Joseph Ode writes the sanitation sub-sector is a gold mine waiting to be tapped

 There was this story about Samuel, a semi-illiterate village young man who migrated to Lokogoma, a suburb of Federal Capital Territory to trade in electrical appliances. When Samuel gradually gained his feet he got married to a pretty young village lady into the single room shop that doubled as his residence.

Sensing that the single room could not serve a couple that was about to have children, a compassionate relation offered Samuel and his pregant wife his partially completed 3-bedroom bungalow at the outskirts of town to live in, free, pending the completion of the house. The toilet wicks had not yet been fixed and so Samuel and his wife were defecating in the bushy undeveloped plot of land next to them.

About two years later, when the young wife was pregnant with their second child, the relation and owner of the house moved to the house after fixing the toilet wicks. Yet, Samuel and his wife continued to defecate in the bush. When the relation asked why they were not using the toilet in their room, Samuel’s reply was that as an adult he could not fancy himself going to toilet inside the house. “Am I a kid?”

The artisan who had just bought land to build his own house was asked, “will you then provide toilets in your house which you are about to build?”

“Yes, why not?”

“Will you use them?” Samuel was asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “When we reach the bridge, we shall cross it.”

Habits die hard. Open defecation is one such habit and it’s as old as the history of humanity. As recently as 2018, according to available statistics, one in three people across the globe did not use the toilet, while hundreds of thousands of children die annually from diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation.

Ignorance, habit and lack of access have interplayed to hold one-third of the world’s population back from the use of the toilet. To date, it is even a taboo to openly talk about toilet in many parts of the World, including Nigeria. But the founder of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) Jack Sim, has just brought to Nigeria a refreshingly positive, different, and diametrically opposite message and perspective to the subject matter. Describing the toilet as the “happiest place to be”, Sim, fondly called ‘Mr. Toilet’ for his passion for the provision of toilets and enhancement of toilet environment globally, urged the world to feel free to talk about toileting.

He said, “Feel free to talk about toilets, it’s normal, talk about shit, feel free. There was a time when it was a taboo to talk about leprosy, but today it is no more the issue.”

Sim was in Nigeria for the twin events of the World Toilet Summit (WTS) and World Toilet Day activities which took place in Abuja on November 18 and 19. The two related events were the brainchild of the World Toilet Organisation founded by Sim.

WTO is a global non-profit organization committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide. Through the World Toilet Summit and a variety of other strategies, the WTO values the need for the provision of toilets as well as the promotion of toilet culture and sanitation.

The WTO has secured provision of educational platforms regarding sanitation and its effects on economies through the tireless effort of the organization over the past 22 years.

The WTO has both directly and indirectly facilitated the building of thousands of toilets across the globe while adjacently building economies. Notable projects include the Rainbow School Toilet Initiative and the Floating Community Toilet Project. The WTO selects its host country based on the potential legacy it will create. As Nigeria has shown resilience in tackling its sanitation challenges, it is expected that it will benefit greatly from a summit of this calibre.

Three major conclusions came to light from deliberations at the two-day double-barrelled events. First, sanitation generally and toilets, in particular, have grown far beyond just issues of hygiene and good health to those of business, wealth creation and economic development. Two: that a sanitation and toilets business have developed into a burgeoning sector called the sanitation economy in many advanced countries. Finally, that Nigeria can tap into its sanitation resources to revolutionize the growth of this new economy.

The Sanitation Economy presents vast potential for global economic growth, and has the ability to transform future cities, communities, and businesses, according to an article published on Sdg,iisd.org.

This new economy monetizes toilet provision, products and services, biological resources, health data and information, to provide benefits across business and society.

A research finding by the Toilet Board Coalition (TBC) shows that the market could be worth US$62 billion in India alone, by conservative estimates; it could turn trillions of liters of human waste into valuable biological resources each year; and it could hold a vast reservoir of information about human health.

The Sanitation Economy is made up of three distinct sub-economies. They include: the Toilet Economy, which encompasses toilet product and service innovation that provides toilets fit for purpose for all environments and incomes; the Circular Sanitation Economy, which means toilet resources (commonly known as human waste) feed into a circular economic system that replaces traditional waste management; and finally, the Smart Sanitation Economy, which involves digitized sanitation systems that optimize data for operating efficiencies, maintenance, plus consumer use and health information insights.

 The Sanitation Economy has been described by an expert as the business response to a global crisis and resulting market and societal failures. “With collaboration and investment on all fronts, there is an opportunity to turn the world’s toilet-related resources and data into valuable, life-saving resources and critical information,” he said.

Experts who spoke at the Abuja World Toilet Summit aligned themselves with this proposition, saying Nigeria could also be a major beneficiary.

During a panel discussion at the Abuja Summit, moderated by the National Coordinator, Organised Private Sector in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (OPS-WASH) Dr Nickolas Igwe, on the topic ‘Scaling Sanitation Economy for National Development’, discussants identified benefits of a befitting toilet system to include improved health and well-being of citizens.

One of the panelists, Adegbe Michael, said the sanitation sub-sector remains a gold mine waiting to be tapped in Nigeria, whose potential in revenue generation will stand at $26.1 billion in 2030 if harnessed.

“Why we are passionate about achieving this huge desire or enhancing the world positively, our goal is to reach a hundred million people by 2025, that is in tandem with what Nigeria is trying to do.”

Another panelist, Tim O’ Neil, said there was a need for investment to revolutionize the sanitation sector. He urged banks and other sectors to invest in the sector.

Bridget Kurgat from Nairobi, Kenya, speaking on the topic ‘Sanitation, Health and Climate Change, noted the low investment in sanitation in Africa, saying there was an urgent need for both the public and private sectors to boost and harness its potential.

On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari called for high level private sector intervention to improve sanitation service delivery and develop the sanitation economy in the country.

Speaking through the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the President said resilient and sustainable solutions were needed to address the sanitation challenges. After two days of talks about toilet, the question now is whether these will translate into action that would kickstart and drive the development of Nigeria’s sanitation economy and generate the expected improved health and wealth.

The answer lies in the womb of time.

 However, one of the statements by Engr. Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources on the eve of the Summit gives a clue about what to expect. He said that considering “the positive effects on economies of previous countries that have hosted the Summit in its 22 years of existence, Nigeria, being the 2022 host country would also enjoy its wonderful benefits.”

Ode, a Journalist, writes from Makurdi

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