Nigeria: New Water Protection Initiative Forces Nigerians to Use Toilets

Nigerian officials are handing out fines to anyone who defecates in open spaces such as forests. They are also offering toilet education workshops in an effort to prevent human waste from fouling the country's water.

Carrying her two year old daughter on her back, Laraba Alaghaye is walking slowly to her local pond. Alaghaye lives in Kyuzhi, a small community in rural Nigeria. A worn footpath lined with grass, trees and shrubs leads up to the brown body of water, which is filled with rain runoff and groundwater.

This is the closest drinking water source for this community in the dry season, between December and April. Locals have to dig deeper at this time of year to access enough water. In the past the water here hasn't been clean either.

"My stomach started hurting when I drank this water," Alaghaye tells DW. "My baby also needed to defecate; then she was crying and complaining of stomach pains. It was the same for my husband."

"When we went to the hospital, they told us it was the water we drank. They told me that if I want to take this water, I should boil it."

Open defecation and sickness

Laraba Alaghaye fetches water with her child, in the small community of Kyuzhi

The problem with many sources of drinking water in small communities like this: they are infected with bacteria from human waste. In fact, Kannan Nadar, of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said last November at a World Toilet Day event that no fewer than 100 million Nigerians lack access to toilets across the country, while more than 45 million defecated in the open.

Open defecation leads to high rates of infant mortality across the country and diseases such as cholera, experts say. It also stunts the growth of otherwise growing communities. Often, the issue is not talked about openly because it is considered shameful, which makes solving the problem even more difficult.

But, a little more than a year ago, some members from the Kyuzhi community were educated about the problems related to people defecating in the open. The workshop was one of many recently across Nigeria on the issue of open defecation.

"They taught us not just how to improve personal hygiene, but also how to keep the entire community clean," says local resident, Tanko Ayuba Kyuzhi who took part in the workshop.

"In the community before, people used to defecate in the open. But now it doesn't happen anymore, and the community has formed an environmental task team."

Ayuba says most people have stopped defecating in the open. Anyone violating that agreement - even children - are stamped with a fine by the community environmental task team of around 2,000 Naira (9 euros; $13).

"We only caught three people defecating out in the open last year," he told DW, highlighting the progress that has been made.

Community-led total sanitation

Some communities in rural Nigeria have little access to toilets, often preferring to defecate in the forest

The workshops are run according to the concept of community-led total sanitation, or CLTS. The classes often include community leaders, women and youth and force locals to confront the issue of open defecation.

Typically, participants go to an open defecation site and inspect it. The links between human waste and local diseases are then explained.

Such sessions are often quite confronting and emotional for those taking part. But, they have the desired effect, says Otive Igbuzo, from the African Center for Leadership Strategy and Development, who helped organize the workshops in Kyuzhi.

"A fining policy will only work if a majority of the people have made that behavioral change, so you have only a few deviants or new entrants into the community which you then whip into line with that sanction or fine," says Igbuzo.

"If you only fine in a community where that behavior change has not happened, the fine will not work."

Back at the local pond, Laraba Alaghaye says she is in favor of the fines. And, she agrees that most of the community has bought into it. Now, toilets have been installed in areas and new defecation sites have been set up.

"If my child tells me that he wants to defecate, I follow him, and show him the place he should do that so that I can bury it," she told DW.

"If I see another person's child doing it (in the wrong area) I tell the mother, because I don't want to see the community dirty," she said.

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