As the country has run almost totally dry on petrol, the worse fear is that it is also drifting towards running dry on ‘pure water’, the peoples water. The cost of ‘pure water has seen a sharp increase in the past few weeks, sparking off protests by the street vendors in Abuja. Ugboja Felix Ojonugwa writes that the producers blame the dollar.

Hardly can any average Nigerian go a day without drinking what is commonly referred to as ‘pure water’. The commercially available water, packaged in a handy transparent waterproof sachet is the most the masses can afford as commercial potable water. And it is easily available. In shops and mini stores, on the streets and highways, in public places and functions, ‘pure water’ is the premium choice to quench thirst.

The past few days, however, have seen a rising protest by the ‘pure water’ sellers on the streets of many cities and towns accross the country.

The retail of ‘pure water’ may have been overlooked by many, but these protests have proven that it is a very important business; and that it is one of the major sources of drinking water for the majority of Nigerians.

No one would imagine such a protest from people who sell a single sachet for as low as N10, even when questions about how safe and pure the so called ‘pure water’ is, is a continuous contention.

According to Audu Ibrahim, who hawks ‘pure water’ on the highways, he and his colleagues are protesting because of the sharp increase in the price of the product.

“Before now, we used to purchase a bag of pure water at N80, but it has all of a sudden risen to N150, and now N200. We can no longer purchase enough bags, and our customers are complaining because we can no longer sell to them at N10 too,” he said.

In many cities and towns, the price of pure water has jumped from N10 to N20, and as high as N30 in some places.

“It has become very difficult for us to remain in this business. Apart from the increase in the price, it has also become more expensive to purchase the iced water cubes and blocks because of the shortage of power supply in many places,” said Izunna Francis, another pure water seller who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday.

Reliable sources have also confirmed to LEADERSHIP Sunday that in some states like Edo and Abia, ‘pure water’ sellers are compelled to pay a compulsory hawking tax of about N100 everyday. This kind of scenario can only compound the worrisome situation.

Ever since the price of hard currencies become out of reach, there has been a major hike in the prices of commodities in the market, including that of ‘pure water’. No thanks to Nigeria’s inability to rely less on the importation of virtually everything.

One would ordinarily wonder why something as common as sachet water would be affected by the issues surrounding Nigeria’s foreign exchange rate. But for the sachet water producers, it is no surprise at all.

Momodu Catherine, owner of a ‘pure water’ factory in Abuja, explained to LEADERSHIP Sunday how it is likely for the price of sachet water to continue on the rise if nothing is done about the current forex issue Nigeria is facing.

“Like many other factories, we import almost everything we have here. Our entire production process is done with imported materials and machines. I am sure many people do not know that the sachet which contains the water is imported. And that its price has gone up because of the high foreign exchange rate,” she said.

According to Momodu, the sachet comes as a plain roll and in a very large form. The printers buy this plain roll and print the pure water company name on it.

It was gathered that a majority of the companies that produce low density polyethylene (LDPE) at Eleme Petrochemical industry in Rivers state and Lagos State have shut down due to high running cost and those that are importing the product are in shortage of forex.

The sizes of LDPE vary, and are measured in kilograms. “1kg used to be N500, but it is now as expensive as N1500,” Momodu said. “We also now buy the packaging bags at N5000 a roll, instead of the initial N3500.”

The chemicals and inks that are used to print on those sachets are also imported, and now more expensive.

There is also a huge cost of labour in these factories, as well as other costs like running and maintaining the machines and power generators; also themaintenance of service vehicles, staff and rent.

According to Momodu, the increment in the price of ‘pure water’ was inevitable. “As for our retailers, who have been protesting, I understand their case. Business is certainly hard for them now. But they have probably thought that the price increment was because factory owners want to rake-in quick profit; but it is not so. Even many factories are already shutting down. And the pure water scarcity might still continue in many states,” she said.

With all these issues surrounding the popular ‘pure water’, it is very likely that ‘pure water’ may no longer come as cheap and handy as it used to be.