By Stanley Onyekwere
Abuja, the city that was once a lovely place to live is fast witnessing population explosion with increasing sanitary problems, the most worrisome- open defecation
By the end of 2002 or thereabout, the city, envisaged as befitting capital city for the Giant of Africa, Nigeria, with functioning modern facilities is fast turning to an eye sore due to its filthy environment, over-populated and increase in criminality.
According to reports about “10,000 people (visitors and those who want to settle down in the FCT) come into the Territory daily, thereby stretching the city’s limited facilities, the number of residents of the FCT may rise from five million to 10 million by 2018 according to some research.
As a result, the unprecedented population explosion in the FCT had increased the level of preventable sanitary hazards in the Territory. This occurs among people with poor or inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
A menace that is threatening the existence of the ‘Big’ city, is open defecation which is prevalent among all socio-economic groups in rural Abuja, with the already vulnerable and marginalised children paying the highest price in respect of their survival and development.
Checks have revealed that the absence of toilet-use and woefully poor personal and communal hygiene (including lack of hand-washing with soap, habit has caused severe health problems exacerbating outbreak and spread of various kinds of communicable diseases.
It is a fact that in a typical rural Abuja setting, people lack basic sanitation facilities, and so they defecate in the open every day.
Some other reasons given for its persistence in the nation’s capital, range from the inability to afford toilets, limited land space, tenants in houses without toilets, to deep-rooted cultural and social norms that have established open defecation as an acceptable practice.
According to a report by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), lack of toilet remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. And it is linked with outbreak of various kinds of communicable diseases in Nigeria, to compromised water quality, poor sanitation and hygiene as direct consequences of open defecation.
And 80 per cent of diseases in developing countries are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, including inadequate sanitation facilities. Access to sanitation, the practice of good hygiene, and a safe water supply could save 1.5 million children a year.
It is estimated that diarrhoea kills about 194,000 children under five every year. This is in addition to another 240,000 killed by respiratory infections within one year.
These are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene.
However, painting a vivid picture of the situation, the Executive Secretary of the FCT Primary Health Care Development Board (PHCDB), Dr. Rilwanu Mohammed, lamented that many people had resorted to open defecation, due to inadequate toilet facilities.
Speaking last weekend, at the flag off of the National ImmunisationPlus Days at Damagaza community in the FCT, Mohammed said that the practice could lead to an outbreak of disease.
He noted that in 2013, the FCT recorded cases of cholera and diarrhea outbreak, especially in rural areas.
According to him, cholera and diarrhea outbreak is often as a result of poor hygiene practices like open defecation and improper hand washing method by people, especially in rural areas.
“We found out that some places in the FCT where people gather to have fun, especially children have no adequate toilets.
“We appeal to individuals constructing their houses to build toilets.
“We also appeal to the government to impose a law that no house should be constructed whether it is a local or modern house without a toilet.
“Corporate organisations, parks where people gather and markets must have adequate toilet facilities,” he stressed.
Interestingly, due to lack of education and consequent lack of awareness, these people do not realise the significance of health impact of inadequate sanitation and neither are ready to accept the primary health benefits from improving sanitation.
Therefore, to effectively tackle the menace, efforts must be channeled towards replacing open defecation with hygienic sanitation and increased supply of potable drinking water in rural areas; people bear the brunt of poor sanitation, inadequate roads and commuting facilities as well as shortage of supply of potable water.
Also, there should be increased focus on creating a strong interpersonal approach to generating and sustaining demand in rural Abuja inhabitants around issues of use of toilets, washing hands with soap, safely disposing child excrement and finally safely storing and handling drinking water.
Using such initiatives, especially at the community level, where the entire community together realizes the need, can lead to rapid acceleration in sanitation and hygiene.
To this end, there should be creation of active layer of advocates who can speak out to stop open defecation (primarily young people), the majority of whom indulge in the menace, to further spread the message and influence their communities, families and peers to do the same.
Though investing in sanitation infrastructure involves huge financial implications, but it is important to understand that sanitation can act at different levels, protecting the household, the community and ‘society’.
Unfortunately, everyone in society is affected by open defecation- whether an individual uses a toilet or not, thus, the FCT Administration must do everything possible to provide adequate infrastructures, in order to curb this problem and make Abuja poo-free.