Home Column Ivotesng Weekend Special: The Practice of Open Defecation in Nigeria
Column - April 7, 2019

Ivotesng Weekend Special: The Practice of Open Defecation in Nigeria

with Ayotomiwa Ayodele

This corner is created to talk about any issue related to mankind, either to awaken our consciousness to a looming danger or to enlighten our audience on a particular topic.

On this corner today, I will be beaming my searchlight on an issue that has become a global concern yet no significant measures are being put in place to forestall the negative effects on the health of citizens.

According to a survey conducted and reported by UNICEF in 2018, Nigeria is rated to be the second worst country with cases of open defecation, after India.

Truly, the call of nature is inescapable, and no one has the ability to refuse it. But could this be the reason many Nigerians respond in the most disgusting way that could attract negative implications apart from portraying humans as the worst animals on earth?!

Today, it is commonplace to find human faeces in open spaces even in the best cities across the country.

From the backyard of an average compound in Nigeria to public places such as railways, motor parks, airport terminal buildings, filling stations, footpaths, highways, streets, playing grounds, prayer houses, forests, and stadiums; there are faeces everywhere.

Unarguably, adequate sanitation with good hygiene and safe water are fundamental to good health, and social and economic development. This is why, in 2008, the Prime Minister of India quoted one of his predecessors, Mahatma Gandhi, as saying in 1923, “Sanitation is more important than independence”.

Every society is recognized based on how it responds to and manages human waste. But how true is this in Nigeria of today?

It is common to see people selling foods, sleeping, eating and drinking beside human faeces in Lagos, across the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT.

Several questions have been raised on why many Nigerians engage in open defecation. Sadly, there seems to be no definite answer to these questions. While some claimed open defecation is due to poverty and lack of government support in providing toilet facilities, in cases where the facilities are available, people still end up defecating in the open.

Some of the effects of open defecation, according to experts, leave much to be desired; according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), open defecation is associated with water-borne diseases. For example:

* When open defecation is done near waterways, it is carried into the water system. The contaminated water ends up in the main water source. When people use this water as it is for drinking and cooking, it results in water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and trachoma.

* Open defecation is also linked to vector-borne diseases. Experts say apart from water-borne diseases, when the human waste collects into heaps, it attracts flies and other insects. These flies then travel around the surrounding areas, carrying defecate matters and disease-causing microbes, then they land on food and drinks that people ingest unknowingly. In such cases, the flies act as direct transmitters of diseases such as cholera.

* According to public health experts, a sad fact about disease transmission caused by open defecation is the cyclic nature of problems that victims begin to manifest. The most common diseases caused by this unsanitary act are increased cases of diarrhoea, regular stomach upsets, and poor overall health. With diarrhoea, for instance, it means that people cannot make their way to distant places due to the urgency of their calls of nature, so they pass wastes close to where they have their bowel attacks. This simply ends up creating more of the same problems that started the disease and, in turn, leads to more people contracting more diseases and fewer people using the facilities. The result of this is more sick people and more opportunities for the disease to spread.

* Open defecation is also linked to malnutrition in children. Once a child is a victim of one of the diseases passed on due to the lack of proper sanitation and hygiene, they begin to lose a lot of fluids and a lack of appetite for food. As a result, it gives rise to many cases of malnutrition in children. The situation is worsened by intestinal worm attacks passed through human waste. Altogether, these problems lead to stunted growth and weakened immune system that makes the child more susceptible to other diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

* The environment also suffers as a result of open defecation, because it introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle or break down at a time. This leads to build-up of filth. The load of microbes can become so great that, in the end, they end up in aquatic systems thereby causing harm to aquatic life.

All these aforementioned negative effects show that stringent measures need to be put in place to prevent the continuation of this dangerous trend. This is not just about government at all levels, but it’s about our collective efforts as citizens as we are usually the most affected.

Experts have given some suggestions; tasked the Nigerian government to invest more in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). They said Nigeria needs only N95.9 billion per year to eliminate open defecation.

According to them, there is a need for the country to prioritize sanitation on the Federal and State government agenda and declare a state of emergency in the sector.

They said, as a way out of the problem, the government should initiate bills/laws to promote sanitation and take urgent action to implement Open Defecation Roadmap.

Noting that Nigeria needs a total of N234 billion to attain open defecation-free, there is a call for a separate budget line for sanitation.

However, critical health watchers believed that the solution to open defecation requires the involvement of individuals, households, and government. While they called for the provision of adequate toilets and water, they stressed the need for education and awareness to correct the natural norms and beliefs of the people.

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