Good health and sanitation are two sides of the same coin. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), safe water, sanitation and hygiene are not only prerequisites to good health, but they also contribute to livelihood and dignity as they help to create resilient communities.

The journal on liveable cities by the State of Green, Denmark, rightly underscores the importance of water, especially to the attainment of the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is, for instance, hard to envisage accomplishing SDG II on Sustainable Cities and Communities without also implementing solutions for sustainable urban water management.

In developing nations, urban population growth is increasingly putting pressure on urban water supply. It also means wastewater treatment plants must treat an increasing volume of wastewater, sewage collection and treatment systems in creating livable cities.

Undoubtedly, limited access to water supply and sanitation has a number of harmful consequences on developing results. It adversely upsets the health sector, affects education and economic activities, and hinders work proficiency.

Being the nation’s acclaimed ‘Centre of Excellence’ and trailblazer, Lagos State designed the annual Lagos International Water Conference (LIWAC) to draw global attention to the crucial issue of water and allied matters.

LIWAC has since become a proper stage to facilitate dialogue and the sharing of knowledge on improving access to safely managed sanitation and hygiene through the use of robust regulatory mechanisms of SDG 6 in the State.

An idea of the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LASWARCO), the conference, which became an annual event in 2020, anticipates to inspire swapping revolutionary and inventive concepts towards seeking enduring answers to water supply and sanitation challenges, especially in a growing urban centre like Lagos with a projected annual growth rate of 3.2%.

Highpoints of past editions have already attracted investment through partnership with WaterAid to support capacity building and promotion of water sector regulation in Lagos State.

Signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the LUWASH programme is also part of the major effects of earlier versions of the conference.

Other notable highlights include enhancing urban water service delivery in Lagos by improving infrastructure and accountability, strengthening regulatory oversight of the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission, and strengthening the financial, and technical capabilities of Lagos Water utilities and private water vendors among others.

This year, the 4th edition of the 2-day conference was held in July at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island with global water experts in attendance.

The theme for LIWAC 2023, “Accelerating Sanitation and Hygiene in a Megacity: Regulations and Innovation”, is quite apt as it is a follow-up to the previous endeavours and successes in the water sector.

It focused primarily on knowledge sharing, facilitating efficiency through regulation and how regulation can pave the way for investment opportunities.

According to the Executive Secretary, LASWARCO, Mrs. Funke Adepoju some of the objectives of this year’s conference include sharing knowledge on innovative practices from different contexts on improving access to sanitation and hygiene services and discussing and agreeing on a roadmap towards strengthening regulatory mechanisms,

Others are galvanising support from regional organisations, governments, financial institutions, local businesses and other groups to pursue opportunities for investment in the sanitation and water sectors.

Speaking at the event, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu reiterated the commitment of his government to providing access to clean water and sanitation services with a strong policy framework for the sustainability and viability of the water sector in the best interest of residents and the general public.

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Represented by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, the governor said since the inception of the LIWAC conference in 2020, his administration has sought to reposition water governance and regulatory dispensation in the State. This, he noted, is also in addition to improving water security and creating investment opportunities.

While remarking that Lagos occupies less than 4 percent of the country’s land size and 11 percent of the country’s population, Sanwo-Olu stressed the urgent need to promote facilities that will allow for access to water and invariably ensure that the water sector is guaranteed in terms of sustainability and viability.

No doubt, the economic and commercial activities that abound in Lagos, along with major links to international businesses, have made the State a beacon of hope and prosperity that attracts a constant influx of people, which translates to constant growth in population.

The implication of this is that the government must work methodically to manage the resources and facilities needed by the State’s huge population to be productive, particularly in the area of clean water and of course sanitation.

By 2050, Lagos’ population is expected to reach 40 million. It, thus, becomes crucial for the State to come up with sustainable strategies that will provide safe water and good sanitation that will ensure better hygiene for residents.

This is why the present administration’s commitment to improving access to clean water and sanitation is commendable. That commitment is based on four initiatives. These are provision of public toilets and bathrooms, construction of community wastewater treatment facilities, development of an integrated wastewater management system and expanding and protecting water sources to improve safe water supply.

However, these initiatives and others aimed at achieving the appropriate level of sanitation and hygiene in Lagos will only be accomplished if it is buttressed by the necessary regulatory framework that promotes efficiency through innovation driven by technology.

Therefore, there is a need to come up with a well-designed regulatory framework that encourages private sector participation and protects the interests of all stakeholders through regulations that set clear standards, define roles and establish responsibility.

Herein lies the drive of this year’s LIWAC. It is encouraging to note that the conference produced some clear-cut resolutions that will, no doubt, significantly impact the State’s water outlook in the coming months.

These resolutions, among others, include an improved political will, enhanced capacity building for the staff, effective collaboration between the government and development partners as well as decentralization of the waste dumps.

Others are entrenching the independence of regulatory agencies, adequate funding, accountability, a strong legal support, funding behavioral change communication through public relations strategies, capturing the urban poor in processes and construction of more toilet facilities among others.

In Lagos, challenges of water supply include limited distribution network, inadequate power supply from the National grid, obsolete equipment and technology and high level of unaccounted-for-water due to illegal connections.

Others are pipe leakages, poor revenue collection, low capacity utilization, water pricing and cost recovery challenges, inadequate household metering systems and aged infrastructure among others.

These are, no doubt, daunting challenges. But then, given the determination of the present administration to bequeath a ‘Greater Lagos’ to the present and coming generation across all sectors, and also coupled with effective collaboration with the private sector, it is expected that before the next edition of LIWAC, there will have been a substantial improvement in the State’s water situation.

*Egbewunmi is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.