Why open defecation rises in Nigeria, By Abdallah el-Kurebe
The Sustainable Development Goal 6 estimates that “2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines” and that the world would “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 by 2030.”
Nigeria, with an estimated population of over 195.88 million people in 2018, is one of the countries in the world with the highest number of people (over 46 million people) practicing open defecation (OD).
According to the 2016/17 Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), the percentage distribution of household population using improved sources of drinking water in Nigeria, is as high as 93.6 percent (for Lagos state) and as low as 32.6 percent (for Sokoto state).
According to Nigeria’s 2016/17 water and sanitation ladders, the members of households are put at 182,165. The country’s unimproved sanitation data is made up of 35.9% for improved sanitation; 1.5% for shared facilities; 25.0% for unimproved facilities and 23.5% for OD.
The percentage of household population that practice open defecation ranges from as high as 62.5% (for Kogi state) and as low as 2.5% (for Lagos state). The population that practice OD in Sokoto state is 32.1% with unimproved facilities of 20.8%. Kogi and Lagos states have unimproved facility percentage of 4.8 and 1.4, respectively.
Public toilets built by RUWASSA
The crises identified as associated with OD include outbreaks of diarrhea, cholera and other diseases across Nigeria where 124,000 children of age five die every year. There are also social crises including loss of dignity and privacy or risk of physical attack. Sexual violence is a reality when sanitation facilities are not available.
For the 2018 year running, Nigeria budgeted N1 billion for health emergencies and contagious diseases outbreaks, meningitis, measles, yellow fever. It also budgeted N2 billion for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH. Additionally, N3.5 billion was budgeted for counterpart funding on health related interventions. Sokoto state government budgeted N1,493,000,000 for water and sanitation for the same year running.
The economic burden according to a desk study by the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP), poor sanitation costs Nigeria $3 billion (N455 million) annually. This equals $20 per person per year or 1.3 percent of annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the study, “open defecation costs more per person than any other type of unimproved sanitation…” OD has considerable social costs as well as other costs including costs of epidemic outbreak, costs of funeral costs, water pollution, etc.
This research findings show that among strategies adopted by Nigeria against OD is partnership with UNICEF. The Fund is a key agency in the country’s efforts to eliminate OD by 2025. UNICEF’s intervention comes in the way of water pumps repairs as well as construction of toilets through community-based approaches.
As a result of the rise in OD and in line with the UN global campaign against OD, Nigeria established the National Council on Water Resources in 2014, which drew up a roadmap tagged: “Making Nigeria Open Defecation Free by 2025: A National Roadmap,” to eliminate OD with support from UNICEF. The road map was endorsed in 2016.
Private commercial toilets for use by the public
Line ministries identified to work together in order to achieve the campaign include Federal ministries of Water Resources, Environment, Health, Education, Housing and Urban Development and Women Affairs as important in the drive for OD-free Nigeria. Each has vital role to play in the fight against OD because in the fight, their roles are intertwined.
Household members, environmental experts, policymakers that I spoke with identified overpopulation, lack of public awareness, city congestion and lack of adequate facilities as major reasons for open defecation in Nigeria.
A 55 year old journalist in Lagos, Abdulfatai Abdulsalam said, “This is because there are no adequate toilets to cater for the overgrowing population. In the rural areas, this is non-existent. There is low level of education too. The problem is less in the urban areas where there is some level of awareness. This calls for intensive health education and sensitization by government.”
Muritala Ajadi, a civil servant with Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto (UDUS), said “One of the reasons for open defecation in Sokoto is that there are no enough public toilets where one could avail himself of when pressed. There are more living in houses without adequate toilet facilities. Another reason is the absence or low level of public awareness and exposure. The quick alternative is to defecate in the open.”
Toilets built by RUWASSA for students of a school
According to a social worker, Hamza Idris it is not common to see women defecating in the open, especially in urban areas except in rural villages where there are nearby bushes.
“In urban areas, women have the luxury of using available toilets in homes. In this case, they receive the rare care and protection. Where men could be seen defecating in the open in city centres, women could even visit neighbouring houses to defecate in their toilets. They are hardly seen in the open. This is probably because of our tradition here in Northern Nigeria.
