The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that 779 million people in Africa lack basic sanitation services, while 208 million still practice open defecation. Also, out of the estimated 800 million African populations, only 290 million people had access to basic sanitation services between 2000 and 2020.
A WHO/United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme report on progress on drinking water and sanitation also reveals that only 29 per cent of health care facilities in Africa have basic sanitation services. The report also says that two out of three people lack safely managed sanitation services, 27 per cent of rural and 5 per cent of urban populations in the continent still practice open defecation. The WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, gave the startling revelation in her message to commemorate the 2022 World Toilet Day (WTD). WTD is observed every November 19 as an official United Nations international day to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis worldwide and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Water and sanitation for all by 2030.”
Sustainable Development Goal 6 aims at ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. It is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015. In particular, target 6.2 is to end open defecation and provide access to sanitation and hygiene.
The marking of the World Toilet Day offers an opportunity to inform, engage and inspire people to take action toward achieving the goal of providing “clean water and sanitation for all.” This year’s World Toilet Day campaign with the theme, “Making the invisible visible,” focuses on the impact of the sanitation crisis on groundwater, exploring how inadequate sanitation systems spread human waste into rivers, lakes and soil, polluting underground water resources. The central message of campaign is that safely managed sanitation protects groundwater from human waste pollution. Unfortunately, the target is far from being achieved. Nigeria is among the countries lagging behind in meeting the target. A 2021 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH-NORM) III Report, an annual national assessment of the status of water, sanitation and hygiene services, stated that no fewer than 48 million Nigerians still practice open defecation.
Earlier report by UNICEF and WHO entitled: “Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa 2000 to 2020: Five Years into the SDGs” showed that Nigeria led the rest of Africa on open defecation and non-availability of basic hygiene services in 2020. The report stated that 160 million Nigerians lacked basic sanitation services between 2015 and 2020. The scary report underscores the magnitude of water challenge in the country. Water supply is a big problem in the country. Many Nigerians do not have access to potable water but rely so much on untreated boreholes, streams and ponds. Without safe water supply, adequate sanitation and public hygiene cannot be guaranteed. Equally, without adequate sanitation, it is easier for water-borne diseases to spread. This accounts for the regular outbreak of cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever and malaria, in some communities in the country.
At least, 13 local government areas in Borno State experienced cholera outbreak with more than 6,000 suspected cases and a 4-5 per cent case fatality ratio, following the recent flooding that affected water supply in some parts of the country. Between January and August 2021, 31,425 suspected cases of cholera, 311 confirmed cases and 816 deaths were reported from 22 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT). For instance, Benue, Delta, Zamfara, Gombe, Bayelsa, Kogi and Sokoto were among the affected states. Many of the victims lacked access to water and toilet facilities.
A situation where a significant percentage of Nigerian population does not have access to water sanitation facilities, especially in the rural areas portends danger for the country. We agree with UNICEF that the connection between sanitation and groundwater cannot be overlooked. Access to safely managed sanitation services will enhance public health. It is glaring that in densely populated urban settings, pit latrines and septic tanks sited close to same water points that draw from shallow aquifers create potentially serious health risks. Lack of access to safely managed sanitation is a barrier to citizens, particularly the females from full participation in the society. A safe and sustainable sanitation system begins with a toilet that effectively captures human waste in a safe, accessible and dignified setting.
Therefore, the government must ensure that all Nigerians have access to clean water and sanitation. The state and federal governments must strive to end open defecation, which has so much contributed to the spread of diseases in the country. The goal of providing clean water and sanitation for all by 2030 is desirable and achievable.