By Achinanya Patricia
Water is an essential natural resource required by all living organisms in order to perform basic life functions. It is basically the duty of government to provide adequate and safe water for its citizens through sources such as impounded reservoir (dams), flowing streams, lakes and deep boreholes.
Regrettably, due to the ever-increasing population as well as political and economic factors, this goal hasn’t been achieved. Can sachet water be the rescue?
Between 1992 and 1996, sachet water production began to sprout; it is always available and handy. It is one of the most consumed drinking water in various part of Nigeria and has helped individuals to quench their thirst in traffic jams while the producers smile to the bank. Packaged water, especially the sachet (pure water) production is a very good poverty alleviation programme as it is a source of income for our teeming unemployed youths and their families.
However, it is now pertinent to pay close attention to the sachet water or bottle water you drink because a lot happens to the water before and after it leaves the production centre to the streets and then to the hands of the retailers. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in making sachet water. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), BPA is safe at very low levels.
It can leach into the water as well as cause cancer when exposed to heat (the sun) and at prolonged storage period. Sadly, most retailers do not care about how much heat these sachets are exposed to as they drop them in places where they are directly exposed to the sun.
Consequently, sachet or even plastic bottles constitute environmental hazards since they do not decompose in the soil and can cause erosion overtime. A lot of research has been carried out in various parts of the country to determine the purity of sachet water, and most of the results show that our so called “pure water” may not be completely safe for drinking as it was found to contain certain parasites.
Also, the packaging of this sachet water is made of non-biodegradable synthetic polyethylene (polythene), which does not decay, decompose or corrode; and when burnt, produces oxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur thereby causing various health problems such as cancer, brain damage, dizziness, headache, fatigue, lethargy, respiratory problem, and eye irritation. It also causes environmental problems such as acidification, eutrophication, the greenhouse effect (or global warning), smog, and ozone depletion. Hence, when the environment is damaged, both consumers and non-consumers of the sachet water are affected.
The indiscriminate disposal of waste generated from the production and consumption of packaged water, including sachet water, constitutes an aspect of health and environmental hazards. A large volume of these wastes end up in drainages and other water channels or bodies, thereby blocking them and resulting to flooding as well as endangering aquatic lives.
Nigeria’s problem is not poor availability of water resources rather, but poor management of these resources. Well processed and properly packaged water can be exported to earn the much needed foreign exchange. More attention should be given to interventions that could increase the effectiveness of the treatment, distribution and disposal system; and how this can make a positive contribution to the widely publicized MDGs.
There is a need for a switch from the conventional end-product focused regulatory approach currently utilized by the national regulator to that which involves the people who play active roles as manufacturers, consumers and handlers in the packaged water industry. Regulatory activities that promote core hygiene values such as hand washing, general cleanliness of storage environment and vendor containers and proper handling culture as well as recycling will produce the desired improvements.
Other types of containers that are both healthy and environment friendly, which are not plastic should be used in the packaging and storage of drinking water in order to enhance its quality and conserve the environment.
Patricia is a 300-level student of Plant Biology at the Federal University of Technology, Minna (FUTMINNA).