47 million Nigerians practice open defecation, By Jide Ayobolu

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The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu has declared that about 47 million in Nigeria still practice open defecation.

The Minister said this in Ugep at the occasion of Yakurr Local Government Area, Cross River state Open Defecation Free (ODF) status under the Federal Government, European Union and United Nations Children’s Fund Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme.   He decried the high rate of open defecation in the country saying, Nigeria is “the highest in sub-saharan Africa and a national sanitation access of 33 percent, we understand that we need to do much more if we are to eliminate open defecation and achieve 100 percent access to sanitation and hygiene in the country”.

Suleiman who was represented by the Permanent secretary, Dr. Musa Ibrahim, disclosed that his ministry has introduced some initiative to address the situation and this include a strategy documents “Making Nigeria Open Defecation Free by 2025: A National Road Map” plus the Partnership for Expanded water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme.

The Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu has declared that about 47 million in Nigeria still practice open defecation. With the celebration, this would make it the third local government to achieve this status in the state, and Cross River is the only state in Nigeria with three ODF local government areas.

Speaking at the official celebration of the attainment of the, Chief of UNICEF Field Office, Enugu, Dr Ibrahim Conteh, expressed appreciation to Governor Ben Ayade for sustaining the cordial relationship between them in supporting and providing access to water and sanitation for the women and children of the State.

He said, “today marks another turning point in the history of Cross River State as the only State in Nigeria with three Open defecation Free (ODF) LGAs. These are Obanliku, Yakurr and Bekwara, hopefully within the next couple of weeks Boki LGA would be declared ODF. UNICEF partnership with Cross River State dated back several years, under the Water Supply Sanitation Sector Reform Programme (WSSSRP).

“The implementation of WSSSRP I & II started in 2006 in five LGAs of Cross River State, namely Yakurr, Boki, Odukpani, Obubura and Etung with Yakurr and Boki being focus for the second phase of the programme.

The overall objective of the programme is to improve health and livelihoods in rural communities through provision of sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene service delivery to reduce poverty and disease burden.

“One of the most promising approaches in sanitation in the last decades has been Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is a participatory approach that aims to achieve and sustain an open defecation free (ODF) status at the community level. CLTS employs participatory rural appraisal and is based on the belief that the learning effect is much higher if the knowledge is acquired through self-experience and self-reflection.

The approach facilitates the critical analysis by the community of their own sanitation-profile, inappropriate defecation practices and the consequences, leading to collective action to become ODF. It is a community-based and -led strategy that triggers community empowerment via feelings like shame and disgust induced through observation of the defecation situation in a specific setting and its environment, which is much harder to address by health education.

On his part, Governor Ayade said open defecation contributes to many diseases like cholera, diarrhea and many others in the country.

Recalled that, The Federal Government is doing everything possible to end open delectation in the country, the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed has said. Mohammed posited that open defection was responsible for majority of diseases and high mortality rate among under five children in Nigeria. He spoke in Jos, Plateau state, during a two-day media dialogue on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects organized by the Federal ministry of information in conjunction with United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

The minister who was represented by a Deputy Director, Mr. Olumide Osanyinpeju, said the federal ministry has great concern on the wellbeing of Nigerians, particularly of children who are vulnerable to communicable diseases. He stressed that the government was desirous to ending open defecation in the country by year 2030 as a means of ensuring better healthcare services.

He said, “Open defecation is incredibly dangerous, as contact with human waste can cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, diarrhoea, worm infestation and under nutrition. We must double our current efforts in order to end open defecation by 2030.” Declaring the workshop open, Plateau state Commissioner for Water resources and energy Ja’afaru Wuyep, said there are positive results in the lives of the people; assuring that the state government will continue to invest on its people.

The commissioner stated Plateau state government with UNICEF “our partnership wirth UNICEF is necessary, we have seen positive results on our people, UNICEF are everywhere in the rural areas assisting our people.

“When we invest in children, we are correcting the past, and making the future right,” he added. He commended UNICEF for coming to their aide and standing in the gap where government could not reach it citizens. He said, “UNICEF has been the major partners to Plateau state in our human challenges, as a government, we will continue to partner UNICEF.”

UNICEF chief for Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) in Nigeria Zaid Jurji, in a paper presentation revealed that 60 million Nigerians do not have no access to portable water. He also said 88 percent of the diarrhea cases in the country was caused by open defecation and lack of portable water. He urged Nigeria government to invest more in water and sanitation as it goes a long way to impact on the wellbeing of the people.

