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WASH And The Problem Of Open Defecation



A few days ago in Jos, the Plateau State capital, chief for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in Nigeria, Zaid Jurji, disclosed that 60 million Nigerians do not have access to potable water. He further stated that 88 per cent of diarrhoea cases in the country was caused by a combination of open defecation and lack of potable water. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project is a countrywide health awareness project of the federal government in conjunction with UNICEF.

We recall that last year, UNICEF’s official, Moustapha Niang, while presenting an overview of a WASH programme at the EU-UNICEF WASH media dialogue in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, noted that 46 million people in the country practice open defecation. More worrisome is that additional 56 million Nigerians are estimated to join this number in the next 10 years, translating to a total of 102 million people or 20 million households.

This is not good news. Government must ensure that open defecation is rather rooted out with meaningful efforts geared towards increased awareness campaign on the health hazards of the practice and, in conjunction with the private sector, back it up with the provision of toilet facilities in schools, health centres, market places, motor parks, recreation centres, jetties, places of worship and  communities. It should also think in the direction of a legal instrument against the practice.

Again, it is a fact that diseases caused by poor access to water and bad sanitary and hygiene habits account for the death of 45,000 children under the age of five in Nigeria, annually.

A 2012 World Bank report claimed that about 122,000 Nigerians including 87,000 children under the age of five, die each year from diarrhoea, directly connected to poor access to potable water, poor sanitation and hygiene. The report further stated that Nigeria loses N455 billion or $3 billion annually due to poor sanitation. This, it said, works out to $20 per capita/year and constitutes 1.3 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP. The report added that open defecation alone, costs Nigeria over $1 billion a year.

Already, UNICEF has a roadmap that will make Nigeria open-defecation-free by 2025 which has a cost burden to be borne by households and the three tiers of government. Despite the huge cost burden in the roadmap, UNICEF is persuaded that the goal is worth the investment.  That world body argued that in view of the fact that Nigeria loses N455 billion each year, the investment proposed is justified. Even if the entire cost of N959 billion is taken into account, still an open-defecation-free Nigeria can pay back more than what has been invested.

Several studies have shown that a large part of a child’s malnutrition burden is derived from the unhygienic environment in which he grew up. It has also been established that one of the major reasons for iron deficiency anaemia among adolescent girls and young mothers is worm infestation, attributed to open defecation.

While UNICEF states that the national average of open defecation is 37 per cent, the extent of the practice varies from state to state. Though the federal government has over the years shown no visible determination to tackle open defecation, it has a target of achieving open-defecation-free Nigeria by 2030.

The government’s drive to achieve this has seen to the expansion of the WASH project with the launch of Partnership for Expanded Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo as well as the ministerial launch of the national open-defecation-free (ODF) road map by the Information and Culture Ministry.

We are worried that there has been no quantifiable results from all these. We are also pained that government’s interventions against open defecation have been sparring and slow, making its efforts pale into oblivion in the face the of the humongous problem and the health perils it breeds for all.

To get better results against open defecation beginning from this year,  priority will include giving support to the roll-out of the PEWASH strategy and the ODF (open-defecation-free) roadmap and operationalise the implementation of the ODF road map through launching of national campaign on eradication of OD (open defecation) in Nigeria.

Indeed, a spirited national campaign appears to be one of the crucial missing links in both the federal government’s and UNICEF’s efforts against open defecation. This is because open defecation in some Nigerian ethnicities is a way of life, rooted in the culture and tradition, to the extent that even when they build modern houses, they don’t include toilets in the structure. It has to do more with attitude which must be changed.