ENDING OPEN DEFECATION

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The provision of water and toilets will ensure a healthier environment

In a bid to curb the unhygienic practice of open defecation, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday signed Executive Order 009, aimed at making the country “Open Defecation-Free” by 2025. “There is established in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources a National Secretariat called ‘Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat,” proclaimed the order. “The Secretariat is authorised on behalf of the President to implement this order by ensuring that all public places, including schools, hotels, fuel stations, places of worship, market places, hospitals and offices have accessible toilets and latrines within their premises.”

Defecating in open fields, bushes and bodies of water, is widely practiced in Nigeria. The country reportedly has over 46 million people defecating in the open, making it the second largest in the world. A recent poll conducted by NOIPolls acknowledged the prevalence of the practice and the challenge of access to sanitation facilities. Indeed, Nigeria is one huge field, where people defecate without shame and without taking into consideration the impact of their actions on their health and that of others. In many rural communities, people still build houses without provisions for toilets, or as the case may be, latrines, where waste can be emptied without others coming into contact with it. In the urban centres, such cases are also pervasive. In many of our so-called modern cities, people use the outdoors as bathrooms and toilets. Many walkways and nearby bushes reek of urine and decaying faecal matter.

Yet 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 has contaminated the food or water supplies or because it has been spread by flies and dust. According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report previously published on the issue, the absence of toilets remains one of the leading causes of illness and death among children. The report said that diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary conditions, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kills about 400,000 children under the age of five annually. These deaths are largely preventable with improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene.

According to experts, every seven women out of 10 had no access to a safe toilets, and millions of other women and girls lacked safe and adequate sanitation. Every year, over 85,000 mothers in Nigeria lose a child to diarrhoeal diseases caused by lack of adequate sanitation and clean water,” said Dr. Michael Ojo, one- time country representative of WaterAid in Nigeria. “Women and girls living in Nigeria without toilet facilities spend 3.1 billion hours each year finding a place to go to the toilet in the open.”

The provision of water and toilets are verifiable measures in fighting poverty and diseases. Even the modest efforts in the campaign against open defecation in some communities in Ekiti State sometimes ago are yielding good results. “We have brought improvement to 250 towns and communities in Open Defecation- Free by providing 10 toilets per public,” said Mohsena Islam, UNICEF/EU water sanitation and hygiene specialist. “We have also provided technical supports in 313 communities for them to know various ways to build and take ownership of low cost latrines and how to repair them in case of damage.”

That is why levels of government, as proclaimed by the new order, should invest more in the provision of water and public toilets, and create awareness on the dangers of open defecation. As Ban Ki-moon, former United Nations secretary general once declared, sanitation is a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.