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Frontal Action Against Open Defecation

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Open defecation has remained a major threat to the lives of millions of Nigerians especially those in rural communities. PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, takes a look at efforts at ending it through investment on Water,  Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Poor sanitation and hygiene practice in many communities have continued to constitute major health challenges across the country.

According to the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF), every year, 124,000 children under the age of 5 die because of diarrhea, mainly due to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene.

A recent report on sanitation  described Nigeria as one of a handful of countries around the world where access to basic sanitation is falling rather than rising as 47 million people still practice open defecation in the country while 33 million use unimproved toilets.

It also revealed that about 60, 000 children under the age of five in Nigeria die from diseases caused by the nation’s poor levels of access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

Speaking at a two day media dialogue on sanitation,  organized by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture in collaboration with UNICEF, the agency’s Communication Specialist, Geoffrey Njokwu, said the workshop was aimed at creating awareness about “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign and mobilize resources to sustain the national movement.

UNICEF’s WASH Specialist, Bioye Ogunjobi, while presenting an overview of the campaign said 47million Nigerians defecate openly while  33 million use unimproved toilets.

Giving the breakdown according to regions, Ogunjobi said, “53.9 per cent of the people are in the North Central, while South West has 28 per cent, North East 21.8 per cent, North West 10.3 per cent, South East 22.4 per cent and South South 17.9 per cent”.

However, the practice is not restricted to Kano or North Central as UNICEF revealed that  a total of 763 LGAs in Nigeria, out of 774, defecate in the open.

Gradual Success In Ending The Menace

Even though statistics has shown that one in two persons in the North Central defecate in the open and 16 million out of the 47million Nigerians who practice open defecate live in the North Central,  UNICEF explained that the practice spreads across all zones.

With 763 LGAs practicing  open defecation in the country, it means that only 11 LGAs, out of 774 are open-defecation free.

These LGAs are; Birnin Kudu and Buji, in Jigawa state; Logo in Benue State and Obanliku, Yakurr, Boki, Yala, Bekwarra and Ikom in Cross River state.

Meanwhile, Yammawar Fulani, a community in Kano State has been declared open free by UNICEF.

During a visit to the community by journalists as part of activities to promote the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the toilet’ campaign organised by UNICEF and  European Union, the village head,  Rabiu Usman,  explained that the community has made OD a crime punishable by monetary fine.

He also said that the community has wells and boreholes as their sources of water, adding that the availability of water in the community has also helped improved hygiene and sanitation in the community.

One of the women in the community, Asma’u  Abass, thanked UNICEF for the intervention and sensitization saying that since the community became OD free, they no longer experience  frequent cases of disease outbreak like cholera and diarrhoea.

UNICEF, Stakeholders’ Efforts

Committing to improved sanitation practice in more communities, UNICEF said it is working to change a situation where 64 per cent  have access to basic drinking water services, and only 42 per cent  have access to basic sanitation.

Ogunjobi said UNICEF is working  with the European Union (EU), DFID and other partners to ensure that the 47 million Nigerians use the toilet and stop open defecation, and also to increase access to improved sanitation, especially in the rural areas.

He  informed that UNICEF has provided 1.7 million access to improved water facilities and 2.2 million people have access to improved toilets.

He added that “1,227 schools and 599 primary healthcare centres have been equipped with WASH services; 3,908 communities supported to become certified open defecation free through community approach; 2.4 million have benefited from UNICEF’s hygiene promotion improved distribution of hygiene supplies.

“We are calling on Nigerians to ensure that every house has a toilet. People should stop building houses without toilets, they should take it as a priority to ensure the safety of their families and the cleanliness of their environments.

“When people build toilets in their houses, there will be rapid reduction of diseases in those places and it  also means that the people have improved on their dignity as human beings and will be most healthier than areas without toilets.”

On  the agency’s current project in the state, Ogunjobi said, “We are working in 6 LGAs in Kano state. We believe that the successes in those 6 LGAs will motivate others to do more. But if nothing is done to change the current situation on ground, there will be disease outbreak in those areas and many people will die.”

On the part of government, he said even though government has made some progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 and eliminating inequalities  in the  WASH sector, strong political  commitment in leadership at all levels to improve sanitation and end open defecation is needed.

He also called for increased budgetary  allocation and increased, well targeted WASH funding at all levels especially at rural areas amongst others if the country must change its current global status on sanitation. 

Chief of WASH, Zaid Jurji, said for Nigeria to effectively overcome the menace of open defecation, it needs to invest about $8billion annually in the sector, till 2030.

He also said  that over 88 per cent of cases of diarrhoeal infection in underage children in Nigeria were caused by open defecation.

“For Nigeria to attain open defecation free nation and attain SDGs six in 2030, it has to invest $8billion to fight open defecation. At the moment, Nigeria is investing less than one-third of the amount.

“In fact, over 88 per cent cases of diarrhoea in children, the fastest killer of children under the age of five in Nigeria, is caused by open defecation. Good personal hygiene can check the spread of this disease, especially among children. So, we must double our current efforts to put an end to open defecation, ensure there is access to clean water and a safe environment for children by 2030,” he said.

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