My journey back home usually includes a stop at Yaba. This evening was no different from the ones before it. I strolled down to the bus park at Yaba Market where I board a bus home, trying my best to move away from traders who attempt to grab my arm or thrust their wares at me. As I moved towards the gutter, I caught a familiar stench of stale urine that stretches down to the end of the road. I walked really fast to escape the stench. I didn’t go too far when I noticed the side of the gutter messed up with watery stool. I was in immense disgust as I looked away from it at the speed of light. It raises the question, “Why would someone do that?”
A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION
Residents who live in populated areas, the homeless and touts, defecate/urinate in the open because they either do not have access to a toilet, money to pay for the public toilets or the poor hygiene of the public toilets. The public toilets are mostly in a sore state with faeces, urine, used toilet tissues and dirty water just about everywhere. The mobile/portable toilets are also plagued by poor hygiene since they require an extremely high level of cleaning in order to achieve the hygiene standards required for re-use. These unsanitary conditions can be attributed to little or no water supply, indicating the intimate link between water supply and the open defecation problem. Then again, you can not exclude the mindset and attitude of some Nigerians, some people just decide to shun the toilets.
From the visualization below, you can see Nigeria’s Water Supply and Sanitation trends over the years 1990 – 2015, a brief description of terms used is given underneath (If you are not cut out for this you can skip this part). It can be observed that although the population with improved water and sanitation shows an upward trend, the population practicing open defecation exhibits the same trend. A possible explanation of this is that the population with unimproved sanitation has been increasing, and at the same time, the population using piped water has been decreasing with a sudden drop since 2014. It is not all bad news as the population using surface water shows a downward trend. The summary of Nigeria’s position with respect to water supply and sanitation in 2015 shows that about 2.3% of the total population have access to piped water and about 31.5% are served with unimproved water. Furthermore, 25.1% of the population practice open defecation with about 29% involved in improved sanitation practices.
NB: zoom in to view Viz more clearly.
EXPLAINING TERMS USED IN THE VISUALIZATION
Surface water: Rivers, Lakes, or Ocean.
Improved sanitation: Flush toilet, Connection to a piped sewer system, Connection to a septic system, Flush / pour-flush to a pit latrine, Pit latrine with slab, Ventilated improved pit latrine (abbreviated as VIP latrine), Composting toilet.
Unimproved Sanitation: Public or shared latrine (meaning a toilet that is used by more than one household), Flush/pour flush to elsewhere (not into a pit, septic tank, or sewer), Pit latrine without slab, Bucket latrines, Hanging toilet/latrine, No facilities / bush / field (open defecation).
Improved water: Piped water into dwelling, Piped water into yard/plot, Public tap/standpipes, Tubewell/boreholes, Protected dug wells, Protected springs (normally part of a spring supply), Rainwater Collection, Bottled water, if the secondary source used by the household for cooking and personal hygiene is improved.
Unimproved water: Unprotected dug wells, Unprotected springs, Vendor provided water, Cart with small tank/drum, Bottled water, if the secondary source used by the household for cooking and personal hygiene is unimproved, Tanker-truck, Surface water.
HEALTH HAZARDS POSED AND COSTS
The perpetrators do not articulate the health hazards this “culture” poses to the people exposed to it. You still find traders of edible food items keep their wares just by the gutters. I interviewed a woman selling mangoes by the side of the road close to the gutter, I asked her why she didn’t mind the stench from the gutter especially with her little son sitting on the floor covered with a piece of cloth, she simply responded, ” I am not the one who did it, why are you asking me? My concern is to sell my mangoes and put food on my table”. I made an attempt to educate her that her son could easily get diarrhoea from the exposure to the unhygienic environment and the money she is hustling for food will then be spent on drugs to treat him, but of course, she seemed not bothered at all.
From the UNICEF/WHO Water supply and sanitation statistics (2015), around 46 million people in Nigeria defecate in the open (see Viz above). Another 56 million people are estimated to be added during the next ten years, without active improvements to the present conditions. The adverse impact of open defecation is now well documented. According to a World Bank Report, around 122,000 Nigerians including 87,000 children under 5 die each year from diarrhoea; nearly 90% is directly attributed to water, sanitation, and hygiene. Also, according to a Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) report, Nigeria loses ₦455 billion annually due to poor sanitation. These losses are due to premature deaths, health care costs, losses in productivity, and time lost through the practice of open defecation which could even be higher if the costs of epidemic outbreaks; losses in trade and tourism revenue; impact of unsafe excreta disposal on water resources; and the long-term effects of poor sanitation on early childhood development are taken into consideration.
The Federal Ministry of Water Resources has detailed out a national roadmap for an open defecation free Nigeria by 2025 in an 82 paged booklet, and are still working towards achieving this goal. We need to ask ourselves, is this enough? do we still wait for the government to take on baby steps to 2025? Do we sit back and watch infants, young and old die over something that can easily be avoided?
What is wrong with starting a privately owned public toilet business? Kenya is already turning faeces into renewable energy. In Dakar, Senegal, an Uber-like SMS service has reduced the cost of emptying pit latrines by nearly half and the faecal waste is turned into energy, ash for fertilizer and even water. There are even options where citizens can sell their faeces to sick people who need it, yes; you read right!
To solve the open defecation problem, Nigeria will have to confront the problem of water supply, revamp the water corporation agencies, introduce policies, ideas, visions, and comprehensive programs that align with the Sustainable Development Goals. Finally, we will need to re-orient our people to the harmful effects of unsanitary habits while providing alternatives to the toilet situation.
Do you have other suggestions to an open-defecation free Nigeria? leave your comments, let’s start the discussion.
If you spot a typo or any error in the post, please let me know in the comment section – so I can fix it.