MICHAEL OLANREWAJU, Ilorin
Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside in the open environment like fields, forests, bushes, lakes and rivers rather than into a toilet.
This practice has become a menace in Kwara State of Nigeria because of threats to human lives and public health. Open defecation is an affront to the dignity, health and well-being especially of girls and women. It makes many of them lack privacy while menstruating and expose them to sexual exploitation as well as personal safety.
According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), one grain of faeces can contain ten million viruses, one million bacteria and one thousand parasite cysts which poor sanitation and hygienic practices like not washing hands after defecation or before eating which according to the World Health Organization (WHO) has contributed to over 800,000 deaths from diarrhea annually which is by far higher than malaria.
In the case of Kwara State, the total population according to the National Population Commission (NPC) 1991 census is 1.5million while the estimates projection from therein put it at 3.5million. 80 per cent of this population lives in the rural areas, which means about 2.8million people are in the rural communities. United Nations statistics further revealed that about 91 per cent of rural dwellers are vulnerable to open defecation practices due to lack of toilets. This means, Kwara State have a challenge of dealing with about 2.5 million people vulnerable to open defecation.
This tallies with the survey made by the UNICEF in October, 2019 which named Nigeria as the country with most people practicing open defecation more than India which has outlawed the practice. It said that “about 25 per cent or more than 47million Nigerians lack access to toilet facilities. The majority are in rural areas where many poor people can’t afford to install toilets in their houses. The result is defecation in bushes and fields leading to contaminated water supplies and the spread of disease.”
The Minister for Environment, Muhammad Mahmud, declared state of emergency on water sanitation and hygiene while expressing the determination of the Federal Government of Nigeria to end open defecation and achieve United Nations goal by 2025, five years ahead of schedule. Declaring open defecation as more prevalent in North Central Geo-Political zone which included Kwara State, he said, only 14 out of 774 Local Government Areas in the country are open defecation free.
One would have asked for some of the challenges facing the Kwara State Government in its quest to end open defecation? Most of the places where the practices are daily practised are the rural communities across the State where it has been going on for centuries. It is an ingrained cultural norm in most of these communities. Stopping it therefore requires a sustained shift in the behavioural patterns of these communities.
There is also the challenge of funding of campaigns and other programmes of activities geared towards ending open defecation. In 2016, Nigeria launched an action plan of its own, aiming to end open defecation by 2025, which involves equitable access to water sanitation and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation. However, by November, 2018, with non-release of funds, President Muhammad Buhari declared a state of emergency.
The way forward is for Kwara State Government to provide funds for campaigns, workshops for stakeholders in sanitation sector targeted at bringing an end to open defecation.
Zaid Jurji (head of WASH at UNICEF Nigeria) disclosed that Nigeria needs N959billion ($2.7billion) to end open defecation by 2025. To meet 2025 target Nigeria needs to build 2million toilers every year from 2019 to 2025.
The administration of Governor AbdulRahmon AbsulRasaq of Kwara State realising this, has in August 2019 gave an approval for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to build Integrated Modern Public Toilets in deserving areas of Ilorin metropolis. While this is a commendable step but the most vulnerable people are mose in the rural communities.
According to the Governor, the prototypes are built to be self sustaining with their own source of energy serviced by the underground water. There are bath and toilet wares on both male and female wings making a total of ten rooms in each facility. Shops are built at the front and on the sides to generate revenue for the maintenance of the facility.
He added further that before Government begins enforcement at stamping out open defecation, he would have provided befitting and standard toilet facilities in all strategic places in the State, saying, “water and sanitation are central to healthy living. We can only have hygienic environment when human and other forms of waste are properly disposed.”
For a comprehensive solution to open defecation challenge in Kwara, the State Government needs to carry along the traditional rulers, religious leaders, market women and men, landlords, Local Government Chairmen, community based organizations, civil society organizations, and other relevant stakeholders in the enlightenment campaigns to end open defecation throughout the state.
There is need for the state Government to reinvigorate and strengthen the sanitation inspection officers saddled with enforcement of environmental cleanliness and local hygienic environment whom the local populace fear in those days. Their existence and services seems to have gone into oblivion. They are vital in the quest to achieve end to open defecation.
A Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Prof. Godson Ana in a recent newspaper publication while condemning open defecation practice opined that “the role of Government is to ensure that policies are implemented as we have a lot of policies but the will power is not there.”
The State Government should apart from building toilet facilities encourage and invite private participation into the sector. There are private toilet facilities provider in urban centres like Lagos and Abuja who are making their livings from it, engage other hands in employment and paying taxes to Government.
Relevant environmental health, sanitation and hygiene should be put in place before the State House of Assembly in the quest to end open defecation. It will not be out of place for the officers of the State Ministry of Environment and Forestry to examine critically all extant laws on hygiene and sanitation and proposed more bills that would bring an end to open defecation practices in all parts of the State.
Kwara State Government should understudy the success recorded by the erstwhile First Lady of Osun State, Alhaja Sherifat Abidemi Aregbesola, in her Sheri Care Foundation as well as that of present First Lady in the state, Kafayat Oyetola, as both of them are Kwarans married to Osun State indigenes with a single pet programme of promoting environmental health, sanitation and hygiene which has seen the UNICEF Nigeria declaring 103 communities in the State open defecation-free.
Much attention is needed by the Kwara State Government to galvanize its environmental officers in conjunction with all other stakeholders if indeed the state desires to be among States that would be open defecation practices free by 2025 in line with Nigeria Federal Government plans and United Nations Sustainable Development Plans (SDG).
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