Nigeria has significant total water resources estimated at 215 billion m³ of surface water and 87 billion m³ of groundwater resources, albeit with large-scale spatial inequalities in different regions of the country. The coastal and marine environment of Nigeria extends for about 853 km along the coastline and inland for about 15 km in Lagos [1]. Most of the country's rivers have their sources in four main hydrological basins: the North Central Plateau, the Western Highlands, the Eastern Highlands and the Uri Plateau. Nigeria's major rivers are the Niger and the Benue, which converge and flow into the Niger Delta, one of the world’s largest river deltas.

Despite the country's vast water resources, Nigeria faces significant challenges in ensuring proper and sustainable management of its water. Nigeria is considered as an economic water-scarce country, implying that there is a need for increased investment and strengthened management to meet water demand [2]. It is estimated (in 2021) that the total annual water demand in Nigeria is about 5.93 billion m³, which is expected to increase to 16.58 billion m³/year in 2030 [1].

A considerable proportion of the Nigerian population is exposed to water stress [3], with only 14% (in 2019) of the population having access to safely managed water services [4]. Although about 70% of Nigerians are reported to have access to basic water services, more than half of these water sources are contaminated [5] and access is uneven. In urban areas, 87.3% of households have access to improved water sources, while in rural areas, only 59.7% have access (in 2018) [6]. According to UNICEF, nearly one third of Nigerian children did not have enough water to meet their daily needs in 2021, meaning 26.5 million Nigerian children were facing high or extremely high water vulnerability [5].

Nigeria ranks among the world’s worst performers in the proportion of its population that can access safe water supply, sanitation services and hygiene [6]. According to the 2021 Water, Sanitation & Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASHNORM) report, up to 179 million Nigerians do not have access to safely managed drinking water services, 48 million people still defecate in the open, only 8% of the population practice safe handwashing, and only 10% of the population have access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services combined [7], [8]. Poor access to improved water and sanitation in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to the high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five [9].


Agriculture, municipal/domestic, and industry are the principal sources of demand for freshwater in Nigeria. Of which more than half of all freshwater abstractions are from groundwater, mostly for irrigation and domestic use. Approximately 41% of freshwater abstractions are from surface water. According to Nigeria’s 2013 National Water Resources Master Plan, total surface water demand in the country is projected to more than triple by 2030 [10].

Climate change, overexploitation, water pollution and rapid population growth exacerbate water resources problems in Nigeria. Other key challenges facing the country's water resources management include fragmented and uncoordinated water resources development, inadequate infrastructure to provide the growing urban population with essential water services, insufficient data and lack of cooperation on co-riparian use of international waters, and expansion in agricultural and industrial activities as well as their associated consumption and production [4].

Climate change impacts, such as reduced total rainfall, especially in northern Nigeria, and increased temperature and evaporation are expected to further deplete water availability across the country. Already, the recession of Lake Chad beyond the borders of Nigeria, desertification, and more frequent and intense droughts due to climate change have aggravated water stress [10].

The primary sources of water contamination in Nigeria are domestic, industrial, agricultural and oil spill pollution [11]. Open defecation is still very common in informal rural and urban settlements in Nigeria. This has adverse effects on sanitation and water quality, while predisposing citizens to various forms of waterborne diseases. Apart from open defecation, oil extraction and processing has also caused widespread contamination of surface and ground water in the Niger Delta. Over the past 50 years, hundreds of oil spills have destroyed coastal wetlands and mangroves, degraded agricultural lands and created widespread public health crises [10].


Key policies and governance approach

Nigeria’s federal system divides water management responsibilities between federal, state, and local institutions [10]. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) is the lead coordinating body in the water sector, with the responsibilities of policy advice and formulation, data collection, and monitoring and coordination of water resources development at the national level [10], [12]. FMWR oversees the 12 River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA), as well as the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Management Commission (NIWRMC), and the National Water Resources Institute (NWRI) [10].

