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Open defecation a major health hazard

30 November 2021
Reading time: 5 minutes

Open defecation – and lack of sanitation and hygiene – is a serious health hazard that can cause various diseases, the most common of which are diarrhoea and intestinal worm infections, but also typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, polio and trachoma.

On World Toilet Day – November 19 – the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said there had been limited progress in the past two years in the fight against open defecation in Nigeria.

It said the rate of open defecation had remained steady at 23% and as many as 46 million Nigerians still defecated in the open.

Since the beginning of 2021, Nigeria has recorded thousands of cholera cases amid the struggle to end the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The open defecation practice had caused many health-related issues, especially cholera, which has become a major concern in northeastern Nigeria due to the recurring outbreaks.

ReliefWeb, the humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a report published on September 28 that, as of September 21, a total of 73,055 suspected cases, including 2,407 deaths, had been reported from 27 out of 36 states, as well as in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), children between five and 14 were the most affected age group and the overall case fatality rate was 3.3%.

UNICEF said the states with the highest rates of open defecation were: Kwara, Plateau, and Ebonyi. Those with the lowest rateswere: Abia, Zamfara, and Akwa Ibom.

It said efforts should be made to make people aware of the dangers of open defecation.

Poverty has played a leading role in the problem of open defecation as many citizens had poor living standards.

RNI reporter Mustapha Abubakar went to Hadiza, an internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camp, where the Borno State government had installed two toilets on Tuesday, November 23.

Muhammad Ali Grema, an environmentalist and an official of the local non-governmental organisation (NGO), the  Zulum Cognitive Initiative, said he was disappointed that so many IDP camps had so few sanitation facilities, which meant open defecation was still rife in Borno State. The sad state of affairs in IDP camps had prompted the NGO to raise funds with the Rashid Organisation to help provide IDPs with toilets.

“We started by repairing two toilets for the use of IDPs. But looking at the poor state of hygiene because of the lack of sanitation facilities in these camps, I am begging the public to do more for people in Borno State to curb this menace of open defecation that is a huge hazard to lives.”

Falmata, an IDP from Yawuri town who lost her husband in an attack by members of the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS) – Boko Haram – fled to Maiduguri and went to stay at the Hadiza Camp.

She said because of the lack of toilets they were often forced to defecate in the open.

“There were 39 of us sharing a single toilet. We had to queue to use to toilet. Sometimes we could not wait and that meant we had to defecate elsewhere. But we are grateful for getting two toilets in the Hadiza Camp.”

Bintu Abdullahi, a resident of the camp, commended the effort but said IDPs needed more relief intervention from the government.

“We are in a very poor state because we are living in thatch shelters lacking basic items, such as blankets, clothes and so on and I’m asking for the government to help us so that we can tidy enough to prevent ourselves from health hazards arising from open defecation.”

UNICEF said Nigeria was making some progress in improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene services to its population, with 75% of the population having access to basic drinking water services – up from 70% in 2019. Access to sanitation – toilet and handwashing facilities – had also increased modestly, from 44% to 46% over the same period.

“It is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that all Nigerians have access to safe toilets and that we shift closer to ending open defecation across the country,” said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF representative in Nigeria. “With the Clean Nigeria campaign, we are making strong efforts – but the whole country needs to put their full weight behind this campaign. We cannot afford to fail – ending open defecation is crucial to making progress in so many other areas, including health.”

In November 2018, President Muhammadu 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.

“There is a clear commitment by the Nigerian government to helping the population to move away from the practice of open defecation – a move that will help support better health outcomes for all, especially children,” said Hawkins.

“The importance of adequate and safe sanitation and proper hand hygiene practices cannot be overstated. It helps prevent illnesses that affect families’ livelihoods and, more importantly, takes the lives of far too many children. We can and must achieve an open defecation-free Nigeria by 2025.”



About the author

Elvis Mugisha