Nigeria: putting rainwater to maximum use (English)

Nigeria: putting rainwater to maximum use (English)

TitleNigeria: putting rainwater to maximum use (English)
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of PublicationSubmitted

In this contribution, Joachim Ezeji examines the case of Jos, Nigeria, offering insights on how rainwater may be harvested to supplement domestic water supplies.

Full Text


Nango Yusufu, 41, was desperate like many Jos residents practicing urban agriculture: he could not earn enough from his farm to meet even basic family needs. Nango became one of the urban farmers maximizing bio-retention areas or rain gardening in rock-free neighbourhoods since the bulk of Jos land mass is covered by extrusive crystalline rocks. His best time for maximum cropping is often the rainy season. It is only during this period that he could grow limited cultivable land. But whatever he harvested was soon eaten. Another period of scarcity would follow until the next rains.

In 2004, the Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) initiated a project to promote intensive Bio-retention gardening. The project also involved the turning of rock pavement into an area of native plants and vegetation to help lessen urban storm water runoff, as well as using these rock pavements as catchments for the rainwater runoff. The project taught farmers new gardening techniques and helped them harvest and store rainwater in small on-farm ditches. Through the training he received, Nango learned to keep his soil fertile by feeding it with organic matter, including manure from his cattle and household waste. By collecting, retaining and using rainwater, he realized that he could also grow vegetables for sale during the dry season when prices were high.

With help from RAWDP, Nango built two small-farm reservoir that he used to collect the hitherto wasted water runoff (from the rocks) during the rainy season. Today, using water from the reservoir for irrigation, he grows maize, cassava, groundnut, cabbages, carrots, onions and tomatoes. Both the animals and crops are benefiting from the available water. Other farmers have emulated Nango and are replicating his initiatives. It is also common scenes in Jos to see animals drinking from these ponds and people using the water from such ponds to do laundry, wash cars, concrete for construction and other useful activities. This development has reduced the stress on municipal water infrastructure in Jos. There is current moves by environmental groups in the City to propose a bill to the Plateau State House of Assembly on ways of making water from this alternate sources compulsory in construction and other activities.


Jos is the capital of Plateau State, Nigeria. Jos is a City on a Plateau in the centre of Northern Nigerian and is a great hydrological centre or water shed with radial pattern of drainage in which rivers like Hadeija, Kaduna, Sokoto etc take their sources. The highest point of Jos Plateau is Shere Hills (1650m). Jos Plateau is massively made up of volcanic rocks. The annual rainfall in Jos varies from 131.75cm – 146cm. Highest rainfall is usually recorded in July.

Jos has a population of 1.2million people (1991 Census) who inhabit its total land area of 1322 square kilometers. Its near temperate climate makes it an ideal location for holidays. It presently boasts of a coterie of westerners and many Nigerians from other remote parts of Nigeria. It is a cosmopolitan urban area. The Plateau State Water Board (PSWB) has the mandate to supply water to the urban and semi-urban areas of the State, especially Jos. PSWB presently have a total of 4 schemes in the City, having a combined design capacity of 101mld and serving approximately 728,000 people. The schemes have a total of 15,700 connections and an estimated pipe length of 1,308km.

Usually, water supply from PSWB is irregular. Most residents are under-served hence source their water from water vendors (who often source their water from available boreholes and local streams), rainwater harvests and remote streams. Due to the cost of water and the difficulty of getting it, Jos is still far from the UN-Habitat quantity availability prescription of at least 20 litres per person per day. In Jos, water supply takes an undue proportion of an average household’s income i.e. more than 10% and with excessive effort and time. Many residents spend more than one hour a day for the prescribed 20litres per person per day. As at today, more than 54% of Jos population is lacking access to clean drinking water and a greater than this number lack access to improved sanitation and hygiene.

