The authorities must do more to change the habit

Despite the Executive Order 009 signed last year by President Muhammadu Buhari to address the issue of open defecation, there are no signs that the nation can meet the 2025 target to stop the unhygienic practice in Nigeria. More unfortunate is that with 46 million people still practicing open defecation in the country, Nigeria is ranked as number one in the world among countries where such habit is still prevalent.

That about a quarter of our national population 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 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. Diarrhea, a disease often associated with poor sanitary condition, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kill about 400,000 children under the age of five, annually.

In a related report, both UNICEF and WHO 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.

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 the 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.

According to the national road map to make Nigeria open defecation free by 2025, the country loses N455 billion annually to poor sanitation while the country needs an estimated N959 billion to end open defecation in the next five years, with the government expected to provide around 25 per cent of this amount. There is nothing on ground to suggest any efforts in that direction. 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. Such a campaign will be worth the efforts, because it will save lives.

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