By Peter Duru, Makurdi

Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu has commended the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the DFID for supporting the implementation of the Sanitation Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) Project under which Ogbadibo Local Government Area, LGA, of Benue state attained an Open Defecation Free, ODF, status.

The Engr. Adamu who gave the commendation Friday in Otukpa the Ogbadibo LGA Headquarters during the celebration of the LGA for attaining an ODF status said it was a land mark achievement.

The Minister who was represented by the Deputy Director Sanitation, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, FMWR, Mr. Emmanuel Eze clarified that the SHAWN project was being implemented across eight states namely, Bauchi, Benue, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Yobe and Zamfara States and 104 LGAs.

“It is therefore worthy to note that Ogbadibo LGA is the first among the 8 SHAWN implementing LGAs in Benue State under this programme to achieve this notable feat of attaining open defecation free status. As at January this year, we have been able to record 20 ODF LGAs in the country in our pursuit of making Nigeria open defecation free by 2025.

“Today’s celebration of Ogbadibo ODF status is an indication that progress is being made towards our target. I believe that these achievements are indication of the high priority my Ministry and other partners have placed on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

“Let me remind you again that, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is a cross cutting sector that impacts other sectors such as Health, Education and Productivity.

“The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is central to the attainment of all the other SDGs as it is said that ‘Water is Life’ and ‘Sanitation is Dignity’. The SDG 6 directly contributes to the attainment of Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, and 17 and contributes indirectly to all the other Goals.

“Therefore, it is imperative that good progress is made in the sector towards achieving the SDG water and sanitation targets.

“The Federal Ministry of Water Resources has over the years ensured improvement in access to water supply across the country with our national access estimated at 69% in 2018 up from 40% in 1990.

“We however recognise that the benefits of improved water supply cannot be optimal without corresponding improvement in sanitation and hygiene practices.

“With a current estimation of about 47 million people in the country practising open defecation, the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a national sanitation access of 42%, we understand that we need to do much more if we are to eliminate open defecation and achieve 100% access to sanitation and hygiene in the country.

“We acknowledge this challenge and are strongly committed to pursuing the collaborative efforts required in addressing the issue.

“Some initiatives of the Ministry to address the situation include the development of the strategy documents ‘Making Nigeria Open Defecation Free by 2025: A National Roadmap’, also known as ODF Roadmap and the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme.

“These were designed as a national collaborative instrument for the improvement of access to water supply and sanitation in the country.

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“As part of the present administration’s commitment to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), President Buhari on 8th November 2018, launched the National Action Plan on the revitalization of the WASH Sector and declared a State of Emergency in the sector with a strong statement to end open defecation in the country.

“The Action Plan also provides the establishment of a National WASH Fund to incentivize reform and infrastructure revitalization.

“Earlier in 2016, the Ministry launched the Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme, which was designed as a national collaborative instrument for the improvement of access to rural water supply and sanitation in the country.

“In view of the stark reality of Nigeria becoming the global leader in open defecation, a National Programme to End Open Defecation in Nigeria tagged ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet Campaign’ was approved by the Federal Executive Council, officially launched and flagged off by the Vice President on 19th November, 2019.”

According to him, “the Campaign is aimed at mobilizing high level political support, resources and the populace towards building a new culture of safe defecation.

“A national secretariat for this programme has been set up by the Ministry to coordinate activities across the country. I also want to particularly commend Benue State Government for being among the first States to launch its Campaign on ending open defecation with the declaration of State of Emergency in the WASH sector.

“I sincerely hope that the state government will commit the needed resources to back up the laudable steps so far taken.

“To achieve the national target of ending open defecation in Nigeria by 2025, we must ensure that households are mobilized to provide their sanitation facilities, and that relevant government institutions and the private sector provide sanitation facilities in public places such as schools, health care centres, parks and markets, in order to realise total coverage and sustainable access for the populace.

“The Ministry recognizes the fact that action to end open defecation in Nigeria will require the contribution and commitment of everyone: government at all levels, civil society, private sector, development partners and the entire populace.

“This will ensure that the deliberate and sustained attention required to end open defecation in the country is given. It is expected that these collective actions will further the speedy attainment of an open defecation free Nigeria by 2025.

