By Abdulrosheed Okiki
Open defecation remains one of the age-long practices that refuse to phase out. This is possibly because of cultural practices or lack of access to sanitation facilities which is linked to rising poverty in the society. It is common to see people defecating in bushes by the roadside, forests, canals, riverside,
fields or any available open space within the community.
According to the UNICEF, 122 million people were practicing open defecation in West and Central Africa Region in 2015 and that accounted for 14% of global open defecation, with eight countries having more than five million open defecators, including Nigeria that ranked second in the world with 47 million.
This practice is however linked to surge in several diseases in many communities in Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa and other countries of the world where open defecation is rampant. The diseases include diarrhea, intestinal worm infections, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, polio, and dysentery.
The World Bank estimates that inadequate sanitation costs African countries billions of dollars each year in lost Gross Domestic Products (GDP) due to low productivity occasioned by diseases from poor sanitary and hygienic conditions.
To reverse this trend in Nigeria, in 2016, the National Council on Water Resources endorsed Water Resources Road map tagged: “Immediate and Long Term Strategies for Water Sector (2016-2030)” as a mean to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. The roadmap provides a guide towards achieving an open defecation free country using different approaches such as capacity development; promotion of improved technology options through sanitation marketing; provision of sanitation facilities in public places; community-led total sanitation; promotional and media campaigns; creating enabling environment and coordination
In November 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency on Nigeria’s water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. The President said the declaration has become imperative to reduce the prevalence of water-borne diseases in different parts of the country, leading to preventable deaths.
During the event, President Buhari reeled out some disturbing statistics about the state of WASH sector in Nigeria. According to the President, access to tap water services, which was 32% in 1990, has declined to 7% in 2015; access to improved sanitation has also decreased from 38% in 1990 to 29% in 2015. WASH services at the rural areas are unsustainable as 46% of all water schemes are non-functional, and the share of spending on WASH sector has been declining from 0.70% of the GDP in 1990 to about 0.27% in 2015, which is far below the 0.70% at the West African regional level.
To end open defecation in Kwara State, the sub-national government has set 2023 as its target year. To achieve this, in September, 2020, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq flagged off the ‘Clean Kwara’ Campaign in commemoration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’s fifth anniversary to promote good hygiene in the state.
AbdulRazaq identified Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a key part of the global targets to guarantee general access to safe and affordable drinking water and access to adequate and equitable sanitation, hygiene for all, and end open defecation by 2030.
“Just like in many areas of human capital development indices, we met a state with appalling ratings in SDGs, including Goal 6:1 and 2 mentioned above. For instance, a national survey published in 2018 ranked Kwara State 30th among the 36 (thirty-six) states of the Federation in access to basic water and sanitation services. We were ranked 22nd in terms of access to basic water supply services. Going by that report, we are in the bottom three nationwide in access to sanitation services and among the states with highest prevalence of open defecation, and the poorest in North Central,” he said at the event.
AbdulRazaq disclosed that a survey carried out by the Office of his Senior Special Assistant on SDGs on public toilets and services at motor parks in the state showed that 95% of the latrines are dry pit while just 5% of them are pour-flush. The situation, according to him, is grimmer with the healthcare facilities and hospitals because it was discovered that up to 90% of them lacked improved water supply with no hand washing facility.
Indeed, this is a sorry state of sanitation infrastructure across the north central state as hundreds of communities cannot boast of good public toilets while few ones existing in few locations lack piped water for proper hygiene. In 2019, the Kwara State Government built three different prototypes of Integrated Modern Public Toilet in Ilorin. More still need to be done in different parts of the metropolis and across Kwara rural communities. Data from the National Population Commission showed that 64% of Nigerian population lives in rural areas.
Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Jamila Bio-Ibrahim, said her office had identified key areas of partnership in agriculture, water supply, clean energy, and education to create SDGs community and end open defecation in the state.
“The open defecation and WASH campaign in collaboration with the ministry of water resources is our first intervention because it is a low hanging-fruit in the development of our state and it has multiplier effects on the health, well-being and socio-economic development of our people,” she said.
“We also believe that this will make immediate and important impact on the COVID-19 era as adequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene facilities are needed to curb coronavirus.”
Also, in its quest to provide access to clean and potable water, the Kwara State government has so far fixed over 400 boreholes across the state while water works in Igbaja, Lafiagi and Kaiama among others were restored to improve water supply and sanitation across the state.
To further check open defecation, reduce diarrheal disease and lessen the adverse health impacts of other disorders responsible for death and disease among millions of children, sustained priority attention must be given to water supply, sanitation and hygiene sector. This is where the collaborative approach of the Kwara State Office of the Special Assistant to the Governor on Sustainable Development Goals with line ministries and agencies would make it an easy way to achieving Goal 6 of SDGs.
Interestingly, the state government has also built the capacity of desk officers across ministries, departments, agencies and institutions on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in its bid to end open defecation by 2023. The officers are expected to among other things empower local communities and assist in ending open defecation in the state.
To hasten the success of the campaign, there is clearly a need for increased awareness against open defecation and attitudinal change against the age-long practice. Every house-owner should endeavour to build toilet for personal or family use rather than subjecting inhabitants of the house to ‘throwing short-puts’ in the wee hours of the day.
Residents of Kwara State also need to own the campaign to end open defecation in the state as it is critical to averting critical public health issues. Hence, every house owner and shop or business owner must see functional toilet as part of the necessary infrastructure that must be provided while conceiving the idea of putting up any structure.
Okiki is a journalist based in Kwara State.