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Profile: Joachim Ezeji – Social Entrepreneur and Water Resources Economist Bares His Mind

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Note: In this profile of Joachim Ezeji, he shared with Global Sentinel, his expert views on water resources management, the controversial Water Resources Bill and other sundry issues.


Dr. Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji is an award-winning social entrepreneur and water resources economist. He is the convener of the think tank – Development Objective, Evaluation and Policy Roundtable (DOEPT) and the facilitator/administrator of the Naija WASH professionals’ group. While the former aims to bolster policy outcomes built on statistical systems that are anchored on core economic and social data quality, frequency, and timeliness, the latter is a professional networking group that is working to engage sector experts and key stakeholders towards achieving universal and equitable access to adequate and equitable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) , as well as building appropriate momentum for meeting Internationally agreed targets, especially those linked to the elimination of poverty, inequity and infant mortality. He had earlier founded Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP); an NGO and social enterprise that assists millions of households to access safely managed drinking water in parts of Nigeria. He is currently a UNDP Vetted Expert on International Fresh Water Resources Management.

Education and background

I earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Water Security and Enterprise Resilience from Loughborough University, United Kingdom in 2013. The PhD degree was a follow up to the Master of Science (MSc) degree in Water and Environmental Management from the same University. I had earlier obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Geology from the University of Calabar, Nigeria. I was also at various times a Leventis Foundation Scholar and a fellow of the Watson International Institute at Brown University, USA as well as a guest of many United State of America Universities, such as Santa Clara, Stanford, New York State @ Buffalo and the University of Pittsburg amongst others.

I first started working on water issues in 1998 while undergoing the compulsory one year National Youth

Service Corp (NYSC) scheme where I first worked as a Pupil Hydrogeologist for WW Onunwor

Engineering Company Ltd, a contractor that worked for Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. While there, I supported the development of various community water schemes funded by Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Niger Delta.  

After, the NYSC scheme, I worked extensively as a social entrepreneur for the NGO –Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) which I founded. I led the NGO to win the first prize at the 40th anniversary of the African Development Bank in 2004 for the best innovative water project in Africa, and also at the World Bank Development Market place in 2006 which enabled us to promote the adoption of Household Water Treatment Systems for well over 250,000 rural households in 7 Niger Delta states (Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ondo, Rivers and Bayelsa) of Nigeria. During this period, I also worked as an urban sanitation entrepreneur with roles in sanitation shortlisting, upgrading and feacal sludge management in Port Harcourt. I later worked for the UNHABITAT Water for African Cities (WAC2) project in Jos, Plateau state as a national facilitator.

In summary, my background principally revolves around community mobilization, stakeholder engagement, and water resources programming especially action research, institutional capacity building and/or water utility resilience. I am skilled with managing diverse teams of professionals, skilled in rapidly assembling and managing teams, developing core team strengths, and leading teams to effectively execute identified tasks in addition to experience working with development agencies and organizations, government officials, civil society leaders, community leaders, project beneficiaries and project staff.

I am happily married to Ogechi – an attorney and writer- and the marriage is blessed with five lovely kids: Ike, Nnam, Obum, Chuks and Aku.              

Passion behind my work

I am a pro-poor water expert who views water resources management through a “jobs” lens i.e. income generation for people. My enormous pro-poor orientation inspires my activities. This inspiration is further bolstered by my professional interests in using market forces to facilitate the movement of water resources and to mitigate the risk of water shortages.

Over the years, experience has taught me to always seek to get the growth fundamentals right as well as increasing growth where the poor work and live (so that they can contribute and benefit directly), while addressing the many risks to which households are exposed. With the scope for redistribution to solve Africa’s poverty limited in most countries, the focus is squarely on the productivity and livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable— that is, what it will take to increase their earnings.

For example, I have a career history of promoting Multiple Use water Services (MUS). These are lowcost, equitable water supply systems that provide communities with water for both domestic needs and high-value agricultural production, including rearing livestock. MUS offer small holder farmers the opportunity to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture and to increase the productive use of available water resources. I have piloted the MUS in rural Nigeria, using MUS to help reduce poverty in parts of Nigeria (Abia, Imo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Ondo, Rivers and Edo states). I relied on my platform – Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP), a social enterprise I founded in 2002. A water poverty mapping technique helped identify the best areas to target. Households engaging in MUS were able to earn additional income of about US$100 – 200 per year through sale of surplus produce.

Recently, I have been at the center of articulating innovative and practical approaches to sustainably increase water availability and management, especially towards increasing agricultural productivity in secure and accessible areas in parts of Nigeria, especially Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. Hitherto, the portfolio, we have increased the productivity of a minimum of 4,000 smallholder farmers and 50,000 herders in the northeast region, particularly, increasing access to water for farming and livestock consumption, mitigating conflicts amongst farmer and livestock herders, and strengthening the capabilities of local institutions to sustainably manage the water sources. The increased access to water is mitigating conflict between host communities, IDPs, smallholder farmers, and livestock herders, and reducing drivers of violent extremism which threaten community recovery and stability.

