Water security is one of the most pressing risks facing the world. In urban areas, rapidly growing population coupled with rising incomes, falling costs, and often an absent or unreliable public water supply, mean that increasing numbers of households are choosing to install private boreholes to meet their domestic water needs. This trend is particularly prevalent in emerging global mega-cities such as Lagos, Nigeria. Through a series of internet, household, and water point surveys, this multidisciplinary study begins to address the question: does the proliferation of private boreholes strengthen or weaken the resilience of Lagos and its residents to future environmental shocks?
A broad internet survey shows that 68% of 500 respondents make use of private boreholes on a daily basis, either as their primary water source or used conjunctively with other sources. Attitudes to groundwater are overwhelmingly positive, with a majority considering this a reliable source in terms of quality and quantity, and agreeing that access to a private borehole increases households’ water security, helping families to cope with possible water shortages in future. The majority of borehole owners perceive no risks associated with long-term groundwater availability, with 89% agreeing that water is abundant and 86% holding the view that borehole owners should be able to abstract as much water as they like.
The results of a focused water-point and household survey, carried out at 40 private groundwater sources across Lagos, agree with these findings. Of those surveyed, the majority derive their domestic water from privately owned hand-dug wells and boreholes, and sachet water. Water point users have positive perceptions of the water quality from these sources, with 90% of boreholes and 80% of hand-dug wells thought to provide good quality water. However, water quality analyses show that individual’s perceptions do not always reflect reality. One third of boreholes and over 80% of shallow wells surveyed display unsafe levels of E. Coli. Of those sources perceived as good quality, almost 40% are classed as unsafe for drinking, according to measured levels of E. Coli.
The collective enthusiasm for unlimited and expanding groundwater extraction in the city of Lagos coupled with a demonstrated lack of groundwater governance and regulation, while increasing individuals’ resilience to issues of water shortage in the present, may decrease the resilience of the wider community in the long-term. Understanding the role of agency and communicating the potential risks associated with uncontrolled groundwater development, across a range of actors and agencies, may be critical to avoid future conflict between individual and societal resilience to environmental shocks.