“So, cases of fear of attack or other forms of threats to women are erased. I will not say that they don’t at all, but frankly, this is hardly seen,” Idris told me.
When I came in contact with a group of young students of Qur’an, one of them, a 14-year old Mammada said as itinerant students, they had no alternatives to open defecation. “We came to study the Qur’an and don’t have personal houses because our parents are not here. We live in tens; in rooms provided by our teacher and have to go out to the fields to defecate. We don’t have alternative to that,” Mammada said.
An Abuja-based independent environment expert, Dr. Ayuba Danasabe Umar told me in a telephone interview that lack of public awareness was one of the reasons responsible for the rise of open defecation in Nigeria.
“As a first step, the Nigerian population requires enhanced awareness campaign on the negative effects of open defecation. Other measures including incentives for those who avoid practicing OD and punitive measures against those who are bent on practicing OD should be taken by government,” he said.
Umar posits that the provision of adequate public toilet facilities would rid the country of the many “enteric diseases, gastroenteritis, faecal contaminants that attack the water bodies. Allowing OD gives vent for vermin which come from contaminants to our food, including fruits thereby breeding typhoid fever.”
He further told me that since government cannot do it alone, the private sector should be encouraged to provide these facilities.
The Director, School of Environmental Studies at Umaru Shinkafi Polytechnic Sokoto, Yusuf Idris identified ignorance of the consequences of OD as well as disregard for environmental rules were among reasons the rise in the practice of OD.
“One factor that boosts public ignorance of the consequences of open defecation is lack of sensitisation. People are ignorant and there is no sensitisation. Public disregard for adherence to environmental rules, which compliments lack of enforcement of these rules by government, is another. Since government is responsible for the provision of medical care to the public, it should be seen to enforce environmental rules, which in turn curbs spread of contagious diseases,” Isah told me.
A Gusau-based commercial toilet operator, Adamu Lauwali said he earns a living from operating commercial toilet. According to him, he charges between N20 and N50 per person for the usage of his facilities. Between 60 and 200 customers patronize him, daily.
”I get between 50 and 60 customers daily. On a good day, 100 people use this facility and I charge between N20 and N50 depending on what a customer comes to do. Some come to take their bath but most of them come to defecate. Most of the customers do not have toilet facilities in their houses.
“As you can see, the facility is close to a motor park which is travellers’ departure or arrival point. Passengers simply come here to avail themselves of our services,” Lauwali told me.
Sokoto state contends with the MICS indicators that its percentage distribution of household population that use improved sources of drinking water is 32.6 percent.
According to the Executive Secretary of Sokoto State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), Engr. Sidi Abbas, the state government had committed huge resources. He told me in an interview that against MICS data, RUWASSA in collaboration with UNICEF was working to provide ‘credible data’ of WASH facilities. The data would confirm the state’s position that it was underrated on percentage coverage.
MICS rates the population of those in Sokoto state with access to water and sanitation as 32.6 percent and 67.4 percent as those without access to safe drinking water. Additionally, while 40.7 percent have access to improved sanitation facility, 59.3 percent do not have access to improved sanitation facilities and therefore practice Open Defecation.
Abbas agrees that one of the reasons for open defecation is poor sanitation habits as well as lack of toilet facilities. “RUWASSA has embarked on state-wide sensitization on Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) across the state. The impact of unimproved sanitization to underground water pollution, in Sokoto like other states, is the presence of thermo tolerant coli in drinking water, which indicates contamination,” he told me.
He explains why cases of diarrhoea, typhoid, gastroenteritis, etc are reported, especially at areas where OD is practiced and why Sokoto state government is proactive in eliminating OD.
“E-coli are derived mostly from human faeces due to poor sanitation hygiene. Thermo tolerant coli grow at 44 degree centigrade. Faecal streptococci is an indicator of Faecal pollution and survive longer in water environment than e-coli. This data prompts government into taking actions that would create public awareness on the issue of OD.
“Sokoto state developed a road map that will enable the state be declared as Open Defecation-fee on or before the end of 2025 and RUWASSA has engaged trained artisans in the 23 local government areas of the state to design as well as building toilets for communities.
Abbas adds that “Sokoto state’s budget for water and sanitation for the year 2018 is N1,493,000,000.”