26 November 2012

Nigeria: United Nations World Toilet Day


November 19 was celebrated world wide as World Toilet Day to remind us of the need to take sanitation at both personal and community levels seriously. It is curious that we need to be reminded of the importance of hygiene and sanitation the absence of which not only undermines our development but could be fatal, especially to children. According to the UN, the aim is to raise awareness, inspire action and make sanitation and hygiene for all a reality in the 21st century. The day is set aside to awaken governments to the responsibility of creating awareness on the issue.

It has been observed that there is a huge challenge in global sanitation given the number of people exposed to open air defecation and its implication on the health of individuals and communities around the globe. As the adage goes, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation, and healthy people, of course, provide a healthy workforce which supports economic development and growth. That governments, especially those of developing countries, need be reminded of this fact is just simply tragic. The aim is to also ginger governments to take concrete, positive and proactive actions towards mitigating this dangerous but underestimated challenge. It is estimated that about 2.5 billion people face the challenge for proper and dignified sanitation worldwide. Of this figure, 297 million African women and girls lack safe and adequate sanitation, while 107 million women in Africa do not have toilets at all.

In Nigeria, UNICEF reports that about 34 million people practise open air defecation, depositing a huge volume of faeces into the environment annually. The tragedy of this is the high level of environmental contamination and the potent danger is that garbage and faeces find their way into water resources.

Again, we must admit that much as this is a by-product of poverty on the part of the people, poverty itself in the case of Nigeria is a direct result of gross and criminal mismanagement of available public resources. The World Health Organisation (WHO) only recently rated Nigeria's health system 187 out of its 191 member countries. The number of children that die from diarrhoea and other diseases arising from poor hygiene and sanitation in Nigeria is better left to the imagination; never mind what the official figures say.

Much as sanitation and hygiene is our collective responsibility, the issue is very much a fundamental responsibility of the ministries of health and environment. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Environment does not seem to be overly concerned about the parlous state of the environment. While the ministry conveniently lays the blame of improper disposal of garbage at the doors of communities, the reality is that the ministry and the government as a whole has failed in something as basic as waste disposal and management. There are garbage heaps in every nook and cranny of this country; in the cities, on the highways, in villages and towns, within hospitals and schools premises - everywhere. We advocate a strong synergy among all stakeholders in MDAs and private sector if the collective health means anything at all to us. It is cheaper to maintain a healthy populace than to cure the population of avoidable ailments.

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