By Stanley Onyekwere
The Nigerian WASH professionals have decried the mortal dangers posed by the seemingly endless open defecation menace to residents across many Nigerian villages and towns, including Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT).
According to WASHMATA Initiatives, a Nigerian Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), in partnership with Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) Anglophone West Africa, only 27 Local Government Areas have been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) representing less than 4 percent of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria with Benue and Katsina having the highest number of ODF LGAs.
The stakeholders, who participated in the WASHMATA Initiatives panel discussion ‘ WASH Matters Hard Talk’ held in Abuja, were drawn from the Chief Executives of six states Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agencies comprising Katsina, Zamfara, Benue, Plateau, Adamwa and the FCT.
During the panel discussions, the panelists shared innovations and best practices some of which included functional WASH LGA departments, engagement with faith based organisations and linking sanitation promotion to SMME development.
The panelists were: Mrs. Torkwase Ikyaator GM Benue RUWASSA, Dr. M. Dan Hassan, ED FCT RUWASSA, Engr. Aminu Dayyabu, ED Katsina RUWASSA, Engr. Peter Kassam, Plateau RUWASSA, Alhaji Sani Yaro, Zamfara RUWATSAN and Engineer Halil Mohammed, Adamawa RUWASSA.
The programme was attended by various professionals from the WASH and health sector including Ms. Kate Kanebi, representing the European Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Executive Secretary of the Lagos Water Regulatory Commission, Mrs. Funke Adepoju, Organised Private Sector for WASH represented by Dr. Nicholas Igwe and Dr. Jumai Ahmadu, Coordinator FCT COVID-19 Situation Room.
In a communique jointly signed by the Chief Executive Officer of WASH Matter Initiatives, Dr. Boluwaji Onabolu and the Regional Program Director of LEAD, Mrs. Maureen Akintayo, noted that 24.4 percent of Nigerians ( 47 million ) have not yet begun to climb the sanitation ladder posing a major challenge to health, education, nutrition and poverty indices in the country.
“Since these 27 LGAs were declared open defecation free in 4 years (2016 to 2020) it is evidentlybpossible to address this backlog by the end of 2025. With the proviso that each state will commit to ensuring open defecation free status in an average of two LGAs per year to achieve the goal of the Clean Nigeria campaign of Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Alarmingly, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation and hygiene and water supply are essential services that can make the difference between life and death ; particularly as human excreta has been identified as a possible route of transmission of COVID-19,” the communique states in part.
The communique, also highlighted some challenges drawn from the panel discussions which include the fear in the minds of field workers about contracting COVID-19 infection; unwillingness of the populace to change behavior, delays in release of funds; donor fund dependence by states and agencies not taking sufficient advantage of the opportunities in sanitation for SME business development, inadequate learning and sharing of best practices between states.
Furthermore, it was emphasized that, in order to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation services delivery must be speeded up with the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control of COVID -19 training for the WASH field workers.
The communique also emphasized the need for the urgent review of the sanitation promotion methods to enhance compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures, the inclusion of state WASH agencies in COVID-19 task teams, development of state wide multi-level monitoring and reporting systems.
Others include; increased synergy between the various donor and government supported WASH programs, organized private sector participation, documentation of best practices, leadership training and peer to peer learning through a community of practice.