Addressing Open Defecation in Nigeria

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Nigeria ranks second among countries practicing open defecation globally, leading to social, economic and health implications. But the federal government, UNICEF, UKAID, and other stakeholders hope to change the narrative, Yinka Kolawole writes

Reports by the 2018 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) National Outcome Routine Mapping have shown that Nigeria is the alternate headquarters for open defecation, just after India, with over 47 million persons still engaging in the act across the country,
More worrisome is that these tones of human faeces by Nigerians sadly find their way into canals, rivers, gutters, and places where human daily activities occur, hence putting the people at risk of various communicable diseases, leading to some of the health challenges currently being experienced in the country.

Studies have shown that careless handling of faeces is dangerous to health, and that one gram of new faeces from an infected person can contain around 106 viral pathogens, 106 to 108 bacteria pathogens, 104 protozoan cysts and oocytes, and 20-104 helminth eggs.

On specifics, at least 100,000 children of under five years are lost in the country due to diarrhea, with 90 per cent of cases directly linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Dialogue
It is in addressing this that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), along with the Child Rights Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, European Union and other development partners are holding media dialogues in various regions across the country, including Kano, and Oyo State, to change the narrative through sensitisation.

Speaking during a two-day media dialogue on ‘Clean Up Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ campaign to end open defecation held in Ibadan recently, the UNICEF Water and Sanitation Specialist, Mr. Bioye Ogunjobi said Nigeria needs not less than two million toilets annually between 2019 and 2025 to achieve the target of universal poor sanitation, adding that Nigeria’s current delivery of improved toilet was approximately 160,000 per year.

Stating that hygiene and water were responsible for the frequent episodes of diarrhea and other water-related diseases, Ogunjobi said over 100,000 children under age five die yearly due to diarrhea of which 90 per cent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation.

He said: “The practice of open defecation has an economic, social and health impact on national development as Nigeria loses about N1.3 per cent (N455 billion) of her GDP annually to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is as a result of open defecation.”

According to the WASH NORM report, one in four Nigerians defecates in the open, while one in two persons in the North-central defecates in the open. Out of the 47 million practising open defection, 16 million are from the North-central.

Ogunjobi said Nigeria would reap huge benefits if government stops the practice of open defecation. “Based on empirical study, every naira invested in the water and sanitation sector results in economic benefit ranging from N1,080 to N12,240 ($3 to $34). The gains come through savings in healthcare costs, increased productivity, and entrepreneurial opportunities for the sanitation market”, Ogunjobi remarked.

Geo-political Statistics
He highlighted the percentage of population practicing open defecation across the six geo-political zones in the country. He said: “North-central 53.9 per cent, South-east 22.4 per cent, North-east 21.8 per cent, South-south 17.9 per cent, Southwest 28.0 per cent and North-west 10.3 per cent.

National Road Map
On her part, the acting Coordinator, Use the Toilet Campaign, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Mrs. Chizoma Opara said Nigeria is ranked second globally among 10 countries with the highest number of open defecations since 2015, adding that to get the country out of the situation, it has established a national road map to end open defecation by 2025.

“Already, Nigeria is studying the strategy being implemented by India to get over 550 million of her population out of open defecation. Unfortunately, only 13 local governments out of the 774 local governments have been free from open defecation in the country. We have concluded arrangements with our partners to scale up the programme.”

On the fees being charged on public toilets, she said for public toilets to be functional, it was important stipends were attached to sustain it as well as pay those maintaining and running the place.
“We are looking at a Public-Private Partnership arrangement to provide toilets across the communities. We have started discussing with some private organisations on how they can take up WASH as social cooperate responsibility. We are also building a business around toilets,” she stated.
She said technical committees have been constituted for Clean Nigeria Campaign, adding that the government should make legislation to stop the ugly trend.

She said efforts should be made to get the erring 47 million Nigerians to stop the act and use toilets, adding that the federal government should increase access to improved sanitation, especially in rural communities nationwide.

State of Emergency
Head, Child Rights Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mr. Olumide Osanyinpeju pleaded with Nigerians to cultivate the habit of using toilets and desist from practicing open defecation because of its attendant risk and consequence on human health, especially on children.

Osanyinpeju said the federal government would not relent in the campaign to end open defecation in the country.
He said: “To address this situation, President Muhamadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the WASH sector in November 2018 and reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment to eliminating open defecation in the country.
“The president launched a national campaign to jump-start the country’s journey towards becoming Open Defecation Free (ODF) nation by 2025,” he said.

Role of Media
Communication Specialist with UNICEF, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku called on the media to step up reportage of issues around sanitation and to sensitize the people on the need to shun open defecation and imbibe use of toilets.
Njoku enjoined the media to create awareness on the benefits of cleanliness and the dangers of open defecation to health and wellbeing.

Policy in Osun
One of the heath workers with Osun State Mr. Sunday Oyewale, said open defecation was very common in his state, describing it as a bad habit that must be discouraged.

He stressed that the state has developed a policy to make open defecation a crime and prescribed punishment for whoever engages in the practice.
According to him “It is not a good habit. It is common among the people. Osun State government in collaboration with UNICEF built toilets in many parts of the state to discourage the practice of open defecation.

He said: “It poses danger to our heath, especially the children. Open defecation could cause helminths or parasitic worms and the effects would be chronic blood loss, heavy parasitic worms which can lead to malabsorption of nutrient. This could make children to fall sick and lead to school absenteeism.”