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THE SHAME OF OPEN DEFECATION

Millions of Nigerians still use the outdoors as convenience

These days when Nigeria hits the international headlines, chances are that the news will be depressing. What has inspired the latest round is the shameful revelation that Nigeria cannot deal with its own excrement. Some 34 million people in the country use the open fields, forests and bushes and bodies of water as convenience. But the cost of this unhealthy living conditions – of indiscriminately polluting the environment – is  expensive.  Lack of toilets and inadequate sanitation has been linked to some of the health challenges afflicting the nation today, many of them fatal, particularly to children.

According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report, lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. The report said that diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary condition, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kills about 400000 children, under the age of five, annually.   “These are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Goffrey Njoku, spokesman of UNICEF in Nigeria. Earlier in the year, in a related report, both organizations also ranked Nigeria only ahead of China and India on the list of countries without access to potable water and where 20 percent of our population indulged in “open defecation”. This latest report is evident that the country had not made any progress.  Indeed, the figure is suggestive that more Nigerians now use the outdoors to ease themselves.

The UNICEF report was amplified by Dr. Michael Ojo, Country Representative of WaterAid to Nigeria, who brought the shame to almost every home. He said every seven in ten women in Nigeria have no access to a safe toilet, and more than 50 million Nigeria women and girls lacked safe and adequate sanitation, while 17 million do not have access to toilets at all. “Every year, over 85000 mothers in Nigeria lose a child to diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water,“ said Ojo. “ Women and girls living in Nigeria without toilet facilities spend 3.1billion hours each year finding a place to go to the toilet in the open.”

Even if we are not sure of the hours, it is obvious that sanitation is a major challenge in the country. The evidence is everywhere. The country is one huge field, where people defecate, without shame, and without putting into consideration the impact of their action on the health of others. In many rural communities, people still build houses without provision for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines where waste can be emptied without others coming  in contact with it. In the urban centres, the issue is pervasive. In many of our so-called modern cities, many people use the outdoors as bathrooms and toilets. Many walkways and nearby bushes reek of urine and decaying faecal matters.  Some of university communities also spread intense odour as many students, in the absence of clean toilets in the hostels, use any available space as convenience. And experts have consistently warned that when large numbers of people are defecating outdoors, it’s extremely difficult to avoid ingesting human waste, either because it’s entered the food or water supplies or because it has been spread by flies and dust.

But as Ban Ki –moon, the United Nations secretary general once declared, sanitation is “ a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.” Indeed, potable water and improved sanitation services are verifiable measures for fighting poverty and diseases.  Perhaps, that is why it is an essential part of the Millenniun Development Goals. We therefore call on governments, at every level, to invest more in this “cheap” commodity – by providing public toilets, and even more, by creating awareness on while people should use the toilet. It will be worth it, because it will save lives.