Through these efforts, we have successfully scaled-up water-SMART farming methods and the application of appropriate technologies to increase the production of herders and farmers. We also deployed proven methodologies such as the Private Sector Partnership model and Skills for Marketing and Rural Transformation (SMART Skills) to achieve quick and sustainable results.  

Childhood memories

I grew with the consciousness of trekking to fetch water for both washing clothes, cooking, and drinking. These were memories of growing up in Okigwe, then a small town where access to water requires trekking distances of about 2kilometers to fetch water for productive uses. Luckily, there were abundance of springs and even an omnibus local stream. As at then, we had degraded spring boxes that were put in place much earlier by the regional governments to protect those springs and enhance flows. Then household toilets were shared facilities that were used by more than one household. Those toilets were principally the bucket latrines, which have now been phased out. Other than that, my childhood was fun and rich. The small town was a “big society’’, in the sense that there was security and good neighborliness.

I also had fun memories living in a boarding house at a very early stage of my life while at the Santana Primary School in Awo – Omamma, Imo state. Issues of adequate provision of water and sanitation were a big challenge while at the school. However, we had the privilege of meeting and hobnobbing with fellow infants and toddlers of diverse backgrounds at such an early stage.

Dr. Joachim Ezeji

A typical day for me

A typical day for me begins with a family prayer. I wake up everyone in my house for early morning prayers. My typical day cascades from there.

My most cherished gift

My most cherished gift is my family. My lovely wife and kids are the best of my gifts. My other gifts are my parents, who recently celebrated the golden jubilee of their marriage. Others are my enterprising siblings. 

Best travel destination

My best travel destination was the opportunity of travelling business class to Tunis via Amsterdam to receive my first prize award from the African Development Bank at the 40th anniversary of its founding. I enjoyed the pleasure of being hosted by this great institution, Africa’s foremost development bank. Also, I had the opportunity of visiting and seeing Tunis and staying in one of its best hotels. I really enjoyed the breeze of the Meditarean sea.

Last good book I read

The Monk who sold the Ferrari by Robin Sharma. The book is very inspiring and thought provoking. 

Best way to relax

Reading newspapers or listening to country or jazz music. I also enjoy local highlife music especially those of Owerri genre. Alternatively, I enjoy the company of kind friends.

My definition of style

My dressing style is generally Nigerian, traditional dressings mostly.

Advise to FGN on the controversial Water Resources bill

Water resources stakeholders are aware of the story of the water resources bill. In 2017, a comprehensive national water resources bill was proposed to centralize water resources management through the creation of a national council and establish a regulatory framework for water resources, however, this bill was not approved. The difficulties in approving this bill may linger based on the festering clamour for resource control by ethnic nations in Nigeria. It is incumbent on the federal government of Nigeria, in sync with the ethos of good governance to respond to the clamour, instead of trying to push through another bill that is generally perceived as resource annexation.

You may note that the National Water Policy, which was originally drafted in 2004 and ultimately approved in 2016, is the umbrella policy guiding water resources management. The policy designates that all water is a national asset and that planning, and development of water shall take place through an integrated water resources management framework using eight hydrological areas as the basic units. Nigeria’s federal system divides water governance responsibilities between federal, state, and local institutions. Water resources management is generally administered through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and River Basin Development Authorities, whereas service delivery provisions and domestic water supplies are managed through State Water Agencies and local government authorities. However, an unfortunate one for that matter, governance of water resources has been undermined by lack of coordination between institutions, inadequate funding, inefficiency, and lack of capacity. I do not think that the water resources bill adequately addresses these weaknesses hence the need for more dialogue and discussion with a broad group of stakeholders.

The goal of the water resources bill should be a Nigeria free of poverty. It should focus on the income opportunities of the poor, the strategies needed to support these opportunities using water resources, and the resources needed to finance pro-poor investments. Without this, Nigeria will not reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating poverty by 2030.

A pro-poor agenda means generating more formal jobs while working to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and informal workers in secondary towns and strengthening their capacity to manage risks. This approach is how the poor will likely benefit the most from water resources. I do not see these aspects from the bill.

Most of Nigeria’s poor live in rural areas, earning their living primarily in farming. Nonwage microenterprises are the main source of nonagricultural employment and income for the poor and near poor. Strikingly, rural poverty is higher in areas with limited access to water for productive agriculture.

Agriculture has historically proven to be particularly poverty reducing, especially at low income levels, and this needs to be bolstered by the water resources bill. Strategies on better water management should be captured. Small scale, simple, affordable, self-managed irrigation systems that are rolled out at scale hold hope if access to complementary inputs and markets are developed simultaneously. Yet, too often, singularly focused interventions are pursued, or interventions are poorly coordinated. I do not see any synergy with the ministry of agriculture. The nexus between water and food security should be buttressed in the bill.

