly where we can get our water from, for cooking and drinking. This is how we get access to clean water”, Mary added.
For Akode Perpetual, a Volunteer Teacher in Makoko, there are two boreholes she gets her water from, one of the boreholes has its water brown in colour while the water from the other borehole is a little clean.
Water hardness is the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. Hard water reflects water that is high in dissolved minerals, largely calcium and magnesium. According to the water analysis conducted by Code for Africa on 20 water samples collected from the community, the result showed that the water from the 20 water points including boreholes are acidic with the highest of ph of 3.3 and the least ph of 6.2. Regarding the hardness of the water, 60 percent of the water sources are low in hardness while 40 percent have a high hardness of the water.
Perpetual said, “It is very difficult for us to get water and if you don’t have money, you cannot buy water here. We use water for a lot of things especially for domestic uses like washing, drinking, and cooking. Getting water is not easy at all.
“In my family, we are six, my siblings and I purchase water of about N100 ($0.26) to manage daily. It is usually not enough but we try to manage it. This, we do daily.
“Most of the water sources are not very potable and we still have to boil our water before we can drink it but not everyone boils their water, some people drink it like that.
For washing, we have different water we buy. The one that is a little good is used for drinking and cooking while the other one that is brownish is used for washing and bathing. We find that the brownish water is difficult to lather and requires more soap when used in washing or bathing”.
Diseases experienced by Makoko Residents in using the water
The water sources from the Makoko community that were tested and analyzed by Code for Africa, showed detectable levels of E-coli, Nitrate, ammonia, sulphate, totally dissolved solids, have colour and odour.
These contamination in water are dangerous to the health of infants and pregnant women, causing intestinal problems, diarrhea, cholera, genuine worm disease, and can cause premature birth and reduced growth of the foetus.
For adults, the water can cause cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure, the incidence of hypertension, urinary tract infections, meningitis, decreased kidney function, reproductive problems in both men and women, and acute renal failure and hemolytic anaemia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its fact sheets on drinking water states that contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio and that contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year. The WHO also reports that 80 percent of diseases are waterborne.
Perpetual Akote is one of the youths in Makoko communities who fall sick regularly for malaria and typhoid and she explained that at the hospital, she has been advised to stop taking the water from the boreholes in the community.
“But what am I to do? It is God that is keeping us o! Because the doctor told me to stop drinking this water, he said I should be taking pure water or table water but it is difficult advice to take because it involves money which I do not have. I know of others that have been told the same thing but what can we do? There are not many resources to buy pure water, even this water we buy per bucket N10 is still expensive to a lot of us.”
One of the operators of the boreholes in Makoko waterfront who gave his name Hussein said that the water is usually not potable because they (the operators) do not have the wherewithal to apply chemicals and other solutions to make the water treated and portable to use.
He affirmed that most of his customers complain of dizziness and tiredness when they use the water for drinking or cooking adding that he also observes that a lot of them suffer from skin diseases which can only be as a result of the use of water.
A Research by Mehtab Haseena and other Scholars of the Department of Zoology, University of Gujrat, Pakistan titled ‘Water pollution and human health’ in 2017 showed that the health risks associated with polluted water include different diseases such as respiratory disease, cancer, diarrheal disease, neurological disorder and cardiovascular diseases.
Our challenges — By Makoko Borehole Operators
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 is to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all -SDG 6.3 targets that by 2030, there would be improved water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
With his water tank housed in one of the buildings afloat the water, Hussain sells about 40,000 litres of water daily when his generator is good and has enough pressure to pump up water.
He told The Nation that most often, the pipes that connect to the tanks from the source get broken making contaminated water seeping into the tank contaminating the water that is being pumped.
“This water service point serves about 40 families and most times, the water does not have enough pressure to serve the people as we want. We use a small generator to pump water and this also does not give enough pressure”.
“Oftentimes, we experience broken pipes which make these dirty water enter into the pumped water contaminating it. Most often also, when our pipes break, it gets lost inside the water and it is difficult for us to find it. Sometimes, when there is leakage, we have to go under the water to know exactly where the leakage is coming from for us to fix it and this takes a long time”.
“There are times that the water comes out red and brings sand when we are selling it. When we notice this, we have to wait for some time before we continue selling it to the people. Then there are also cases that we have problems with the generator that helps in pumping water and that also takes time to be fixed. When these problems occur, it takes hours before it is fixed and the people cannot have water during that period.”
Underneath the building, one can see the building, most of the pipes pumping water to and from the water tank are seen to be rusted.
Hussein is appealing to government and well-meaning individuals to provide chemicals for the borehole operators to enable them to cleanse the water and make it portable for consumption.
Hussein said, “I read about water sanitation a lot and feel sad that we cannot do anything to make this water very portable for the people to use. This water is directly from the ground and we don’t treat it. We don’t have the chemicals to sanitize the water. We need some chemicals and any drugs used in treating water. If we can get that, the water will be as good as the pure water that is being sold and the people will appreciate it as they will spend less on sicknesses.”
He further said that there is a need for the provision of stronger pipes and good generators to pump water and ensure that the people have their water needs met daily with minimal disruptions.
Impact of Contaminated Water
Basic living standards such as safe drinking water and sanitation are abysmal, not only in Makoko but in other regions across Nigeria.
According to an NGO, WaterAid, 63 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 112 million have no sanitation. The Country Report by WaterAid, 310,000 children die every year globally from diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.
The WHO notes that, globally, around 2 billion people use a drinking water source with faecal contaminants. Contaminated water can harbour bacteria, such as those responsible for diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis A, and polio.
