Today is World Toilet Day. Do you have one or do you defecate in open spaces? If you resort to open defecation, you contribute to the country’s health challenges. Our resolve to eliminate open defecation will engender health, nutrition, learning, social and economic benefits, writes CHINAKA OKORO
Master Udechukwu Meregini has been hospitalised for the past two weeks after he was diagnosed of diarrhea.
His parents took him for medical examination after which it was discovered that his faeces were mixture of blood and yellowish fluid.
They were surprised as to what could be the cause of the illness. To them, the family’s toilets and birth rooms are always kept neat. They ensured that all they eat are well prepared; and any food remnants are well covered to prevent flies and rodents from perching and eating them. The cause of the ailment was mere conjecture.
They decided to monitor what the young boy eats and drinks, so much so that one of Udechukwu’s teachers was detailed to keep a tab on his activities in school, including what he consumes.
Mr. Chukwuka, Udechukwu’s teacher was committed to his assignment. One day, Udechukwu sneaked out with one of his friends, Chima and went into the nearby bush in search of udara fruits. In the bush, they strode on faeces. As they walked into their classroom, the atmosphere became malodorous. Udechukwu’s teacher discovered that the two lads had treaded on faeces.
It was then that the school authorities learnt that the villagers defecate openly in the bush near the school as modern toilet was somewhat a luxury to them. It then dawned on the teachers and Udechukwu’s parents that filthy environment resulting from open defecation was the cause of the boy’s illness.
Udechukwu’s case is one out of several cases where polluted environment had become inimical to human health.
A writer has described open defecation as “the practice of defecating in the open environment rather than into a toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals or other open space for defecation. They do so because either they do not have toilet facility in their homes or due to traditional/cultural practices.”
Open defecation pollutes the environment and cause health problems such as child mortality, poor nutrition, poverty and large disparities between the rich and the poor because of their different indulgences about environment and sanitation.
Ecologists say open defecation has negative effects on human health. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and other problems associated with exposure to human waste affect children under the age of five most because they are very susceptible to diseases.
Open defecation usually occurs next to water ways and rivers. When people use the water for drinking or cooking, it results in water-borne-diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea.
The environment also suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem.
As a result of the dangers which the menace poses, the United Nations (UN) declared every November 19 as World Toilet Day. It was observed by spreading awareness about benefits of toilets and ill effects of open defecation.
This year’s theme is “Toilets for All”. The day lays emphasis on the significance of adequate sanitation and the need for access to safe and clean toilets for all.
Grim national situation
According to statistics, Nigeria is said to be among countries with the highest number of people practicing open defecation. It is estimated that 46 million people “shamelessly” defecate openly. Undoubtedly, the practice has had a negative effect on the populace, especially children, in the areas of health and education and had contributed to the country’s failure to meet the Millennial Development Goal (MDG) target on sanitation.
This is because “access to improved sanitation in Nigeria has declined over time.
“The decline in access is further pronounced for the poorest.
“Improved sanitation and hygiene practices are fundamental to child survival, socio-economic development and well-being of the society. Eliminating open defecation has benefits from the health, nutrition, learning, social and economic perspectives.”
Recognising the public health risks associated with the phenomenon, the National Council on Water Resources at the 2014 council meeting was prompted to prioritise the development of a roadmap towards eliminating open defecation in the country, in line with the United Nations global campaign for ending open defecation.
The initiative which was tagged “Making Nigeria Open Defecation-Free by 2025: A National Roadmap” was developed by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources with invaluable support from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other relevant sector players.
In 2016, the council noted that “Open Defecation-free (ODF) Roadmap is an attempt to clearly articulate strategies and investments needed to eliminate open defecation by 2025. Achieving an ODF environment implies having access to toilets not only in the communities but also within schools, health centres, markets and other public places.
“The Roadmap also provides a basis for the development of the Partnership for Expanded Water Supply and Sanitation (PEWASH) programme which was aimed at establishing a multi-sectoral partnership among government, development partners and the private sector to support the empowerment of rural dwellers.”
In the circumstances, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources was mandated to provide the required enabling environment, leadership and coordination in achieving this target by collaborating with communities, civil society groups, development agencies, private sector and government at sub-national levels.
Need for behavioural change
Peeved by the uncomplimentary allusion, the Federal Government showed some kind of commitment towards ameliorating the horrid situation, or at best end it.
However, government’s efforts to causing apposite sanitation for the citizens have become somewhat futile due to, as an environmentalist puts it “the pusillanimous approach it adopted in tackling the circumstances.”
Agreed that efforts towards tackling sanitation matters, including ending open defecation, have not fully been realised, certain frenetic policy guidelines which were aimed at bettering the condition have been evolved.
For instance, government’s pronouncement that tackling open defecation in Nigeria to engender unpolluted environment for the health of all should be everyone’s business should not be seen as grandstanding.
The Minister of Water Resources Suleiman Adamu, an Engineer, has noted during his paper presentation on “Stopping Open Defecation” at the first public lecture organised by the Faculty of Engineering, University of Abuja that “there is need for attitudinal change so as to attain Open Defecation-Free (ODF) by 2025.
“Achieving a clean Nigeria devoid of open defecation and its attendant negative impacts requires all hands to be on deck; it requires everyone propagating the message and championing the cause.
“The need for behavioural change in order to attain open defecation-free, which, indeed, translates to every household having toilet facility, is paramount in achieving quality access to basic sanitation and hygiene, health, education attainment, productivity and socio-economic well-being of the people.”
Just as the defunct “Better Life for Rural Women” programme that had all its seminars, programmes and “empowerments” in the cities which were attended by wives of governors, ministers, Permanent Secretaries and other women who were within the corridors of power or its balconies, without poor women for who the programme was ostensibly enunciated, the sensitisation programmes of the government on realising healthy and clean environment are usually held in the cities and on university campuses.
How are rural dwellers carried along? Has government at all levels tried to sensitise them to the dangers of going to the bush to defecate? Or are they immune to diseases that result from open defecation? How does government encourage rural dwellers to have toilet facilities which will discourage them from defecating in the bush?
So, government should not concentrate its sensitisation efforts in the urban or semi-urban areas. It should use its agency such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to disseminate information to those who live at the grassroots.
Former Minister of Water Resources Bunu Sheriff Musa, an Engineer, puts it succinctly when he said: “The people who are largely within the rural communities are suffering from poor hygiene. They defecate in the open because of lack of toilet facilities”.
Solving the problem
Mindful of the dangers open defecation and lack of adequate sanitation pose to people’s health, government must intensify efforts in sensitising the populace to why they must show greater commitment to issues of environmental cleanliness and safety by appreciating government’s efforts towards open defecation-free country.
Individuals, non-governmental organisations, corporate entities and government should collaborate to address the cultural, economic and social challenges that inhibit attainment of success with regard to open defecation-free nation.
First, there is need to provide enough toilets for the people living in the rural areas since they are poor.
Construction of pit and other toilet options such as compost toilets is necessary in solving the problem of lack of sewer systems. Governments should also provide incentives for people to build their own toilets through subsidies and building public toilets in strategic locations.