Perhaps we need to recall that water is a limiting factor for agriculture in many places. Over pumping of groundwater by the world’s farmers exceed natural replenishment rates by at least 160 billion cubic meters a year. It takes one to three cubic meters to yield just one kilo of rice, and 1000 tons of water to produce just one ton of grain (UNESCO 2003). Also, producing a single ton of coal requires 5-6 cubic meters of water, while it is estimated that nearly 10 cubic meters are required for a ton of oil. For example, dams have been used for domestic uses and to support economic growth by diverting water for power, navigation, flood control and irrigation. There is work for many dams in Nigeria beyond power supply. 

In 1936, the first mega dam, the Hoover dam was built on the Colorado River in Black Canyon, near what was then the little town of Las Vegas, standing 221m high, three times the size of the stature of Liberty. It was the largest dam in the world. It fueled the growth of major cities in the west of the USA and helping to turn the arid west into a lush and lucrative garden. By 1989, the Hoover Dam was only 15th in the list of the world’s largest dams.

The waters of the Colorado River Basin currently support more than 40million people, 4 million acres of irrigated agriculture, and an estimated 27 percent of US national GDP. Can this be said of dams in Nigeria, other than on-going Private Sector Partnership (PPP) arrangements?

Today, most of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Of large rivers in the US, only one – the Yellowstone – flows freely along its 1000km length. Worldwide, some 40,000 large dams (over 15 m high, according to the International Commission on large dams) and about 800,000 smaller ones have been constructed.

Dams harnessed the world’s major rivers, including the Danube, the Nile, the Zambezi, the Yangtze, and the Ganges. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and some other post-colonial leaders saw them as the new “Temples of Development”. I thank that every state in Nigeria deserves an avalanche of dams especially the simple ones like earthen and sand dams. This is important for agricultural prosperity and food security. The north is said to feed the country because all the productive dams are located in the north. There is dam deficit in the south. The water resources bill should correct this inequity.

What exactly is the problem, water management or scarcity?

Yes, for Nigeria, I can state clearly that that the problem of water is not one of economics but politics, and, also, not one of physical shortage but governance.  This is partly correct, though some other experts may not agree entirely. The generic problem of water in Nigeria is one of matching demand with supply, of ensuring that there is water of a suitable quality at the right location and the right time,  and  at a  cost  that  people  can  afford and are willing to pay. The difficulty in accomplishing this is partly institutional and certainly includes problems of governance. However, some of the problems of governance themselves have an economic explanation. 

The omnipresence of fixed costs in surface water supply creates a classic economic problem of cost allocation which has no satisfactory technical solution. The extraordinary capital intensity and longevity of surface water supply infrastructure, and the predominance of economies of scale, create a need for collective action in the provision and financing of water supply that simply does not arise with most other commodities. It has been recognized since Olson (1965) that the provision of goods through collective action may be flawed because of a failure of incentives. 

Countries regarded as being rich in water resources have 8000 to 10000m3water per capita per year. The available water per capita in Turkey is about one-fifth that of water rich countries. Nigeria is water stressed according to the Falkenmark Water Stress Index as the country’s total annual renewable water resources per person of approximately 1,499 m3. According to SDG 6.4.2, Nigeria has low water stress as the total volume of freshwater withdrawn by major economic sectors amounts to 10 percent of its total resource endowment, which is less than the 25 percent water stress benchmark but is higher than the average of 5.7 percent across sub-Saharan Africa. With a growing population and developing economy, water abstraction will likely increase to meet the country’s economic development goals. The drought in Texas has caused more than $25billion in economic damage. Water shortages have also strained interstate relationships: In recent years Montana has sued Wyoming, Kansas has sued Nebraska, and Texas has sued New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Dr. Ezeji

Other observations needing attention

As a risk management expert, I can state without equivocation that both risk and conflict have long permeated Nigerian livelihoods. This substantially complicates Nigeria’s poverty-reduction efforts. Shocks are frequent, conflicts often cast a long shadow, coping capacity is mostly inadequate (especially for the poor and near-poor), and uninsured risks hold and push people back into poverty.

Climatic change is making weather patterns even more erratic and extreme, and the upsurge in terrorrelated conflict adds further uncertainty. Two to three of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones exist in fragility, a share projected to increase to 50–80 percent by 2030 if not mitigated. This trend should put fragile and conflict-affected states at the center of Nigeria’s fight against poverty.

Climate change and conflict may further interact to increase each other’s occurrence and detrimental effects. Therefore, better risk and conflict management to address fragility is an important policy entry point for accelerating poverty reduction in Nigeria. Many of the solutions exist, with a role for both the private and public sectors, but the most important hurdle remains incentivizing public and private actors to act now, before the shocks and conflict occur.

Risks are pervasive everywhere but take on different forms. But not all states are struggling with fiscal deficits, as pro-poor spending and spending efficiency can be improved in most of them, and especially in the resource-rich states.

Any political ambition

Yes, there is. I returned to Nigeria immediately after completing my PhD in the UK seven years ago to play active role in its political evolution. I am still weighing my options. However, I first desire to see an electoral reform that is responsive to good governance and economic growth. We do not have that yet. And till we have that I am better off outside partisan politics.

Thank you

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