A Water and Sanitation Hygiene specialist, Idrissa Yeo, has stated that only three local governments in the country are free from open defecation. Yeo stated this recently in a two-day media dialogue and workshop organized by the Federal Ministry of Information in conjunction with the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside—in the open. In lieu of toilets, people use fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water or other open space. The practice is common where sanitation infrastructure is not available. About 892 million people, or 12 percent of the global population, practice open defecation.

The term ‘open defecation’ is used in literature about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Open defecation can cause severe health and environmental problems. High levels of open defecation are usually linked to high child mortality, poor nutrition, poverty, and large disparities between rich and poor.

Ending open defecation is listed as an indicator for measuring the sustainable development goals. Extreme poverty and lack of sanitation are statistically linked. Therefore, eliminating open defecation is thought to be an important part of the effort to eliminate poverty. People may prefer open defecation based on traditional cultural practices or lack of access to toilets, or both. Even if toilets are available, behavioural change efforts may still be needed to promote the use of toilets. The term “open defecation” became widely used in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector from about 2008. This was during the publications of the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) and the UN International Year of Sanitation. More awareness was generated.

The JMP is a joint program by WHO and UNICEF to monitor the water and sanitation targets for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs existed from 2000-2015, before the Sustainable Development Goals. For monitoring purposes, two categories were created: 1) improved sanitation and (2) unimproved sanitation. Open defecation falls into the category of unimproved sanitation. This means that people who practice open defecation do not have access to improved sanitation.

In 2013 World Toilet Day was celebrated as an official UN day for the first time. The term “open defecation” was used in high-level speeches, that helped to draw global attention to this issue (for example, in the “call to action” on sanitation issued by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations in March 2013).

Slow progress on sanitation and the entrenched practice of open defecation among millions around the world continue to put children and their communities at risk, UNICEF warned on World Toilet Day. Some 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have adequate toilets and among them 1 billion defecate in the open – in fields, bushes, or bodies of water – putting them, and especially children, in danger of deadly faecal-oral diseases like diarrhoea.

In 2013 more than 340,000 children under five died from diarrhoeal diseases due to a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene – an average of almost 1,000 deaths per day. “Lack of sanitation is a reliable marker of how the poorest in a country are faring,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. “But although it is the poor who overwhelmingly do not have toilets, everyone suffers from the contaminating effects of open defecation, so everyone should have a sense of urgency about addressing this problem.”

The call to end the practice of open defecation is being made with growing insistence as the links with childhood stunting become clearer. India, with 597 million (half the population) practicing open defecation, also has high levels of stunting. Last week, UNICEF convened a conference in New Delhi called ‘Stop Stunting’ to call attention to the effect of open defecation on the entire population, particularly children. UNICEF’s ‘Take Poo to the Loo’ campaign in India also works to raise awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation.

“The challenge of open defecation is one of both equity and dignity, and very often of safety as well, particularly for women and girls,” Wijesekera noted. “They have to wait until dark to relieve themselves, putting them in danger of attack, and worse, as we have seen recently.” In May, the hanging of two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh who had gone out after dark to defecate caused international shock and dismay, and highlighted the security issues involved in open defecation.

UNICEF’s Community Approaches to Total Sanitation addresses the problem at the local level by involving communities in devising solutions, and has led to some 26 million people across more than 50 countries abandoning the practice of open defecation since 2008.

Eighty-two per cent of the 1 billion people practising open defecation live in just 10 countries: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, Nepal, China, and Mozambique. The numbers of people practising open defecation are still rising in 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, though they have declined in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Nigeria, numbers of open defecators increased from 23 million in 1990 to 39 million in 2012.

Globally, some 1.9 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990. However, progress has not kept up with population growth and the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation is unlikely to be reached by 2015 at current rates of progress. The inter-governmental Open Working Group on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals have recommended that the new goals include a target of achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation by 2030.

Defecating in open fields, bushes and bodies of water, is widely practiced in Nigeria. 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. In many of our so-called modern cities, people use the outdoors as bathrooms and toilets. Many walkways and nearby bushes reek of urine and decaying faecal matter.

Yet experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it’s extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it has contaminated the food or water supplies or because it has been spread by flies and dust.  According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organization report previously published 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. These deaths are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene.

Ayobolu, a public affairs analyst contributed this piece from Lagos State

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