Open defecation is defined as the practice of answering the call of nature in open fields, waterways and open trenches without any proper disposal methods. It is classified as unimproved sanitation. In most parts of the world, this primitive practice is still on despite 15 years of efforts under global action plans such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Under it, targets for improved sanitation were not met, resulting in 2.5 billion people not having access to improved sanitation facilities (flush latrine or pit latrine) and nearly 892 million of the total world’s population still practicing open defecation.
As a result of this failure to successfully ensure basic sanitation, it was once again highlighted as a key issue in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Number 6 which aim is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, where Target 6.2 aims, by 2030, to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Of those who still practice open defecation, it is estimated that 90 per cent of them reside in rural areas of three regions; sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and Southern Asia. Why this is worrisome is that open defecation is an issue that can affect everyone. But women are more at risk of experiencing violence and multiple health vulnerabilities.
The interaction between disease and under nutrition can further uphold vicious cycle of worsening infection and deterioration of women’s health, particularly in pregnant women. However, it is argued that improved sanitation interventions can play constructive role in disease prevention, including diarrhea and soil-transmitted infections.
The United Nations (UN) have challenged that sanitation has a major impact upon individual human rights, and argues that health implications linked to access to clean water, poor sanitation and open defecation are clear breaches of human rights.
The world body further posit that a failure to address this at a national level is a form of gender discrimination and a further violation of human rights. However, the UN asserts that sanitation has to be considered beyond the scope of just considering health, housing, education, work and gender equality but instead should be considered in terms of human dignity in that open defecation evokes feelings of vulnerability and shame and this infringement to human dignity should be considered a human rights issue.
Open defecation in most cultures is a taboo topic, masked in mystery, which is associated with far too many diseases, sufferings, indignity, social and psychological impacts that especially women have to endure as its outcomes. Curiously, in our view, this practice still persists in Nigeria with no end in sight in the absence of reliable source of potable water and even the tendency by people to ignore the fact that a home needs a toilet facility.
It is often disheartening to observe that as cosmopolitan as Abuja, the nation’s capital is, the reality of this eye sore is still so pervasive. It is alarming that people still use the drainages and bushes as convenient places for open defecation. The habit is so widespread that in May of 2019, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources noted that no less than 50 per cent of FCT residents defecate openly, because of the non-availability of public toilets.
The ministry’s Water Quality Control and Sanitation directorate stated that this is based on a survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Norms.
The UNICEF approximates that not less than 47 million Nigerians still indulge in open defecation in the country. This newspaper recalls that in 2016, Nigeria launched an action plan of its own, aiming to end open defecation by 2025. The plan involves providing equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation.
In November 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order 009 titled ‘The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order.’ It established in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources a National Secretariat called “Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat”.
The Order emphasized that the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly shall enact legislation on the practice of open defecation with appropriate sanctions and penalties when violated. It also stated that all public places including schools, hotels, fuel stations, places of worship, market places, hospitals and offices ought to have accessible toilets and latrines within their premises.
The health Implications of open defecation are too numerous to be taken for granted. Health experts aver that sanitation systems that do not safely treat human waste allows for the spread of serious public health hazards like soil-transmitted and waterborne diseases such as cholera diarrhea, typhoid and dysentery. It is from this perspective that we urge the authorities to intensify efforts to ensure that provision of toilet facilities are made readily available starting with safe water.
By Our Editors