“The benefits of access to improved WASH facilities, especially of living in an open defecation free environment, impacts on; education, health, security and socioeconomic wellbeing of the people. In this regard, I wish to commend the people of Ogbadibo LGA for their commitment in making their environment clean and devoid of open defecation through behaviour change. I will encourage you to sustain this achievement, as a relapse will deny you of these inherent benefits.

“I also wish to reiterate my Ministry’s commitment towards improved coordination, partnership and implementation of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes which is expected to address the water, sanitation and hygiene inadequacies in Nigeria, as we look forward to a country where all citizens have access to improved and sustainable WASH services, leaving no one behind,” he added.

Earlier, the Water Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, Manager, UNICEF Enugu Field Office, Ms. Mamita Bora Thakkar noted that February 14, 2020 was a very momentous and historic moment for the people of Benue State, who she said added another LGA to the list of ODF LGAs.

“Let’s be proud, lets’ cherish the accomplishments and celebrate the achievements.

“As only the fourth LGA in the state and one of the 20 in the country of 774 LGAs, Ogbadibo has several reasons to be proud of.

“You are the leaders, you are the torch bearers for change in this country. You have shown what is possible through collective action and collaborative efforts.

“I bring to you the good wishes and a huge applause from UNICEF Nigeria office and congratulate you on this incredible feat.

“We congratulate the LGA WASH team, the State Government of Benue, led by Governor Samuel Ortom, the Commissioner of Water Resources Engr. Dondo Ahire, BERWASSA, led by the General Manager, Mrs. Torkwase Ikyaator, and the numerous men and women who worked tirelessly to achieve a shared vision of ODF Nigeria.

“We are happy that UNICEF, with support of DFID has been a part of this journey, right from the beginning – from the days of the first triggering exercise to the stage of ending Open Defecation. Consistent efforts for the past one year have led to this change to Ogbadibo.

“We need many more Ogbadibos in Benue and in the country in general. We need to fight against Open Defecation, which remains a leading cause of child mortality, morbidity, undernutrition and stunting, and can potentially have negative effects on cognitive development.

“Stunting happens when  children do not absorb the nutrition they need during the early years of their life, is irreversible by the age of two and has long-lasting harmful consequences, including impaired brain development, lower IQ, weakened immune systems and increased risks of nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cancer in later life.

“Please remember that the first 1,000 days of the child is critical to his or her growth and development and here’s where WASH is critical. Handwashing, water quality treatment, sanitation, and hygiene are core interventions for child under nutrition and survival. having these in place would result in better child survival and growth.

“Poor sanitation can also be a barrier to education and economic opportunity, with women and girls often particularly vulnerable to the consequences of poor sanitation services.

“The multiple adverse effects of poor sanitation show how SDG 6.2 underpins and will be crucial to achieving many other SDGs, including those related to nutrition, health, education, poverty and economic growth, and gender equality.

“We need results at scale. There needs to be a combination of strategies to achieve sanitation at scale, produce many more Ogbadibos in the state and in the country. In December 2019, Governor Samuel Ortom, launched the Clean Benue: Use The Toilet Campaign and also used the opportunity to Declare a State of Emergency on the WASH in Benue State, inaugurated an inter-ministerial State Steering Committee chaired and flagged-off the Clean Benue Campaign. So what does this mean?

“Emergency means we need rapid actions with clear vision and defined results. We need to start moving to newer LGAs, where real work is still to begin.

“We need to create community demand for sanitation, build awareness of ill effects of open defecation, mobilize communities to collectively decide that they no more want to live in filth and dirt, that they want better future for their children, dignity and privacy for their women.

Speaking further Thakkar said, “let’s adopt Community Led Total Support, CLTS, approach in a holistic way to change community behaviour and use it to create a new social norm, that can inspire everyone to start practicing safe sanitation.

“In our pursuit to achieving scale, lets also not forget ‘universal’ access. How do we make sure that those who are marginalized and left out, also get covered?

“Those who are geographically unreached so far, the physically challenged, the pregnant mothers, the displaced people…. how can we reach to those people. After all the SDGs are about leaving no one behind.”

