March 22, Tuesday next week, is World Water Day. The WWD is an annual event that focuses attention on the importance of freshwater, and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.
 
In 1993, the first WWD was designated by the UN General Assembly; and since then, each year focuses on a different issue. The occasion is also used to highlight required improvements for access to WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities in developing countries.

The WWD 2016 is very important to a developing country like ours because it has as theme “Water and Jobs”. With the present government’s clarion call for economic diversification, there can never be a time better than now to raise awareness on opportunities for jobs and job creation in the water sector of the economy for accelerated economic growth.

But to me, what is most striking about this year’s event is that a network of youth organisations has taken it upon itself to streamline the message to the current needs of the Nigerian youth.

From March 21 to 22, in Abuja, the Youth Water Sanitation and Hygiene Initiative Africa, with support from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, African Ministers Council on Water and WaterAid Nigeria, shall host the first ever National Youth Forum and Concert on Water and Sanitation Jobs.

YouthWASH is an umbrella body of youth-led and youth-focused organisations working on WASH issues in Africa. It coordinates youth responses on access to water, sustainable sanitation and hygiene promotion related policies, programmes and projects at the regional, national, state and local government levels. It propagates youth and gender mainstreaming in achieving the African Water Vision 2025 and the Youth and Gender Mainstreaming Strategy of the African Ministers Council on Water.

The vulnerable position of the Nigerian youth can never be overemphasised. Over 60 per cent of Nigerian population is made up of young people below the age of 35; and about 80 per cent of these youths are either unemployed or underemployed. Statistics show that over half of unemployed youths do not have education beyond primary school.

And, really, one does not have to be an expert to validate this data, as the prevalence of Amajiris in the North has shown that there is an estimated 20 million uneducated Nigerian youths roaming the streets as perennial dependents. Nigeria has the largest army of unemployed and underemployed youths in Africa.

The troubling reality is that governments at all levels have not taken serious cognisance of this situation, which is the reason why many external observers predict that the Nigerian youthful population is like a time bomb waiting to go off. In 2010, for instance, the British Council released a report which stated that if not effectively engaged, the Nigerian youth condition was soon going to give rise to a situation described as “Demographic Disaster”.

Truth be told, unemployment is the root cause of poverty, youth restiveness, gangsterism, bank robbery, kidnapping, assassination, lawlessness and all sorts of deviant behaviours that we are faced with as a people today. And, sadly, among the battalions of the unemployed are over three million young people with the National Youth Service Corps discharge certificates roaming the nook and cranny of the country searching for jobs that do not exist.

The good thing about water and sanitation jobs is that they employ across the lines of educated, non-educated and half-educated. More so, there are several needs that stare us here in the face which are potential avenues for WASH job creation. Access to water and sanitation is a major challenge for health, poverty reduction, environmental degradation, climate change and gender equality; and in providing solutions to these problems, jobs would be created for many citizens.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, Nigeria has 66 million people living without potable water, and 109 million others without access to improved sanitation. If empowered, youths can be at the forefront of supplying water and sanitation infrastructure to this disadvantaged populace. I believe that Nigeria’s estimated water resources potential of about 375 billion cubic metres is enough to cater for all of us. All we need is proper management with efficient material infrastructure and human capacity.

There are many areas of relevance in the WASH sector to create jobs for our teeming youth population. They are in the water infrastructure products such as dams and hydropower. They also exist in agriculture via irrigation techniques; water supply to urban and rural habitats; fisheries, horticulture and tourism. Nigeria has for long depended on rain-fed agriculture and I believe we have come to the place where we must change our tactics in order to safeguard the future for our future generations.

Sanitation jobs are many. This goes beyond jobs that are spawned from environmental cleaning, but points to fundamental sectors like recycling and waste-to-wealth green jobs. For instance, in Lagos State, where about 10,000 tonnes of waste are gathered every day, the state’s Waste Management Agency has evolved to a global player which inspired innovative employment-creation projects like the popular Wecyclers Company, owned by a Nigerian young woman who abandoned her American dream job to make a difference in her dear country Nigeria.

We have so much waste in all our resource rich regions enough to keep hundreds of thousands of our youths busy all year round. The rice husks rotting away in our rice farming states; and the cow entrails degrading our environment in every corner of the Federation are examples of sanitation related jobs that can create sustainable enterprise for our youths. And what about the Great Green Wall project which survival depends on water related enterprise?

This is why the YouthWASH events are apt for this season. With the theme “Exploring youth entrepreneurship development and job creation opportunities in the water and sanitation sector” they are planned to bring together successful and aspiring young entrepreneurs, government, private sector, opinion leaders, NYSC members, technologists, policymakers and youth leaders.

In the same vein, their objectives speak to the moment: To provide a forum for emerging youth entrepreneurs to share experiences in water and sanitation enterprise; To give relevant government agencies and stakeholders opportunity to share best practices on water and sanitation job creation policies and map out youth-led activities that will aid all-inclusive participation in WASH ventures; To empower participants to act as advocates and campaigners for the realisation of “Right to WASH” in primary health care centres and school environments; To raise a platform for proper domestication of AMCOW Policy and Strategy for Youth Mainstreaming in Water and Sanitation for national development; To discuss and create awareness on youth entrepreneurial opportunities in the WASH sector and provide advisory services for start-ups; and To strengthen synergy among young people in WASH sector and raise awareness to WASH related Sustainable Development Goals through the Music4WASH Concert.

Today, we live in a world of contrasts. In an era when we are worried about how our children are taken hostage by modern communications technologies that add little value to their lives; we still see youths come up with innovations to uplift the human condition, like that of the American youth that designed a multimedia app that aids Kenyan rural dwellers to have access to water. I believe Nigerian youths have potentials to do even more when they adequately imbibe the philosophy of WASH.

Therefore, now is the time to raise a new banner of patriotic action with a global face. Let this year’s World Water Day become an epoch in the mainstreaming of Nigerian youths in job creation through our God given water resources.

By Dotun Roy

DotunRoy.com is a development driven news website with the overall goal of amplifying, promoting and advocating for positive societal change through Sustainable Development advocacy in line with UN SDGs components such as education, environmental sustainability and Climate Change, Human Rights, health, finance, housing, good governance as well as security in Nigeria and across the world.

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