Alex Enumah writes that if Nigeria must achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the area of water and sanitation, indigenous communities must be allowed to drive the initiative.
While many strategies abound to achieving Goal six of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal, which is ensuring access to water and sanitation for all member countries, including Nigeria, stakeholders are of the opinion that bringing an end to the practice of open defection in Nigeria will aid in achieving the goal on or before year 2030.
This is as the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has stated that a major causal factor for the poor access to portable water and sanitation in the country was the increased incidence of open defecation, with 34.1 per cent of rural households lacking toilet facilities of any kind and about 6 per cent of Nigerians engaging in the use of open latrines, while on the average, the country has one toilet for every 500 students.
According to statistics, over 868,000 Nigerian children die annually from water and sanitation related diseases, while $5.5 billion is lost annually due to inadequate sanitation.
But in addressing this, the Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Adamu, during the unveiling of the Water Road-map in Abuja said one of the goals of the ministry was to establish functional toilets in public areas, both in rural and urban areas.
Keying into this, a non governmental organisation, Concern Universal, has through its community driven approach, successfully aided the eradication of open defecation in Beten community in New Ikeja Layout in Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State.
While various efforts by the government and several indigenous and international organisation to eradicate open defecation has yielded little results, Concern Universal’s approach to allow communities drive the intervention programme on Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion (RUSHIP) has earned targeted communities certification for being Open Defecation-Free (ODF)
According to the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer of the local government, Godwin Aghawayan, the community embraced the initiative and they have now been certified Open Defecation-Free (ODF). “For any community to be certified free, each household must have at least a pit toilet and make use of them; the toilet must have fly-proof cover, water station, among other essentials,” he said.
Prior to achieving ODF in the community, Concern Universal had various awareness sessions with the residents, educating them that without the sanitation and hygiene promotion, they were possibly eating their own feces and that of other people unknowingly.
“After they showed us how we eat our own feces and that of other people, we came together and agreed that defecating in the bush and river must stop. So our first task was that every house in our community must have a toilet. We then formed a group and decided that we will construct toilets for each member, one after the other,” says a local WASH community member, Thomas Idaugu.
However, they did not stop at construction of basic latrines but were now supporting each other to construct and use improved toilet facilities such as the flush/ pour flush toilets as well as adopt positive hygiene behaviors like hand washing, particularly after using the toilet and before eating.
To achieve this goal, the group designed a WASH Card through which members were making contribution towards the construction of improved toilet.
Idaugu said, “After we finished digging pit toilet for every of our members, we contributed money, then loaned same to those needing improved toilets for them to achieve it.
While this method has ensured that every household in the community now has a toilet, the community however is not taking it lightly with defaulters as they are made to pay a heavy fine.
According to another WASHCOM member in the community, Mary Godwin, “If anyone who defecates in the bush or river is caught, we will take the person to the chief, he will be asked to bring a goat, a carton of drink and some amount of money”.
She added that since the community attained ODF, a lot of sicknesses and diseases in the area have almost disappeared and thanked the Concern Universal for sensitizing the community on the dangers of open defecation. “Before, we use to defecate anywhere, then flies would come upon it and carry it to our food. When we eat the food we become sick. But today, things have changed, we no longer fall sick like before because we now use toilets”, she said.
Aghawayan said the secret was allowing the people drive the initiative. “Construction of toilet is not enough, there is need to establish a Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) which empowers entire community to collectively change their sanitation behavior and ensure that every member of the community uses a toilet. When we carry out a triggering session in any community, our approach is to allow the communities decide on their own what to do with the information they have been exposed to.
“When we finish, we train WASHCOM, who now act as foot soldiers and go about to implement the policy and report back to the council. Based on their report, we would visit and verify things for ourselves before declaring the community ODF”.
The local government WASH Officer, who commended the Concern Universal for the great feat recorded in the area called on government at all levels to support the organisation, as well as adopt its approach in ending open defecation in the country. “I have worked for twenty-eight years as an Environmental Officer, we have not been achieving result, but with this intervention, we have achieved what we could not achieve for years. I encourage them to carry this programme to every part of the nation,”he said.
Similarly, Vice Chairman of Bekwarra LGA, Hon. Cecilia Akachu Emeka, who disclosed that the council would be indebted to Concern Universal, said the council was probably the first to be declared ODF as almost all communities within the council have embraced the war against open defecation.
She said, “Initially, it was really difficult, the people believed that when you defecate behind your house, the feces turns to manure, but when they were presented with evidences of how they eat their own feces and its accompanying dangers, they had no choice but to embrace change.
“Today, sicknesses like cholera, diarrhea and other deadly diseases are no longer prevalent, and for this, we remain very grateful for what WASH is doing and call for support from all arms of government,” she said.
However, the gains recorded by international donor agencies may be short-lived following threats by the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), to withdraw funding from sanitation and hygiene in the country by the end of the year, if the Benue and Cross River State governments do not pay their counterpart funds amounting to $5million.
Recall that the two states governments in June, 2014, signed a MoU committing $2.2m each to supplement the GSF contribution and further expand RUSHPIN’s life saving sanitation and hygiene programmes to three additional LGAs in each of the states, while the Federal Government also committed $950,000 to ensure that sanitation facilities were in place in all public places and institutions across the 12 targeted LGAs.
To date, and sadly, neither the Benue and Cross River State governments nor the Federal Government has delivered on their mandates.
According to the Project Manager, Community-led Health Improvement through Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (CHISHPIN), Oliver Okon, these governments should fulfill their financial obligation, adding that Concern Universal was ready to take CLTS beyond the village setting to facilitate a sanitation and hygiene behavior change in urban spaces.
While Okon stated that diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene are the leading causes of under five mortality, he stressed that by improving sanitation access and hygiene practices the situation can be reversed.
He disclosed that Concern Universal through its interventionist programmes has transformed the health of over 2.2m people in over 1,200 communities in both Benue and Cross River States, adding that under the RUSHPIN intervention 1,511 communities so far have been triggered, with 890 communities already certified ODF.