Open defecation, for example, is dangerous for several reasons. One is that woods and fields can be unsafe, especially in the dark and especially for women and children, because of everything from crime to poisonous snakes. But the other problem is that it creates huge health hazards. (Image credits: Chester Holmes
We go to the stream, we don’t have water here, even toilets; we usually use the bush. A woman was bitten by a snake while defecating in the bush and another one was bitten when she went to pick firewood for cooking,” Hannatu Peter, an internally displaced person at the New Gongola IDP camp in the Federal Capital Territory, said.
“We want the government to help us, especially on these toilet and water issues. Some women urinate anywhere and get infected; the majority of us are having infections and treating infections in hospitals is quite expensive.”
Strange as the testimony may sound, this is a typical scenario in several communities, particularly in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps across Nigeria, as poor living conditions and the dearth of sanitation facilities are peculiar features of such neighbourhoods.
A major outcome of the lack of sanitation facilities is open defection which, according to experts, usually provokes the outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery in such communities, particularly among the children.
According to Nigeria Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Poverty Diagnostics Report, the country’s sanitation sector is in a critical condition.
The report shows that the economic growth of Nigeria, which has an estimated population of over 183 million, has not translated into rapid poverty reduction.
Therefore, concerned observers insist that the country has been lagging behind in the accumulation of physical and human capital, with poor access to WASH services being a key factor.
The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, warned at the National Council on Water Resources meeting, held in Abuja between November 13 and 15, that if India was able to exit from its number one position in the list of countries with poor sanitation and open defecation by the middle of 2019, it would be a “national shame” for Nigeria not to.
“I was in India recently, the country has been adequately mobilised on issues of sanitation and open defecation. It is, therefore, a civic responsibility for all of us, ” Mr Adamu said.
“Three years ago, only 40 per cent of Indians were using toilets but now, 95 per cent of Indians are practising full sanitation practices.
“The Indians have not only stopped to defecate in the open, they are also recycling their waste into usable products; they have experienced a lot of transformation within three years.
“In the last three years, the Indians have built 80 million toilets; we need this kind of quantum leap in our country.
“By next year, wherever you go in the world, you would hear that Nigeria is number one in open defecation; that is a national shame which we must not allow to happen,” he said.
The minister, however, said that the federal government would soon enter into a technical cooperation with India to salvage the Nigerian situation.
Truly, the situation appears somewhat grim, as the 2017 WaterAid Report says that over 122 million Nigerians still lack access to basic sanitation facilities and ranks Nigeria as the third worst country with the poor access of its citizens to essential sanitation facilities in rural and urban areas.
It is quite true that many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa have limited access to WASH services, but Nigeria’s level of access lags far behind those of other peer countries, with 57 million Nigerians living without access to improved water, while 130 million others use unimproved sanitation facilities.
Alarmingly, a large body of evidence suggests that limited or no access to WASH services has a lot of damaging effects on development outcomes, adversely affecting the people’s health while limiting their access to educational, economic opportunities and productivity.
At the just-concluded National Council of Water Resources, stakeholders underscored the need for the three tiers of government to exhibit huge political commitment towards the provision of WASH facilities for the citizens so as to change the narratives.