Water Supply in Lagos and Nigeria – the importance of manual drilling

Nigeria has become increasingly dependent on groundwater over the last 20 years. Groundwater (from hand dug wells, boreholes/tubewells and springs) is the main source of drinking water for over 100 million people in the country. But how many people know about this, and what it means for the practices, policies and politics of Africa’s most populous country?

For our short photo/video documentary, visit: http://vimeo.com/107047730. The full report can be downloaded from http://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/618.
Groundwater use in Nigeria has increased year after year: boreholes supplied drinking water to 10% of the population in 1999. By 2011 it was 32%. These boreholes are drilled by machines or manually. Most boreholes that are drilled on the sediments in the south or north east of the country are constructed using manual drilling techniques.
The Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) is known for its work on water supply in rural areas. Thanks to the collaboration with UNICEF, I was able to undertake a short study of manual drilling in Lagos and neighbouring states in June this year. Have you ever visited Lagos? Lagos State is one the world’s most rapidly growing urban agglomerations. Its current population is estimated at 21 million. It is Nigeria’s smallest in terms of size but largest in terms of population. An extremely vibrant and energetic place where urban is interspersed with rural in a very dynamic situation.
Less than 10% of Lagosians access piped water, while the remainder largely fend for themselves. So what do they use? Well, people buy water from vendors, purchase bottled or sachet water, or draw water from their own hand-dug wells or boreholes. One of the less well known factors in Lagos’ success as an economic hub is that it sits on sediments. These are filled with relatively shallow groundwater (at a depth of 10 to 70 meters) which can be tapped affordably.
In recent years, most new groundwater supplies in Lagos are being constructed using manual drilling techniques. We estimate that there are about 200 drilling enterprises operating in Lagos, employing about 1,000 people. For Nigeria as a whole, there are even more.
Here are some quotes from the study:

  •  There is no other fast technology that can give water like manual drilling. It will keep on happening as long as people are building their houses.” Manual Driller, Lagos
  • “[Manual Drilling] is the order of the day. Before you start building a house you must have money to put a borehole there” General Manager, Rural Water and Sanitation State Agency (RUWASSA),
    Oyo State
  • “There is no need to go out [of Nigeria]. There is money to be made in this country…I would be proud for my son to enter this [manual drilling] business, Manual Driller, Oyo State

The manual drilling industry is attracting new recruits with its relatively low entry barrier (about US$2,000 for a set of drilling tools). Manual drilling is thus providing much-needed employment, most of which is within the informal economy. The manually drilled boreholes themselves are affordable, usually at a cost of less than US$2,500 per well. And they can be constructed in small spaces, and in parts of the city where conventional drilling equipment could never reach.
Manual drilling fills a need, but is not regulated. Variable construction quality poses health risks for the population, who, along with political leaders are largely in the dark about key construction standards. There are also longer terms risks of groundwater contamination. With no records of the number of wells drilled and abstraction rates, coupled with a lack of groundwater monitoring, there is no guarantee that groundwater levels will not start to fall in the future.
As the market for manual drilled boreholes and industry expands in many parts of Nigeria, those who can afford it, and are living on suitable formations will benefit from having a water source at their own home. Others will be less fortunate. In order to harness the benefits of manual drilling, we recommend the following:

  1. Recognise that manual drilling provides affordable water close to the home – but not for everyone
  2. Educate citizens and political leaders about groundwater
  3. Recognise and support the initiatives of the manual drillers to organise themselves
  4. Train manual drillers and supervisors to become professionals
  5. Popularise and strengthen regulations at state-level and issue permits for manual drillers and licences for manually drilled boreholes
  6. Find ways to ensure adherence of borehole construction standards – including supervision
  7. Test water quality
  8. Assess and monitor water resources

For our short photo/video documentary, visit: http://vimeo.com/107047730.

The full report can be downloaded from http://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/618.

Author: Kerstin Danert

Skat, Switzerland and Director of the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) Secretariat

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