Key polices, laws and plans on water resources management in Nigeria include the National Water Resources Policy (2016), Water Resources Master Plan (2013), the Water Resources Act (1993) and the River Basins Development Authority Act (1990), among others. The National Water Policy establishes that all water is a national asset and defines planning and development through an integrated water resources management (IWRM) framework [10].

The Government of Nigeria has several WASH development strategies to guide its progress towards safe and accessible WASH services for all of its citizens [13], including the National Water Resources Management Policy (2016), the National Water and Sanitation Policy (2004), the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) Strategy, and the National Open Defecation Roadmap 2025. The PEWASH is the overall strategic framework under which specific initiatives fall, such as the National Action Plan for WASH (2019), and was designed to build on the National Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme (which ended in 2015) [6], [13]. It is also designed to coordinate and complement planned and ongoing projects and programs by all stakeholders in the rural water supply and sanitation sub-sector, including Federal, State, and Local Government Areas (LGAs), development partners, private sector, and civil society, to help Nigeria ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all [13].

Further, the National Institute for Water Resources and other agencies under the Ministry of Water Resources are focusing on strategies to optimize use and access to the country’s water resources. Several ongoing adaptation and conservation strategies include reducing water loss from dams such as Kainji, Challawa, Tiga and Bakolori; and efforts to control evaporation on parts of Lake Chad [3].


Successes and remaining challenges

In recent years, Nigeria’s water resources and sanitation sector has made considerable progress in improving water service delivery through relevant policy initiatives. For instance, both the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan for the Water Sector and the Economic Sustainability Plan prioritized improved water service provision and aimed for a strengthened water and sanitation sector governance framework. In line with these efforts, successes include the development of a reform programme for State Water Agencies to improve capacity, revenue generation, efficient operations, and management of waters supply facilities; the creation of a new budget line to support urban water projects with up to 30% of government contribution; and the establishment of PEWASH to attain universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in rural areas. The government has also actively engaged with the private sector to end open defecation and improve access to basic sanitation through the Organized Private Sector in WASH (OPS-WASH), which has resulted in the construction of toilets in 46 markets and motor parks across the country with an additional 23 under construction, as of 2021 [2].

Despite these improvements, Nigeria still faces challenges in the water resources and sanitation sector, largely due to the lack of coordination and overlapping responsibilities among the different institutions, inadequate investment in water resources and sanitation infrastructure, limited funding, and weak technical capacity. Capacity issues are compounded by inadequate data and poor data management systems [2], [10].

Additional challenges include ageing water and sanitation infrastructure; inadequate allocation of human resources dedicated to maintenance; increased demand for water services by water-intensive industries and a rapidly growing population [2]; gender inequality [13]; and poor management of transboundary basins, including the Niger and Lake Chad basins, which continue to cause water stress, affect hydropower generation and increase flood risk in Nigeria [10].

Furthermore, most of the water management plans in Nigeria have thus far focused on surface waters. Therefore, there is a need for initiatives to foster the development of aquifer management plans in the country [14].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan for the Water Sector focused on supporting the integrated transformation of the agriculture sector, increasing electricity production, and the promotion of ecosystem integrity to drive economic growth and ensure food security in Nigeria. Aligned with this Plan, the National Irrigation Development Program (2016-2030) was launched to develop a total of 500,000 hectares of irrigation land by 2030. By December 2020, the program had delivered a total of 121,792 hectares of irrigated land [2].    

With the support of the World Bank and other development partners, the Federal Government of Nigeria has developed initiatives designed to fill identified gaps which have limited citizens’ ability to have access to safe and portable water. One such initiative, is the National Urban Water Sector Reform Program (NUWSRP), which has several objectives including sector reform, water utility sustainability and commercial viability, infrastructure improvement, service reliability and performance enhancement, and increased access to quality piped water networks in urban areas nationwide. The World Bank continues to support the Government of Nigeria through the Nigeria Sustainable Urban and Rural Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (SURWASH) Program, which aims to provide 6 million Nigerians with basic drinking water services, support 1.4 million in accessing improved sanitation services, develop improved WASH services in 2,000 schools and Health Care Facilities, and assist 500 communities in achieving Open Defecation Free status [15].


