The recent report that Nigeria is listed among the top five open defecation countries in the world is lamentable. The country, according to the report, rose from its 5th position in 2003 to 2nd place in 2015 behind India. Also worrisome is the disclosure by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, that Nigeria is set to overtake India in open defecation. The minister, who spoke at the 3rd Founder’s Day ceremony of Edo University, Iyamho, observed that Nigeria was unable to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets for water supply and sanitation because of poor investments, low capacity and other challenges not limited to rural areas.
Available statistics reveal that access to sanitation has been on the decline from 30 per cent in 2010 to 28 per cent in 2015 while open defecation has been on the increase in Nigeria. The 2018 National Outcome Mapping Report showed that 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open, while the country loses N455 billion (US$1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. The losses are primarily on premature deaths, health care costs, and productivity. More worrisome is the fact that there are only 10 local government areas in the country that have attained open defecation-free status.
Last year, the findings by the Brookings Institute, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock, indicated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87million Nigerians believed to be living on less than $1.90 a day. There is no doubt that the link between poverty and poor sanitation is very thin, intertwined and tenuous.
It sad that human faeces litter public places such as railways, motor parks, waterways, filling stations, footpaths, highways, playing grounds, forests, stadia and others across the country. Unarguably, lack of safe water has contributed to open defecation in the country.
We believe that improving access to potable water and reduction of poverty will largely reduce open defecation. Curbing open defecation will also check morbidity, avoidable diseases and improve the quality of life of Nigerians. Sadly, efforts by government to provide public toilets and enforce sanitation habits have been vitiated by ignorance and inability to adapt to change by some Nigerians.
The World Bank’s recent statistics show that regions with high rates of open defecation experience catastrophic waste management problems. Unfortunately, the warnings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that open defecation can lead to cholera, typhoid, trachoma, diarrhea, stomach upsets and poor overall health, have not been heeded.
It is also a fact that the environment also suffers as a result of open defecation because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle at a time. This leads to build-up of filth. The load of microbes can become so much that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to aquatic life. To overcome this problem, we urge the government to invest more in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Health). The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that about N95billion will be needed per year to eliminate open defecation in Nigeria. It also advises that the country could achieve economic gains as high as N359.1 billion ($US 1.026 billion) annually from the N455 billion it loses due to lack of sanitation.
We urge the Federal and State governments to prioritise sanitation and put measures in place to curb open defecation. The 774 local governments should be involved in the campaign to end open defecation in the country. The government should initiate more bills to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation-Free Roadmap. The Open Defecation-Free Roadmap is a plan to eliminate open defecation by 2025. Government should put into consideration the N234billion needed to attain open defecation-free status in its annual budget.
While we recognise the involvement of individuals, communities and government in curbing open defecation, we call for the provision of more toilets in the communities, schools, health centres, markets and other places. Government should enlighten the citizens on the need to stop open defecation.