The Guardian (Lagos)

19 August 2014

Nigeria: United Nations Warns Nigeria On Dangers of Open Defecation

The United Nations (UN) recently ranked Nigeria fifth among countries globally, where open defecation is common. JOKE FALAJU writes on why the federal government urgently needs to address the problem.

A RECENT report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) shows that the number of people with access to improved sanitation facilities in Nigeria dropped from 31 per cent last year to 28 per cent of the population this year. By implication, about 122 million Nigerians presently do not have access to improved sanitation, while a staggering 39 million, about 23 per cent of the population, defecate in the open.

Consequently, 500,000 Nigerian children die every year from diarrhoea and respiratory infections alone. While diarrhoea is responsible for 194,000 deaths, according to the report, respiratory infections kill another 240,000, while the country loses a staggering N455 billion annually to poor sanitation. Open defecation costs Nigeria some $1billion annually.

The study further revealed that each person practicing open defecation spends almost 2.5 days a year finding a private location to defecate, leading to a loss of $243 million yearly in access time. The study disclosed that $13 million is also lost annually due to productivity loss when people fall sick, adding that a whooping $191 million is spent annually on health care, which includes the costs of consultation, medication, transport and hospitalization.

It revealed that 70 million Nigerians use shared latrines, while 32 million do not have latrines at all. For Nigeria to eliminate open defecation, it would have to build 6.5 million latrines and ensure they are used.

Over one billion people around the world relieve themselves in bushes, fields, roadsides or railway tracks for lack of even a basic, shared pit in the ground. This is 14 per cent of the world's population, or one person in seven. Since 1990, almost 1.9 billion people gained access to improved sanitation globally, of which Nigeria accounted for approximately 13 million. In 2011, the total number of people without access to latrines stood at approximately 2.5 billion.

According to the UN, Nigeria has now emerged as one of the top five countries in the world where many citizens prefer to defecate in the public. Unfortunately, the federal government has continued to treat the sanitation sector with kid's glove.

The Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, while hosting the United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson recently, disclosed that the budget allocation for the sub-sector is usually struck out by the National Assembly, forcing the Ministry to scavenge for funds from donor partners.

She noted: "Sanitation has not been given the attention it deserves in this country because budget appropriation for the sanitation sector is usually struck out by the Senate during defense, so we had to depend on funds coming from development partners for the course of activity during the year. We all know this is not good for the growth of the sub-sector."

When people urinate or defecate in public places such as markets, church premises, stadiums, airport terminal buildings, bus stations, petrol stations, or street corners, according to experts, "they not only help poison the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and our environment, they also contribute significantly to shortening human lifespan."

Studies by experts have also shown that one gram of human feces could contain more than 10 million viruses, one million bacteria and 1000 parasite eggs.

Besides, studies by UNICEF have confirmed that malnutrition increases the risk of death, and affects physical growth and brain development among children. According to National Statistics, (DHS 2013), malnutrition remains a major problem in Nigeria. Thirty seven per cent of children in Nigeria under age 5 are stunted; diarrhoea is also responsible for 18 per cent of the deaths among children under five years

The world body further noted that Diarrhoea is a major cause of malnutrition and the underlying cause of about 50 per cent of all deaths of children under five years old. Unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene aggravate the occurrence of diseases like pneumonia and polio.

A former Head of Service, Mrs. Ebele Okeke, had in her contribution during the ongoing National conference, warned against open defecation, which she said was common among women. She said open defecation contributes to the spread of diseases and condemned the situation where landlords built houses without making provision for toilets, which she said encourages open defecation.

Her words: "Nigeria is like a big toilet, where people defecate in open places. This is due largely to the fact that landlords build houses without toilets and even where there are toilets, these toilets are converted to stores. I, therefore, propose that open defecation be banned and men, particularly, should not come out of their houses to urinate."

During the launch of a new UN campaign to end open defecation by the UN Deputy Secretary General, WaterAid Nigeria's Country Representative, Michael Ojo, noted: "It is time for a drastic change from the status quo. It is hard to believe that in this day and age, people still risk their health and dignity for the lack of a basic toilet. It's even more difficult for girls and women who risk danger and harassment every time they go in search of a private place to relieve themselves. Safe water and basic sanitation has to be a top priority in effectively tackling extreme poverty. We call upon our leaders to take action."

He added without basic toilets, girls are more likely to drop out of school, and adults are less able to care for their families or work, exacting huge social and economic costs.

The new UN campaign to end open defecation is expected to last till the end of next year, as the world body develops a new set of goals to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Among the goals were pledges to cut by half, the proportions of people without safe water and sanitation respectively. Though, the overall universal target on water has been met, some individual countries, especially developing countries like Nigeria, are yet to meet the goals and those still without safe water are the hardest to reach. The target on sanitation remains off-track.

In April this year, Nigeria joined 44 other developing countries at the Sanitation and Water for All High Level Meeting and committed itself, once again, to achieving universal access to water and sanitation, and eliminating open defecation nationwide by 2025.

Stakeholders have argued that open defecation, among other things, contaminates water bodies and poses serious threat to public health, especially during flooding. A reduction in open defecation could significantly reduce the incidences of diarrhoea, and improve survival of children as well as the environment.

UNICEF had demonstrated that it is possible to improve the sanitation situation in Nigeria, especially in rural areas, by engaging the communities through a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach.

CLTS, according to UNICEF, is a process of engaging with the community members, ranging from individuals to schools and traditional leaders, to empower them to address their sanitation situation by ending open defecation.

A statement by UNICEF's spokesman, Goffery Njoku explained that UNICEF had implemented CLTS in 30 states, in partnership with relevant government ministries and stakeholders. "As a result, there are more than 4,000 open defecation-free claimed communities, with over 2.5 million inhabitants now using toilets," he said.

He maintained that with continuous support from governments and other partners in scaling up this approach, more Nigerians would live in open defecation-free communities, and Nigeria could still make substantial progress towards attaining the MDGs sanitation specific target.

The UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Jean Gough, had said that ending open defecation also means saving the lives of thousands of Nigerian children dying annually from preventable water and sanitation-related diseases. She noted that the key to bridging the gap lies within communities themselves.

According to an online report, have also revealed that the costs of poor sanitation are inequitably distributed, with the highest economic burden falling disproportionately on the poorest, while the average cost associated with poor sanitation constitutes a greater proportion of a poor person's income, than that of a wealthier person.

Access to sanitation alone demonstrates inequities; the poorest 20 per cent of the population are 10 times more likely to practice open defecation than the wealthiest. For the poorest therefore, poverty is a double-edged sword; not only are they more likely to have poor sanitation, they also have to pay proportionately more for the negative effects it has, the report also averred.

Ebele Okeke, an engineer, who is also an Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), has underscored the need to promulgate a law that would make open defecation and urination a serious offence in the country.

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