Goals and Ambitions

The National Development Plan 2021-2025 has the following Water Resources and Sanitation 2025 Targets [2]:

  • 90% of Nigerians have access to safe drinking water and water supply services.
  • At least 80% of Nigerians have access to basic sanitation services.

[2], [13], [14], [16]

  • Improve affordable water service delivery by developing a comprehensive regulatory and institutional framework with clear commercial, quality, and environmental requirements across the country.
  • Design a coordinated investment plan to be used as a roadmap to secure required funding for the development, operation, deployment of human resources and maintenance of large structures for water resources and sanitation management.
  • Strengthen effective collaboration to meet current demands for water and sanitation services through PEWASH.
  • Adopt an integrated planning and policy formulation approach across the water resources and sanitation sector to ensure seamless coordination across related sectors.
  • Expand private sector opportunities in Nigeria’s WASH systems development.
  • Foster the development of management plans for aquifers.
  • Set targets for the implementation and development of integrated water resources management (IWRM) at sub-national level, particularly for different organisations responsible for water resources management in different states.
  • The institutions responsible for water resources management are well established with sufficient working tools, but the capacity and number of staff need to be enlarged and trained.
  • Improve budgetary disbursement and internal revenue generation.
  • Heighten national sensitization on IWRM.
  • Develop adequate physical infrastructure and set up viable and accountable water agencies and systems.
  • Facilitate the deployment of innovative solutions through technology adoption, research and development in the water resources and sanitation sector.
  • Use economic instruments/incentives to promote climate change adaptation technologies that improve water resource efficiency and climate resilient water management in the country.
  • Undertake a detailed assessment of the vulnerability of Nigeria's water sector to climate change.
  • Introduce measures to monitor and manage water demands and to buffer the increased unpredictability of water availability due to climate change.
  • Promote nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the water sector.
  • Increase the coverage and quality of wastewater treatment in municipalities to help protect water basins sources.
  • Intensify survey programs on the quality and quantity of ground and surface water.

[1] Department of Climate Change, Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria (2021). 2050 Long-Term Vision for Nigeria (LTV-2050).

[2] Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Federal Republic of Nigeria (2021). NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN (NDP) 2021-2025 Volume I.

[3] Climate Risk Profile: Nigeria (2021): The World Bank Group.

[4] United Nations Nigeria (2022). COMMON COUNTRY ANALYSIS.

[5] UNICEF (2021). Nearly one third of Nigerian children do not have enough water to meet their daily needs – UNICEF. [Online]. Available:

[6] Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2020). NIGERIA: A Second Voluntary National Review.

[7] Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), Government of Nigeria, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF (2022). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASHNORM) 2021: A Report of Findings. FCT Abuja. Nigeria

[8] UNICEF (2022). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping Report 2021. [Online]. Available:

[9] UNICEF (2022). Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. [Online]. Available:

[10] USAID's Sustainable Water Partnership (2021). Nigeria Water Resources Profile Overview.

[11] Pona HT, Xiaoli D, Ayantobo OO, Narh Daniel Tetteh. Environmental health situation in Nigeria: current status and future needs. Heliyon. 2021 Mar 23;7(3):e06330. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e06330. PMID: 33851039; PMCID: PMC8022161.

[12] Adah, Paul & Galadima, Abok. (2017). Challenges of Urban Water Management in Nigeria: The Way Forward. 10.13140/RG.2.2.26370.56007.

[13] USAID (2017). Nigeria: Water for the World Country Plan.

[14] UNEP-DHI, Global Water Partnership (2020). SDG Indicator 6.5.1 IWRM Survey: National reporting on status of IWRM implementation 2020: Nigeria.

[15] The World Bank (2021). Nigeria: Ensuring Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All. [Online]. Available:

[16] Federal Ministry of Environment, The Federal Government of Nigeria (2021). Nigeria’s First Nationally Determined Contribution – 2021 Update.