It is disheartening and highly risky that Nigeria is among the 10 countries in the world where open defecation is a common practice.
Recent statistics released by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that eighty-two per cent of the 1 billion people practising open defecation live in just 10 countries and Nigeria is among them.
The countries are: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China, and Mozambique. The numbers of people practising open defecation are still rising in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, though they have declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Nigeria, numbers of open defecators increased from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million in 2012.
A casual work around Nigeria’s Federal Capital City, Abuja by any visitor will confirm that these figures are true and residents could be seen conspicuously defecating in public places including roads in the broad day light. This phenomenon is rampant in all Nigerian cities, towns and villages.
Open defecation has become a culture among Nigerians. both in the rural and urban centres. The commonest reason for open defecation in Nigeria is lack of toilets. Slow progress on sanitation and the entrenched practice of open defecation among millions around the world continue to put children and their communities at risk.
Some 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate toilets and among them 1 billion defecate in the open fields, bushes, or bodies of water putting them, and especially children, in danger of deadly faecal-oral diseases like diarrhoea.
According to UNICEF, in 2013 more than 340,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene, an average of almost 1,000 deaths per day.
“Lack of sanitation is a reliable marker of how the poorest in a country are faring,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “But although it is the poor who overwhelmingly do not have toilets, everyone suffers from the contaminating effects of open defecation, so everyone should have a sense of urgency about addressing this problem.”
The call to end the practice of open defecation is being made with growing insistence as the links with childhood stunting become clearer. India, with 597 million (half the population) practising open defecation, also has high levels of stunting.
Recently UNICEF convened a conference in New Delhi called ‘Stop Stunting’ to call attention to the effect of open defecation on the entire population, particularly children. UNICEF’s ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ campaign in India also works to raise awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation.
“The challenge of open defecation is one of both equity and dignity, and very often of safety as well, particularly for women and girls,” Wijesekera noted. “They have to wait until dark to relieve themselves, putting them in danger of attack, and worse, as we have seen recently.”
In May, the hanging of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who had gone out after dark to defecate caused international shock and dismay, and highlighted the security issues involved in open defecation.
UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation has proven evidence of addressing the problem at the local level by involving communities in devising solutions, and has led to some 26 million people across more than 50 countries abandoning the practice of open defecation since 2008.
This development is a pointer to the fact that open defecation can be stopped in Nigeria and the lives of millions of its populace currently at high risk of diseases, deformation and death can be saved.
Globally, some 1.9 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. However, progress has not kept up with population growth and the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation is unlikely to be reached by 2015 at current rates of progress.
The inter-governmental Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals have recommended that the new goals include a target of achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030.
Three global organisations on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to share best practices in the sanitation sector and help millions of Indians gain access to basic sanitation facilities.
The organizations, the World Toilet Organisation (WTO), WASTE and the Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation and Health (FINISH), share the common goal of making sanitation accessible and affordable to all citizens.
The objective of the agreement is to support the Central government in making the country free of open defecation and promoting sustained usage of sanitation systems.
WTO founder, Jack Sim, said the objectives would be achieved through a mix of policy dialogue, lobbying and advocacy work for sanitation coupled with on-the-ground sanitation activities. The agreement is for three years.
The Nigerian government is encouraged to key into this type of global initiative to end defecation in the country. Malawi has registered increase of 16 per cent of villages that have been declared open defecation free, UNICEF report reveals.
The percentage of villages at national level in Malawi that have been declared as open defecation free has increased from 3 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2014. In Malawi, UNICEF in collaboration with other stakeholders such as Department for International Development (DFID) and Concern Universal are working with communities to sensitizing them of the importance of hygiene and dangers of open defecation.
It is important to reiterate that Nigeria is the only country which has registered increase of numbers of open defecators which has increased from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million in 2012. If Malawi can do it why can’t Nigeria do it?
There is an urgent need for the Federal Government to initiate campaign against open defecation in the country, to correct the societal ill.
Recently, Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola linked the persistence of the polio virus in the country to open defecation.
According to Fashola while addressing physically challenged persons and school pupils at the formal launch of the anti-polio animated comic movie, ‘The Polio’, in Oregun, Ikeja, produced by Olugbenga Kuye.
“We have seen samples of the virus in water bodies, in soil test and others. This means that our hygiene levels are not still where they should be. The indiscriminate dumping of refuse and open defecation must stop in Lagos and in Nigeria.”
His words, “We must take this very serious. We must henceforth stop open defecation in our communities. It is something that we must put an end to, if we really want to put an end to polio in the country.”
Fashola urged the federal government to initiate campaigns against open defecation in the country, saying, “This is one of the ways polio virus is spread.”
The Enugu state government has also expressed worry over the imminent dangers of open defecation, even as it announced plans to improve its budgetary allocation for sanitation to eradicate open defecation in the state.
The state’s Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Mike Nwachukwu, announced the plan at an event to mark the World Toilet Day in Enugu.
Nwachukwu said the government had since 2007 budgeted more than N2.7 billion to the Enugu Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (EN-RUWASA) to maintain hygiene and sanitation in the rural areas.
According to him, open defecation poses a threat to human living and development.
He said the government was working out something, especially in the impending dry season, to provide water to every household to reduce open defecation.
The Managing Director of EN-RUWASA, Mr Micheal Oguamah had also revealed that women and girls risked being raped and abused through open defecation.
The call on government and other stakeholders to institute measures to fight open defecation is therefore paramount.