According to the UN, globally, every year, approximately 297,000 children under five die from diseases linked to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.
In 2014, residents in Flint, Michigan in the United States of America, experienced water contamination due to inadequate testing and treatment of their water supply, the contaminated water caused rashes, hair loss, and itchy skin while Lead levels in the bloodstream of children who drank the water doubled.
A person who ingests chemical toxins in their water can be at risk of cancer, hormone disruption, altered brain function, damage to immune and reproductive systems, cardiovascular and kidney problems while swimming in contaminated water can also trigger rashes, pink eye, respiratory infections, hepatitis.
We Need Public Borehole — Chief Baale Jeje Albert
The SDG 6.3 targets that by 2030, there would be improved water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally (United Nations, 2015).
One of the Baales of Makoko, Chief Baale Jeje Albert said that the challenges facing his people are the availability of potable water adding that his people are suffering a lot in this aspect.
“Water is very important to us. For us to bathe, we need water, for us to cook and drink, we need water but, unfortunately, there is no water in our area here.
“A lot of people in this area are trying to make ends meet, so it is often difficult for them to use the money to buy water. They need a place where they can get water for free.”
As one of the Baale in Makoko, Albert had a tap which he permits people to fetch water for free but the tap had gone bad for some weeks and the people are back to the difficulty of using money to buy water.
“Before my compound was a place where everyone gets water for free but since the tap got spoiled, it has caused a lot of problems for us. We need water, seriously, we need water. That is the problem we are facing, there are no adequate sources of water for us here. We need water.”
The Baale, however, stated that when the tap in his compound was still working, the water was not portable for the people to use, “the water from the tap, before it got spoilt, was not very good. If you fetch the water in the morning, before evening or the next morning, it turns black. It was not very good and cannot be kept for a long time.”
One of the youths in Makoko waterfront, Somide Taiwo lamented that there is no one borehole in Makoko waterfront owned by the government saying that all the boreholes in Makoko waterfront are operated by private individuals which makes people spend money to buy the water they need daily.
“In my household, daily, we spend N200 ($0.52) on water and sometimes, when we have a lot of washing to do, we spend up to N500 ($1.31). Ever since I can recall, we have been using borehole water for domestic use.”
Speaking on the portability of the water, Taiwo said that not all water is clean especially as broken pipes cause contaminated water to get into the boreholes saying that they need a public borehole that would be constructed by the government.
“We have complained about our water problems so many times but nothing has been done about it by the government. We need public boreholes. We know that if we have a public borehole constructed by the government, it will be reliable and we can be assured of the quality and cleanliness of the water.
“Most of the people on the land have access to good water but it is not so for us on the water. We have to rely on the private operators and most of the water is not very good, we are just managing them. It is not fair that the government only supports only the people on the land. Everything that is being done here, from school to water are all by NGOs and private individuals”, he lamented.
For Mary Mekan, getting potable water and electricity will go a long way to boost her business because she relies on ice blocks and most often finds it difficult to get ice blocks that will be good enough to sell her tea and pap.
“Most times, it is stressful to get ice-blocks because most of the water used for the ice blocks are not clean. If we have water from the government, I will be able to get ice blocks easily and it will be clean.”
For Perpetual, she needs the government to give them a source of water that will give them water free of charge and it would be clean.
Analysis of water samples in Makoko waterfront
A total of 20 water samples were collected from the Makoko community on December 12, 2020, by Code for Africa to analyze the safety and portability of the water consumed by the people in the community.
The summary from the analysis showed that “all drinking water from Makoko is Acidic, with detectable levels of Nitrate. Samples 14 and 15 have a pungent smell and are not fit for drinking. The Lagoon water, sample 19 has E-coli, Detectable levels of Nitrate way beyond the WHO standard.
The analysis further revealed that “Detectable levels of E-coli is an indicator that an outbreak of cholera looms, children should avoid swimming in it and families should not use it for any domestic use. The Lagoon water and a couple of other samples are termed hard water so it would consume a lot of soap (soap wastage) before Lather can be formed and also cause furring of kettles and boilers.
The analysis further stated that “Corrosive tendencies are high so pipes, boats, and parts of buildings made of metal will corrode faster. ”
The analysis recommended that the borehole operators wash their tanks and flush their pipes with soap, chlorine, brush and hot water.
The people, according to the analysis, were also advised to use water filters with activated carbon, have their water test done periodically while the borehole operators were urged to trace pipes for underwater/ground leakages frequently.
Call to Action
Water pollution is a serious environmental issue that can be caused by many contaminants. Human health can be affected by consuming, entering, or washing in polluted water.
A Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, University of Lagos, Dr Temilola Oluseyi noted that the degraded condition of surface water and groundwater in Makoko is due to unregulated wastewater discharge, commercial activity, and surface runoff adding that it is a concern especially as the freshwater is used as primary water sources for many the residents living the settlements.
She stated that to address the issue of polluted water in Makoko, there is a need for government and non-governmental agencies to monitor the situation and find a solution out of their monitoring results.
Oluseyi further suggested that more efforts should be made to ensure proper sewage disposal in the area to reduce the negative environmental health impacts adding that if the situation is addressed, there will be a reduction in the spread of infectious and communicable waterborne diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, and typhoid fever.
The people of Makoko believe that the solution to the problem of contaminated water in their community is the provision of boreholes by the government as they will be assured that any borehole provided by the government will be free and potable.
This WanaData story was supported by Code for Africa as part of the WaterCommons initiative and the Code for All Exchange Program, funded by the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy.