By Ali Musa Yawale
It was a Wednesday, the day the weekly Nguru market fell due. By mid-day, the Nugru motor park was already crowded by people coming into town and leaving. Nguru town in Yobe state borders four local government areas, Kano state and Niger Republic. So, it records an influx of merchants through the motor park to buy and sell various products as well as, labourers on- and off-loading goods. The air was blowing hot accompanied by offensive odour from the human wastes that littered the surroundings of the motor park.
Few metres, away, one could see a good number of people squatting on available spaces urinating and defecating openly as there were no toilets provided at the motor park to cater for commuters and drivers. Although the people knew that open defecation is immoral and pollutes the environment with attendant health hazards but, little was done to curtail the ugly trend.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2006 reported that about 60% of the people in Yobe state defecate in the open (bush around their houses, open field and farmland etc.). It reported that open defecation is the single largest contributory factor to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and other sanitary related diseases.
The Water Supply Sector and Sanitation Reform Programme (WSSSRP) in 2010 launched vigorous campaign to “stop open defecation: use a latrine/toilet- kick out cholera from Yobe” targeting school children and parents. The programme claimed that in 2004 and 2005, about 13, 000 children died of diarrhoea arising from open defecation and lack of hygiene of not washing hands with soap and water after visiting the toilets.
However, officials at the station (motor pack) said after a long battle, it has explored a new avenue to curb the ugly habit and provide solution to the environmental and health threats caused by open defecation. Alhaji Usman Shuaibu, Jarman Nguru, an official at the park said they went into partnership with Yobe State Community Social Development Programme (CSDP) on massive sensitization of the people against open defecation and, construction of toilets at the park. He explained that, the campaign had educated the people on how they consume these waste products through flooding waters that sweep the waste into their sources of drinking water (wells) thereby causing serious health problems to the community. “None of us had thought that the waste disposed do come back to us and consumed through water sources and vegetables until, after the partnership with state community social development programme (CSDP),” Usman said.
Apart from the awareness campaign, our partnership with CSDP also provided for construction of VIP toilet facilities at the park where the community will provide 10 per cent of the cost of constructing the facilities while, the agency provides 90 per cent of the cost.
“We settled for the construction of four VIP toilets at the park at the cost of N1.963 million and, we introduced some levy on workers and other commercial partners within the motor park to raise the 10 per cent recommended by the agency.
“We collectively taxed ourselves and seek for donation from people to get the ten per cent required from us where were able to raise the sum of N196, 330.00 while the agency provided N 1,766,970.00 for the entire project”.
CSDP has so far executed micro projects amounting to 330 across the state with all of them completed in accordance with international environmental mitigation measures such as VIP toilets, incinerators, drain and tree planting. Alhaji Shu’aibu Usman commended the agency for coming to their aids adding that they are now living comfortably without any fear of disease or cholera and advise people particularly those living in crowded areas to imbibe the habit of cleaning their environment for healthy society. “I must confess that the Agency has rescued us from the dangers associated with environment hazard hence thanks to them, Yobe state Government and world bank for this initiative which if sustained will go a long way in tackling most of the diseases bedevilling our communities”
As part of the campaign against open defecation in October 2010, Yobe state Governor Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam personally inaugurated some public toilets. He described open defecation as a serious threat that poses danger to the lives of the people adding that the bad habit and the non-challant attitude on open defecation must be checked and controlled. “You are aware that open defecation poses serious threats and danger to our lives. Human faeces littered, constitute serous hazards to the environment. This bad habit and non-challant attitude of the members of the public should not be allowed to continue unchecked if we are to achieve the millennium development goals in the health sector. Open defecation has been one of the major causes of the cholera epidemic which is currently rampaging which necessitated state and LGAs to have jointly committed over N150 million to date” The Governor added.
Public health experts opined that effective hand washing with soap and water will reduce the incidence of diarrhoea by 44% while using safe latrine toilet and safe water reduces the risk of diarrhoea among the people by 75%. Latrine toilets are also important for social reasons such as convenience, privacy and dignity. At last, the park now has four functional VIP toilets providing people with the convenience needed to answer the call of nature. The neatness of the toilets had also encouraged people to use the toilets against open defecation. Similarly, the watchful eyes of the National Union of Road Transport Workers had also prevented people from littering the environment with human wastes. The air around the motor park is now friendlier, with less threat to the inhabitants and the environment.
Ali Musa Yawale is a 400 mass communication student, University of Maiduguri.