The authorities could do more to prevent unnecessary deaths

In November 2018, President Buhari declared a state of emergency in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector and launched a national campaign tagged “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet to jump-start the country’s journey towards becoming open defecation-free by 2025.” But almost four years later, reports are suggestive that more Nigerians use the open fields, forests and bushes and bodies of water as convenience.  

According to the recently released 2021 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping, about 48 million Nigerians still practice open defecation. The Minister of Water Resources, Mr Suleiman Adamu, said slow progress being made in improving water and sanitation services was due to population expansion, low commitments from states and impact of COVID-19. “About a quarter of the population still depend on unimproved and surface water supply for their daily water needs, access to sanitation indicators across the country shows a slight improvement, though open defecation is still prevalent,” he said.

But the cost of this unhealthy living conditions – of not having access to toilets – is expensive. Lack of toilets and inadequate sanitation has been linked to the health challenges afflicting the nation today, many of them fatal, particularly to children. According to the joint UNICEF and the World Health Organisation report, lack 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 condition, and respiratory infections resulting from poor hygiene, kills about 400,000 children, under the age of five, annually. Every year, over 100,000 mothers in Nigeria reportedly lose a child to diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of adequate sanitation and clean water. Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria indeed emphasised the importance of adequate and safe sanitation and proper hand hygiene practices as “it helps prevent illnesses that impact families’ livelihoods, and more importantly, take the lives of far too many children.”

 Sanitation has been 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 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city and Africa’s version of modernity, reek of urine and decaying faecal matters.  Some university communities also spread intense odour as many students, in the absence of clean toilets in the hostels, use any available space as convenience. Against the background of reports that majority of the public primary and secondary schools in Nigeria have no toilet facilities with pupils and students having to defecate in the open, this emblem of shame deserves urgent attention. As the world therefore marks the 2022 international youth day, the authorities must work towards removing this social impedimentagainst young Nigerians.

  Ban Ki –moon, former United Nations secretary general, once declared, sanitation as “a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people.” Indeed, potable water and improved sanitation services are verifiable measures for fighting poverty and diseases.  We therefore call on governments, at every level, to invest more in this “cheap” commodity – by providing public toilets, and even more, by creating awareness on while people should use the toilet. It will be worth it, because it will save lives.


Many walkways and nearby bushes in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city and Africa’s version of modernity, reek of urine and decaying faecal matters

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