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‘Open defecation must end in Nigeria’

Ogamode Onah Ipuole

Ogamode Onah Ipuole

Travelers plying Benue-Cross River route are now painfully aware that defecation in the open in any community in Yala and Bekwara Local Councils of Cross River state now attract heavy penalty.Offenders caught recently defecating in any of the bushes in the communities were not only made to pack the feaces with their bare hands but also asked to pay fines between N5000-N20,000.

Each household in the communities is made to compulsorily provide their own toiletjust as the Paramount Ruler of Yala Council, His Royal Highness, Ogamode Onah Ipuole told journalists who visited the area that any household that fails to comply is severely punished .

Residents of the council could not have taken the bold step until they realized that they were actually eating their feaces one way or the other, either by not properly washing their hands after using toilet or when flies perch on the feaces defecated in the open and also perch on their food, and for this reason, hygiene related diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera among others were prevalent in the communities.

A member of Water and Sanitation in Ikeja community of Bekwara Local Council, one of the communities that has been declared Open Defecation Free(ODF) said ever since the community stopped defecating in the open and introduced strict measures against any member of the community or strangers that defeacate in the bushes around their community, their health conditions had improved . There have been limited cases of diarrhea among other hygiene related diseases.

With Nigeria ranking 5th largest country in the world on open defecation according to WaterAid report, there is no doubt that the country is still far from achieving the Sustaining Development Goal 6 that boarder on improve access to water and sanitation. And if Nigeria must achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the area of water and sanitation, Nigeria must review its environmental laws and ensure that open defecation begin to attract heavy sanction.

Defecating in open fields, bushes and bodies of water, is widely practiced in Nigeria with states like Ekiti, Niger and even the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja ranking high in the obnoxious list.Indeed, the country is one huge field, where people defecate without shame and without taking into consideration the impact of their actions on the health of others.

In many rural communities, people still build houses without provisions for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines, where waste can be emptied without others coming into contact with it. In the urban centres, such cases are also pervasive as people use the outdoors as bathrooms and toilets, and walkways and nearby bushes reek of urine and decaying fecal matter.

Yet experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it is extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it has contaminated the food or water supplies or because flies and dust have spread it. According to a recent joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report on the issue, the absence of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children.

The report said that diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary conditions, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene; kill about 400,000 children under the age of five annually. The Country Representative of WaterAid to Nigeria Dr. Michael Ojo, disclosed that seven women out of 10 have no access to safe toilets, and millions of other women and girls lacked safe and adequate sanitation.

“Every year, over 85,000 mothers in Nigeria lose a child to diarrheal diseases caused by lack of adequate sanitation and clean water.“ Women and girls living in Nigeria without toilet facilities spend 3.1 billion hours each year finding a place to go to the toilet in the open.There is no reason why the scourge of open defecation must not end in Nigeria,” he stated

The Project Manager, Community-led Health Improvement through Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (CHISHPIN), Oliver Okon, during a recent media workshop for journalists on Water and Sanitation in Ogoja, Cross River state said studies have shown that over 868,000 Nigerian children die annually from water and sanitation related diseases, while $5.5 billion is lost annually due to inadequate sanitation.

To meet Nigeria’s sanitation target of 70percent coverage by 2015, the WHO/UNICEF report suggested the construction of 7.75m toilets, assuming an average of 10 people per household.

Efforts, particularly, from international donor agencies have been geared towards this end and results are evident.But unfortunately the Nigerian Federal and state governments have not been forthcoming on their part. The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) recently threatened to withdraw their funding of the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria by the end of the year if Benue and Cross River states do not pay up their counterpart fund of $5billion.

It would be recalled that the two states in June, 2014, signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing $2.2m each to supplement the GSF contribution to live saving sanitation and hygiene programmes to three additional councils in each of the states, while the Federal Government also committed $950,000 to ensure that sanitation facilities are in place in all public places and institutions across the 12 targeted councils.

To date, neither Benue, Cross Rivers nor the Federal Government has delivered on their mandates.Okon while lamenting the poor attention given to sanitation and hygiene in the country, called on the government to fulfill its financial obligation, adding that Concern Universal is ready to push for an end to open defecation across all communities in Nigeria.

“Indeed, Concern Universal, the implementing Non Governmental Organisation has perfected eradicating open defecation in rural communities and if the model is replicated across the country, Nigeria may be working towards open defecation free,” Okon said.

Worthy of note is the Beten Community in New Ikeja Layout in Bekwarra Local Council of Cross River State , one of the communities declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) where the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer, Godwin Aghawayan said the community was first gingered towards ending open defecation in 2014.

“Since then , we have not looked back.
“For any community to be certified ODF, each household must have at least a pit toilet and make use of them; the toilet must have fly-proof cover; water station and also make use of ash. “To achieve ODF, members of the communities after a “triggering session” from Concern Universal came together and form what can be likened to a Cooperative Society to enable members build their own toilets.

“After they showed us how we eat our own feces and that of other people, we came together and agreed that defecating in the bush and river must stop” says Aghawayan..“So our first task was that every house in our community must have a toilet. We then formed a group and decided that we will construct toilets for each member, one after the other”, says a local WASHCOM Officer, Thomas Idaugu.

However, they did not stop at construction of basic latrines but are now supporting each other to construct and use improved toilet facilities such as the flush flush toilets as well as adopting positive hygiene behaviors such as hand washing, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.

To achieve this goal, the group designed a WASH Card through which members make contribution towards the construction of improved toilet. Idaugu said: “After we finish digging pit toilets for every of our members , we now wanted to build improved toilets so we agreed to be making contributions. “From the money contributed we lend to our members to construct improved toilet”.

While this method has ensured that every household in the community now has a toilet, the community however is not taking it lightly with defaulters as they are made to pay a heavy fine. According to another WASHCOM member in the community, Mary Godwin, “If anyone who defecates in the bush or river is caught, we will take the person to the chief and he will be penalized.

“Before, we used to defecate anywhere, then flies would come upon it and carry it to our food. When we eat the food we become sick.
But today, things have changed, we no longer fall sick like before because we now use toilet”, she said.



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