We deserve access to decent toilets

Another troubling measure of our country’s inability to decisively grapple with its developmental challenges is its citizens’ perennial poor access to decent toilets. In the place of such decent toilets, the citizens are saddled with open defecation (OD) which has over the years drawn global concern because of its dire health implications. This may account for why the world set aside a day to commemorate Toilet Day.

Open defecation (OD) is the human practice of defecating in the open. In lieu of toilets, people use fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water or other open space. The practice is common where sanitation infrastructure is not available. This should not be associated with Africa’s most populous nation.

Currently, Nigeria is the second, behind India in terms of countries with the highest number of people defecating in the open, while in Africa, it ranks first! So, once India moves out of its position, Nigeria will be exposed to that shameful position as in poverty index.While the world was commemorating the Toilet Day this year, WaterAid Nigeria, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) said that although, Nigeria had made progress in reaching people with water, as seven in 10 people now have potable water to drink, fewer than three in 10 people have a decent toilet. Nigeria has a big task ahead of it to install the right sanitation systems.

Aggregating the figure, the NGO stated that more than 120 million Nigerians lack access to decent toilets in their homes. This is despite the fact that ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to potable water and a decent toilet by 2030 is crucial for actualising the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.

The statistics of WaterAid, is somewhat worrisome, given the available national data on the issue of sanitation, as the 2013 Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) data show that 30% of Nigerian households use improved toilet facilities that are not shared with other households; 25% of households use shared toilet facilities; while 45% use non-improved facilities. In addition, the most recent released Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2016-17 aggregated data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), reveal that about 52% of Nigerians have access to improved sanitation facility; 25%, unimproved sanitation facility; while 23%, defecate in the open.

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However, looking at the population of Nigeria, the 23% who defecate in the open is more than the population of some countries. Therefore that fact should be a concern, particularly because of the health implications of open defecation.

Health experts have said that the unhygienic and sanitary behaviours noticeable in some citizens are as a result of poor knowledge and low risk perception of the health hazards associated with open defecation. They say that the low risk perception of open defecation is seated in deep-rooted beliefs, ignorance, lack of awareness on low cost technological latrine options and socio-cultural prejudices. They argue that the practice of defecating and urinating in the bush, close to the homes or near water sources where the people are found using the same river for drinking water as well as defecation; the infrequent washing of hands at critical times with soap or ash; and the indiscriminate disposal of waste are among the most significant factors associated with the high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in Nigerian communities.

Essentially, the challenge of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have contributed to the high incidence of water-borne diseases affecting mostly women and children; as millions of children die of diarrhoea annually, and hundreds of millions of women and girls confront the indignity and danger of open defecation daily.

Although, the national data on access to sanitation facility show that WASH promotion activities, which are major components of the federal government and UNICEF WASH Programme in Nigeria are yielding fruits; there is room for more concerted efforts and institutional synergy because of the linkages between sanitation and health.

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As such, government at all levels should prioritise investment in the sanitation sector for the country to achieve open defecation free (ODF) and sustainable total sanitation. This is against the backdrop that under the Nigerian Constitution (1999) as amended, water supply and sanitation (WSS) is a responsibility shared by the three tiers of government. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR) is responsible for policy formulation, coordination, and planning and participates in capital investment as the principal lead Ministry in the WASH sector. At the state level, some states have Ministry of Water Resources, but in some other states the responsibility for water resources is combined with Rural Development or Environment. While WASH departments/units at the local government level and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOM) in the communities are responsible for rural water and sanitation; hence, the need to invest more money and spend it efficiently.

In doing this, particular attention should be paid to women and girls, as they confront the indignity and danger of open defecation daily, which calls for urgent action aimed at a turn around. As such, in addressing the sanitation situation, there should be particular focus on the needs of women and girls to promote the value of sanitation for gender equality and female empowerment.

Achieving total sanitation is also the responsibility of individuals, property/homeowners, families, work groups, unions and associations, civil society organisations, private sector and the media. So, since the private sector is generally involved as semi and non-formal small-scale water, sanitation and hygiene service providers in urban areas, semi-urban (small towns) and communities; state governments should work with private firms to improve sanitation. And local communities should develop acceptable simple and practical systems that provide key stakeholders and other actors with the necessary information to make informed decisions, especially on low cost technological options; and also ignite community-led responsive processes through self-realization.

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Meanwhile, schools should discourage open defecation and stimulate toilet usage by establishing and informing demand for sanitation options; and make hygiene promotion more engaging and fun through promoting learning by participation and practice.

In the same vein, the media should address the socio-cultural prejudices that have fuelled low risk perception of poor sanitation through its messages, and also sensitise Nigerians to the linkages between poor sanitation and poor health; highlighting its implications of the reduction in diarrheal diseases and deaths; hence reduced spending on hospital bills, increase in school attendance and increased productivity. So, the onus rests on the media to constantly package information to stimulate desired behaviours and social change; bringing to the fore that achieving ODF as a nation is the collective responsibility of all. Overall by achieving ODF, the Nigerian state will be on the path of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) 6, which is on clean water and sanitation; and by extension SDG 3, which is on good health and well-being.

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