By Faith Berewa
There are no words to describe the unprecedented impact of the novel Corona Virus pandemic on the world. Its effects on the human race have been astounding and overwhelming; economies reeling from its devastating effects with the International Monetary Fund stating that the world has entered a recession and the most advanced health systems gasping for breath. Like a tsunami, nothing on its path is spared. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been postponed to 2021. The virus has been vicious in its scale and scope. As a BBC reporter puts it, the virus has no borders.
Seeing the utter wreck the Covid-19 is causing in other realms, including those with the most highly developed of health systems, Africa, nay Nigeria has been watching with trepidation, hoping and praying that a fraction of such an impact in other parts of the world should not occur here. With our underdeveloped health care system, we have every cause to be alarmed. Ours is a country that is sick. Health system sick, educational sector sick, power sick, infrastructure sick, economy sick. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is a sick country, with or without Covid-19.
The twin messages being pushed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and health experts in combating the spread of the disease is the regular washing of hands and social distancing. As simple as it sounds, this is not so easy task for millions of Nigerians. Going by statistics from UNICEF, only 25.6% of Nigeria’s population uses improved drinking water and sanitation facilities. For many of our citizens, pipe-borne water is a pipe dream. The impact of the Covid-19 is horrendous and water is not easy to come by for many. It is a luxury.
How can our citizens wash their hands regularly when a large portion of our rural, semi urban and urban centers cannot boast of safe drinking water? How can we practice social distancing when men, women and children, with containers in search of water, have become a permanent fixture in our towns and cities huddling at water sources, often at a Good Samaritan’s abode with a borehole, or at a community borehole servicing hundreds, if not thousands of residents? How can social distancing be practiced with this?
Closely related to provision of safe portable water is sanitation.A Vanguard report stated that in 2018 Nigeria had the ignoble position of being number two in open defecation by citizens. It’s gotten worse. Continuing in the same report, it stated that according to the UNICEF Chief of Water and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), in 2019 Nigeria emerged the number one country in the world with the highest number of people practicing open defecation.
Hear him ‘I am sure Nigerians do not feel happy about this stigma. Imagine that 47 million people defecate in the open. They are deprived of their basic needs and we need to do something about it’’
“…this lack of water, sanitation and hygiene services — adversely affects the Nigerian citizens’ health -, as well as their access to educational opportunities and their work efficiency and labour productivity”. RTI International.
Do our leaders care about such stats? I mean one in four of our citizens defecate openly. 60 years after independence, we are at the bottom rung of virtually every area of human development index.
How many citizens can afford hand sanitizers that would be sufficient for a whole family when many Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day? What about the cramped living conditions of citizens in degrading conditions? According to the World Bank and Brookings institutions, 50% of Nigeria’s urban population lives in slums .These problems of water, sanitation and shelter are salient issues that could become time bombs if this virus is not stopped in its tracks. May this pandemic not gain inroads into our communities.
With high profile cases of Corona Virus in the country, the chicken has come home to roost. Our leaders whose penchant it is, to jet out to foreign lands for medical attention while leaving ordinary Nigerians at the mercy of rudimentary, ill equipped, underfunded health care services and nonexistent facilities are now forced to face the stark reality of the effects of irresponsible governance.
Will the Covid-19 pandemic be a tipping point? Is it possible that consciences be pricked, and maybe, they will seek the higher public good above all else? But … there is a big But…. With dwindling economic fortunes, lip service approach to the diversification of the economy over the decades, an exploding population, have we not squandered opportunities?Opportunities to provide decent housing for the masses, to provide safe drinking water and sanitation uplifting the dignity of every Nigerian? Opportunity for every Nigerian to have access to quality health care, and sound education for our kids?
This pandemic will definitely pass just like the Spanish flu of the early 20th century, and other great adversities that have plagued the human race. Humans are wired to overcome adversities of this life and the resilience of mankind will prevail against this pandemic, with lessons learnt along the way. After it all, what will be our takeaways?
What will be the epilogue of the Nigerian Covid-19 experience? Are we going to use the lessons learnt and build a better society? Are our leaders really going to uphold that part of our constitution that says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of the government?’’
* Faith Berewa is a staff writer with Sahel Standard.