Growing urbanization and inequality in economic distribution in Jos has continued to constrain people’s access to a decent and healthy living. Most consumers cannot afford an economic rate for water supply because they lack adequate income to afford it. An immediate fall-out of the severe water situation in Jos is the harvesting of rainwater mostly through the use of structural measures eg. terrace, bunds, banks etc, channeling and storing same in concrete or rock ‘coated’ dams, ponds and pans etc. These ponds are today of great benefit to a greater number of the population who resort to it for their daily water needs especially the washing of motor cars, motorcycles, engineering construction, farm irrigation, laundry and animal husbandry etc.

Methods and results

The use of structural measures as a water conservation technology in Jos primarily include any of the following;

  • Diversion ditch/cut off drain: a graded channel with a supportive ridge or bank on the lower side. It is constructed across a slope and designed to intercept surface runoff and convey it safely to an outlet or waterway.
  • Retention/infiltration ditches: large ditches designed to catch and retain all incoming runoff and hold it until it infiltrates into the ground etc.

The methodologies being used in this study are basically those of the World Overview of Conservation Approach and Technologies (WOCAT). WOCAT, a Bern, Switzerland applied research organization has the vision of local soil and water conservation (SWC) knowledge and experience shared and used globally. Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) in the context of WOCAT is defined as: activities at the local level which maintain or enhance the productive capacity of the land in areas affected by or prone to degradation. SWC includes prevention or reduction of soil erosion, compaction and salinity; conservation or drainage of soil water, maintenance or improvement of soil fertility, etc. land in this context means a combination of water, soil and organic content or matter.

The WOCAT methodology was originally designed to focus mainly on soil erosion and fertility decline in erosion-prone areas. However, during development and application of the methodology, users asked to include other land degradation types such as salinization, compaction etc. A SWC Technology consists of one or more measures belonging to the following categories. Agronomic, vegetative, structural and management etc. Combinations of the above measures which are complimentary and thus enhance each other, are part of a SWC technology. Our approach here, defines the ways and means used to promote and implement a SWC Technology and to support it in achieving more sustainable soil and water use.

Our research method in cognizance of the above includes a combination of some of the following;

  • formal surveys
  • observations
  • review of available information and previous projects
  • semi-structured and ‘conversational’ interviews with key informants
  • workshops
  • group interviews with rain harvesters/soil and water conservation practitioners.

In exhausting these tools, the participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) is used as the primary investigation method. This method is being used in combination, triangulated and being cross checked against one another for maximum and reliable effects. The expected outputs/outcomes of over study on Water Retention Ditches are;

  • Workshops and seminars to raise the importance of water retention ditches in agriculture, domestic water supply and sanitation etc.
  • The development of pro-poor and gender sensitive governance framework, including policy options, norms, standards and management tool kits.
  • Capacity building activities and demonstration of best practices on these technologies/approaches.
  • Documented reports on the usefulness and productive use of water through these technologies/approaches.

Lessons Learnt

  • Our study have shown that in most cases, that the construction and use of these structural measures to catch and store water ensures the availability of water all year round.
  • The technology primarily involves integrated use of natural resources, mostly a local technology/approach and requires mostly indigenous and local technology.
  • It was also observed that when these structures are constructed that a multiple benefits is often achieved. Some of these benefits include the control of soil erosion, flooding and drought. It creates employment as well as providing enough water for toilet and laundry (thus improving household hygiene and sanitation), farm irrigation, animal husbandry and self sufficiency on the land owner/user.


  • To really sustain and improve on the gains being made from these technologies and approaches there is an urgent need to educate and build the capacity of local users.
  • There is every need to promote best practices in this regard. This is necessary in order to guide against excessive water wastages pollution and land degradation.
  • There is need to develop usage into a business model, such that the economic benefits can easily be quantified. This is very vital in up-scaling, replication and sustainability.
  • A move towards immediate concise documentation of water supplied through rainwater catchments, transportation and storage is urgent. This is necessary in order to have data update that could easily serve as a reference and guide for policy and practice.

Since this type of structural infrastructure is assisting greatly, especially in providing alternative to supplies from the PSWB, there is every need to mainstream it into government framework and accord it maximum recognition. This is vital in order to improve and standardize it.