She recalled that “the NORM data of 2018-19 show 50% of the population in Benue which is close to 2.9 million, practice Open Defecation and only 9% of the House Holds have access to soap and water for handwashing. This is indeed not an encouraging picture. 14 out of the 23 LGAs in Benue are now putting efforts to become ODF, and to achieve the 2023 target of an ODF State.

“But more needs to be done to change the statistics. It’s not only about toilets, its also about ensuring every individual practices handwashing with soap at critical times.

“Business as usual will not work. We need rapid actions. We cannot simply pick up a few communities here and a few there and then hope to achieve ODF Benue or an ODF Benue by 2025.

“On one hand we need LGA wide actions and on the other hand we need to drive state wide actions. On one hand, there is a need for large scale drive by communities, awareness raising and a social mobilisation campaign. On the other hand we need the state to support with budgets, monitoring systems, capacity building and more.

“There is a need for states to develop ODF State Strategy, develop LGA wise investment plans. The State needs to know what it takes to create ODF LGAs and sustain these.

“We need a new political momentum, we need policy makers to review and monitor progress towards ODF, review sanitation coverage, address institutional bottlenecks. Only these collective efforts will lead to a new ODF State or an ODF country.

“The sector needs increased budget and investments. Budgets need to be released on time for activities, LGAs need further capacities on WASH, to facilitate behaviour change, monitoring needs to be strengthened at multiple levels and a new political momentum is required.

“So, the journey has only begun. But as Lao Tsu said – A journey of thousand miles, begin with a single step. Let’s make sure, we don’t leave the journey half way and we all move together in this journey,” she added.

Also speaking, the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Engr. Dondo Ahire who was represented by his Permanent Secretary, Mr. Wilfred Ogili assured that the state government would sustain the tempo of ensuring that more LGAs and indeed the entire state attained the ODF status.

While commending UNICEF/DFID intervention to help the state attain the status, the Commissioner assured that the Governor Samuel Ortom led government would continue to partner the international organisations to actualize a statewide ODF status even as he enjoined other LGAs of the state to double their efforts in other to actualize the status.

In her remark, the General Manager of Benue Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, BERWASSA, Mrs. Torkwase Ikyaator noted that the event was the culmination of an enormous collective effort which began in 2012 when Ogbadubo was selected among two other local governments for intervention in the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) programme being implemented by UNICEF in collaboration with Benue State Government.

She said “we are inspired by this landmark achievement which has seen Benue State make progress on improving sanitation coverage in our LGAs.”

Represented by the Secretary of BERWASSA, Mr. Tony Mkpen, Mrs. Ikyaator observer that the declaration of LGAs in the state as ODF was an important factor in reducing disease outbreaks such as diarrhea in communities.

She said though the number of LGAs that had attained the status “is a far cry from the target of making Benue open defecation-free by 2025, with hard work, political will and commitment, it is achievable.

“Open Defecation do not only create a breeding ground for infectious and parasitic diseases but also raises morbidity and mortality rates.

“Over 90 per cent of the chronic diseases affecting Benue’s communities, particularly those in rural areas, are due to open defecation, poor sanitation and hygiene conditions.

“We will continue to motivate and empower community leaders to sustain the gains made in sanitation and focus them on a path of continued improvement.

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“The ODF status achieved in the State has to be sustained by ensuring use of toilets by the whole population at all times, and the challenges of achieving total sanitation including practices such as handwashing with soap will further be encouraged,” she reiterated

Also speaking the paramount ruler of the area, Ada Ogbadibo Chief Emmanuel Ode, represented by Prince Agbo Enenche commended UNICEF/DFID, the Federal and state governments for choosing Ogbadibo LGA for the intervention promising that his subjects would remain grateful and appreciate the gesture by ensuring that the status is sustained.

On his part, the Acting Caretaker chairman of the LGA and Secretary of the Council, Mr. Monday Idoko said it was a historic day for the people of Ogbadibo.

He lauded UNICEF/DFID for the intervention stressing that with the attainment, “our people are now free from all forms of ailments and diseases that are triggered by open defecation and its attendant health hazards and implications on the wellbeing of the people.”

Vanguard

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