By Rotimi Ojomoyela
ADO-EKITI — TO most of the residents in the ancient city of Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, open defecation is as old as the city itself.
People are used to relieving themselves in the open without let or hindrance from any quarters.
Most of the households in these areas usually rear pigs to take care of their faeces. Also, houses built close to the hilly and rocky part of the city hardly have toilet facilities, as the spaces on top of the rock provide a veritable avenue for open defecation.
According to experts, this old culture of going out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water or other open spaces to defecate, which has stubbornly held sway in Ekiti, Oyo and many parts of the country, despite the rapid urbanisation, is responsible for the death of more than 100,000 children under the age of five annually, as a result of exposure to unsafe water and sanitation.
Nigeria ranks second among countries practising open defecation globally, according to the findings from the 2018 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome routine mapping (WASH NORM) survey.
The survey also revealed that 24 per cent of Nigeria’s population (47 million people) practise open defecation.
This came to the fore at a two-day media dialogue on sanitation tagged: CLEAN UP NIGERIA: Use the Toilet Campaign, facilitated by the Child Rights Information Bureau, CRIB, of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, held recently in Ibadan.
It was gathered that out of 774 local government areas in Nigeria today, only 13 had stopped open defecation, while provisions of seven million toilets on the average, in Nigeria would stop open defecation.
But the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, FMWR, with the support of UNICEF Nigeria and other development partners and stakeholders, are currently leading the campaign to end open defecation by 2025 and achieve universal access to safely managed sanitation.
Economic, social and health impact
According to experts, open defecation has an economic, social, security and health impact on the nation’s development.
A Water, Sanitation and Hygiene specialist with the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, Mr. Bioye Ogunjobi, who spoke at the media dialogue said Nigeria loses about 1.3% (N455 billion) of GDP annually due to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is as a result of open defecation.
He highlighted percentage of population practising open defecation across the six geo-political zones which include North-Central 53.9 per cent, South-East 22.4 per cent, North- East 21.8 per cent, South-South 17.9 per cent, South-West 28.0 per cent and North-West 10.3 per cent.
Experts argued that where open defecation is preponderant, women are often at more risk of experiencing violence and multiple health vulnerabilities.
They stated that women with poor sanitation facilities are more susceptible to hookworm infestation resulting in maternal anemia, which in turn is directly associated to adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The Head of Child Rights Information Bureau in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mr. Olumide Osanyinpeju, who spoke at the media dialogue posited that “Sanitation is essential ingredient to the survival and development of children. It could reduce the severity and impact of malnutrition. It can also help in reducing the spread of intestinal worms, as well as promoting dignity and boosting safety, particularly among women and children.”
He urged Nigerians to cultivate the habit of using toilets and desist from practising open defecation because of its attendant risk and consequence on human health, especially on the children.
Osanyinpeju said the Federal Government would not relent in the campaign to end open defecation in the country.
He said: “To address this situation, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, sector in November 2018 and reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment to eliminating open defecation in the country.
“The president launched a national campaign to jump-start the country’s journey towards becoming Open Defecation-Free (ODF) nation by 2025.”
A communication specialist with UNICEF, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku tasked the media to step up reportage of issues around sanitation and to sensitise the people on the need to shun open defecation and imbibe use of toilets.
Njoku also enjoined the media to create awareness on the benefits of cleanliness and the dangers of open defecation to peoples’ health and wellbeing.
Meanwhile, a tour of some public places in Ibadan metropolis revealed that the awareness on the need for basic hygiene are beginning to sink in, modest and noticeable progress have been made towards achieving the Sustainable development Goal and eliminating inequality in the WASH sector.
At Sango and Bodija Market in Ibadan, the traders have entered agreement with some investors to provided toilets facilities within the market premises and flat rate of N50 for every user of the facilities.
Penalties were also put in place by the leadership in the markets to prevent flouting of the rule against open defecation.