There is need to create awareness on the dangers of open defecation

With 46 million people still practicing open defecation in the country, Nigeria has been ranked third in the world among countries where such habit is still prevalent. Some 57 million of our citizens do not have access to safe water supply and 45,000 children under the age of five die annually from diseases caused by poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Such dire statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which recently warned of the health consequences of the practice, should worry the authorities.

Although the Minister of Water Resources, Mr Suleiman Adamu, has said the federal government is considering legislation against open defecation in the country, we believe there should be a more coordinated response than that. According to Adamu, such laws will go a long way to address those who indiscriminately defecate in the open. “We are looking at having a legislation to punish those practicing open defecation,” said Adamu. “This is important because it will serve as deterrent to others and also encourage everyone to build and use their toilets.”

That no fewer than 46 million people in the country use the open fields, forests and bushes and bodies of water as convenience is bad enough. What is worse is that even in supposedly modern cities like the federal capital territory, Abuja, it is common to see people defecating in the open. Yet, the cost of this unhealthy living conditions – of not having access to toilets – is expensive.

According to both UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), lack of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children with diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary condition and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, killing about 400,000 children, under the age of five, annually. According to the Water and Sanitation Section, UNICEF Nigeria, the consequence of open defecation on the health of our citizens is huge.

In a related report, both organisations have also ranked Nigeria only ahead of China and India on the list of countries without access to potable water and where 20 per cent of our population indulged in the shameful practice of “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.

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.

We therefore call on governments, at every level, to invest more in providing public toilets, and even more, by creating awareness on while people should use them.