Water is life and serves as the fundamental link between the climate system, human society and the environment. The state of this life-giving resource affects all social, economic and environmental systems. Sadly, water is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change which is already being felt globally. Decades of review of rainfall data by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency show changing patterns of rainfall manifesting as late onset and early cessation of the rainy season in many locations of the country leading to shortened rainy seasons. The worsening situation of water resources in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria, due to climate change comes with a variety of negative consequences such as increasing food insecurity, trans-border conflicts and rising health problems among other socio-economic consequences. Thus, combating current climate change trends requires various innovative, integrated, multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary responses.
Goal Six of the Sustainable Development Goals has its focus on ensuring access to water and sanitation for all with 2030 as its outer target year. This goal is inspired by the fact that the UN considers access to clean water and sanitation as a human right and that lack of it leads to devastating consequences including entrenching poverty and limiting educational opportunities. Human ecosystems are highly dependent on water which also determines and sustains healthy living. Water is also needed for agriculture, manufacturing, energy production, recreation and navigation.
Stressed by growing population, changing consumption patterns and climate variability, the provision of safe water for drinking and cooking, construction of net emission reduction hydropower dams and irrigation facilities will require a robust action plan designed and operated by dedicated professionals, an enlightened and engaged citizenry supported by impact-based budgetary allocation. Having such a well-planned water resource management will ensure the achievement of the three dimensions of sustainable development vis; promoting social inclusion, protecting the environment and promoting inclusive economic growth.
With increasing temperatures, extreme weather events are projected to increase thereby affecting availability and distribution of rainfall, river flows and groundwater. It will further deteriorate water quality. This will exacerbate an already bad situation with conservative estimates indicating that 31 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to potable water. The most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, women and children are likely to be adversely affected and their quality of life further diminished. Water resources are essential since they support most aspects of the economy from food production, security, health, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, manufacturing to environmental sustainability. Climate change will continue to negatively affect this sector, except urgent steps are taken to build appropriate measures.
To build resilience to climate change and to enhance water security, different adaptation measures to deal with climate variability and promote integrated water resource management practices are required. Invariably, a wide range of approaches will need to be adopted including modern and traditional systems of conserving water resources. The propagation of water harvesting techniques for rural settings to the development of innovative technological solutions, implementation of bespoke sustainable strategies and ensuring adequate budgeting and financing are needed at the appropriate levels for adaptation as well as for mitigation and to enhance resilience.
A recent study by the Centre for Social Justice, a Nigerian knowledge institution, considered the impact of climate change on the water sector in Nigeria, reviewed various plans and strategies of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and identified the trend of budgeting in the last four years (2013-2016). In doing so, the study also considered to what extent these plans and strategies addressed climate-related issues in the water sector and the effects (positive and negative) of the appropriation to these identified climate impacts. It further considered the various programmes and projects to determine those with high and low climate co-benefits and the desirability to either continue with them based on their value addition to the sector. The study identified some good programmes/projects, across the FMWR and its agencies, which if properly implemented will provide climate benefits in a cost effective manner.
The study came up with conclusions that evidence-based climate and socio-economic projections and scenarios need to be developed and used to inform investment and budgetary allocation decisions. Addressing the present and future impacts of climate-related issues can be done through continuous collaboration with relevant research institutes and development partners. While all these activities are rather resource intensive, they can only be realistically conducted in the framework of structured institutional arrangements for coordination, appropriate financial mechanisms (allocation and private sector financing) and adequate human and technical resources. To attract investments, it will be essential to make continuous credible economic case for water resources management at the highest political level and among development partners and investors.
A number of recommendations to boost water resources management in the face of changing climatic conditions come to the fore. They include, but not limited the fact the priority for the FMWR should be to ensure that River Basin Development Authorities have enough resources to carry out their mandate, including competent personnel, budget and equipment. At this stage, it is vital to start adopting a longer-term perspective and embed elements of climate change adaptation and mitigation. In addition, there should be a plan and strategy for monitoring and evaluation. From the fact that motorised irrigation systems consume fossil fuel (a major source of human induced climate change) and require high operational and maintenance cost, efficient solar irrigation systems can be adopted. The variety of such solar solutions and options allows for affordability across various sizes and farm clusters. Fossil fuel generating plants for boreholes contribute to CO2 emissions. For environmental sustainability, there is a need to switch to other clean renewable options. The abundance of solar resources in Nigeria provides opportunity for off-grid renewable solutions for water sector development.
Climate considerations should always be factored in both planning and implementation of water-related projects and an appropriate funding mechanism for the water sector in the context of climate change needs to be developed and institutionalised. Furthermore, research and development in the FMWR should be demand-driven to solve climate change and other existential challenges. Funds should be budgeted not for general research and development but for targeted research outcomes relevant to climate change.
The FMWR should focus on core policy advice and formulation, data collection, monitoring, evaluation and co-ordination of water resources development, allowing the RBDAs to conduct the fieldwork as they are closer to the people. The policy being referred to here should be one that will drive transition from fossil generators to renewable energy options in the long term. Also, actions should be taken to ensure that water resource management structures continue to function properly and efficiently. To this end, coordination between the FMWR, other government agencies, state level ministries and the private sector at different levels must be improved. The current capacity gap that affects the Nigerian water sector also needs to be addressed by providing adequate training and support to staff (especially in the RBDAs) and incentives to reduce high turnover rates.
Government should take urgent steps to improve public water supply. This will reduce the rate of indiscriminate sinking of boreholes and wells as well as its attendant negative effects on the environment. Finally, collaboration between the FMWR, the Ministry of Environment and civil society organisations should be encouraged. This will aid effective monitoring of the projects that the FMWR is carrying out.