Nigeria’s open defecation-free goal at risk as 46m citizens still lack toilet access

As the world celebrates World Toilet Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently revealed that Nigeria has not made progress over the last two years in the fight against open defecation as 46 million Nigerians still lack access to toilet facilities and engage in the practice.

Nigeria set a target to end open defecation by 2025. In November 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a state of emergency in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector and launched a National Action Plan tagged ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ to jump-start the country’s journey towards becoming open defecation-free.

But, the rate of open defecation in Nigeria has remained steady at 23 percent, according to UNICEF. So far, only 71 out of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas are now declared ‘open defecation-free. The states with the highest number of ‘open defecation-free LGAs are Katsina, Jigawa and Benue – with 21, 18 and 9, respectively.

Currently, the states with the highest rates of open defecation are Kwara, Plateau, and Ebonyi. Those with the lowest rates are Abia, Zamfara, and Akwa Ibom.

Findings also show that many states are yet to develop their state Action Plan on open defecation which is stalling progress. Experts say progress is slow and the goal not be achieved until the Nigerian government takes consistent, deliberate actions.

In October 2019, Nigeria overtook India with a population almost seven times bigger and a land area three-and-a-half times bigger than Nigeria, to become the number one open defecation nation globally. Suleiman Adamu, former minister of Water Resources, described the situation as a “national shame’’.

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But, apart from bringing a negative social stigma to Nigeria, which is touted as the Giant of Africa, open defecation also poses environmental, health and economic problems for Nigeria and its citizens. It exposes children and adults to critical health problems like diarrhoea which leads to untimely deaths.

Data from UNICEF show that about 102,000 children under the age of 5 lose their lives to diarrhoea every year.

Nigeria also loses about N455 billion (1.3 percent) of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yearly to poor access to sanitation and open defecation alone costs Nigeria over US$1bn a year, according to a World Bank Report.

The UNICEF Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Manager in Maiduguri, Mamita Thakkar, disclosed that Nigeria needs to invest about N1.9 trillion to address WASH problems and end open defecation by 2025.

He disclosed this recently at a media dialogue organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Childs Rights Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in Maiduguri, Borno State.

Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria said more needs to be done to ensure that all Nigerians have access to safe toilets and that “we shift closer to ending open defecation across the country.”

“With the Clean Nigeria campaign, we are making strong efforts – but the whole country needs to put their full weight behind this campaign. We cannot afford to fail – ending open defecation is crucial to making progress in so many other areas, including health,” Hawkins said.

He stressed that the importance of adequate and safe sanitation and proper hand hygiene practices cannot be overstated, explaining that it helps prevent illnesses that impact families’ livelihoods, and more importantly, take the lives of far too many children.

We can and must achieve an open defecation-free Nigeria by 2025,” Hawkins stressed.

UNICEF, however, notes that Nigeria is making some progress in improving access to WASH services to its population, with 75 percent of Nigerians having access to basic drinking water services – up from 70 percent in 2019. The agency said access to sanitation facilities also increased modestly, from 44 percent to 46 percent over the same period.

The World Bank also disclosed that investing in Sanitation has huge market potential for Nigeria, explaining that if the 46 million people that defecate in the open at present opt for toilets, the demand for material and labour, on a conservative estimate, will work out to N1250bn.

Meanwhile, Clement Adams, who is in charge of UNICEF Maiduguri office, informed that the organisation had supported state governments in the North East with the construction and rehabilitation of 4,752 and 2,976 toilets respectively across Internally displaced Persons (IDP) camps and communities, adding that about 200 sites had been supported with hand pump boreholes.

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