Environmental SafetyFeatures

Special Report: Crisis of Open Defecation to Public Health

“…Signing of Executive Order not enough to tackle the menace…”- Safety Experts Speak

Calls for Strong Implementation…

It is disheartening to know that Nigeria, amongst other nations, has been ranked number one country in Africa and second in the world, in the menace of open defecation. According to a most recent index by the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria has the highest number of people practicing open defecation with the figure put at 47 million people, just below India which is ranked first. HSENations Lead Reporter, Victory Bernard reports the effects of the menace on public health as well as arising solutions.

Based on the survey carried out by UNICEF which also involved the Nigerian Ministry of Water Resources and National Bureau of Statistics, it was discovered that only 11 of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria are free from the practice of open defecation. An act of releasing body-wastes or faeces through the anus in the open environment rather than into a toilet, this inhumane practice has hugely impacted Nigeria’s development in the area of economy and health.

Economically, a total of about 1.3% (N455 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost every year to poor sanitation and open defecation.

In the area of health, over 100,000 children under five years of age die annually of diarrheal diseases, directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. Hence, the water body is usually contaminated by faeces leading to diseases that causes stunted growth and malnutrition in children.

Consequent from the high statistics, all hands are seemingly on deck to tackle the problem of open defecation in Nigeria as the Federal Government has taken bold steps to obliterate what has now become an eyesore to the nation’s reputation.

With pressure from the United Nations, which plans to end open defecation by 2030, there have been moves including campaigns made recently by the federal government of Nigeria to nip the menace in its buds.

Recently, on November 20th, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari on signed an Executive Order 009 which is titled ‘The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order’ targeted at ensuring that Nigeria becomes open defecation free by 2025.

However, in separate reactions, safety experts in Nigeria have commended the efforts of the Federal Government in signing an executive order, but have stressed that it is not enough to totally eradicate the problem. They viewed that it took a series of action-oriented approach in order to effectively root out the endemic.

In his view, the Health, Safety and Environment Supervisor at Whitedove Shipping/Nestoil Group, Mr. Segun Bakare, said that the recent open defecation order from the Executive, will not reduce the continuity of defecating in public places. For him, implementation and building is the real escape route.

“I was on my way to work few weeks ago and my headlight beamed on a certain man. I don’t know whether he is a sane or lunatics. But he was defecating inside a gutter not too far from where I was staying, which was directly opposite a residential quarters. The residents will wake up with odour emitting from the gutter. This is terrible,” the safety professional said.

He said, “I would have come down from my vehicle to confront, but I conducted a quick mental risk assessment and I came to a conclusion that the risk of confronting him is high so I drove past.”

“There are so many places they will put an inscription or warning like ‘Do not defecate, urinate or dump waste here’. And sanctions and fines are imposed on defaulters caught but even with these individual-sanctions and warning, people refuse to comply. I saw one recently which cracked my ribs. The inscription said, ‘Thunder will fire anyone that defecate here’ and I could see a fresh faeces on the location.”

He added, “Now with the recent open defecation order, will it be effective? My answer is No. If it will be effective, then the numerous sanctions and fines imposed by individuals would have worked. The best approach first is to create enough public toilet in the rural, local and urban settlement properly managed with little or no fee attached for the users.”

“Structures are built without considering sufficient and suitable welfare facility and who approved these building designs? It is the same government! When a man is pressed, any available facility at that time, he will use it even though he has to do it openly.”

In her views, the Executive Director of Rely Supply Ltd and a member of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON), Mrs. Fayo Williams decried the UNICEF ranking, stressing that it was not a good position for the ‘giant of Africa’.

She stressed that legal means alone was insufficient to tackle the ‘very serious’ menace explaining that it would require the collaboration of multiple sectors to help eradicate open defecation.

“I think the issue goes beyond the promulgation of laws. It should be an engagement of the citizenry.Legislation is good but we need to have agencies like the National Orientation Agency coming up with their jingles, and behaviour influencing messages,” the NEBOSH Certified Safety Professional said.

She further said, “We need a multi sectoral approach. The education sector will be there to raise awareness. We have communication sector to let the citizens know the dangers of open defecation. You have health sector coming in with interventions, a whole lot of monitoring including surveillance system. And then also, we have the legislation which also will be the last bus stop to deal with those who are recalcitrant and who refuse to abide by the safe ratio of toilet to room in schools and homes and organizations.”

She harped on the need to practice safely managed sanitation and good personal hygiene.

Also speaking with HSENations, a Project Health and Safety professional, Abdulrasaq Adewole, stated that aside moving to create a bill, the government needed to improve sanitation, boost awareness and build capacity.

“The government must deliberately enforce the law; ensure capacity building through training and awareness; and also make available toilets,” he said.

The year, 2025, is a great target to ensure the menace of open defecation is out for good. However, we must not wait till then seeing the looming crisis it continues to cause affecting both the country’s health and economy. Therefore, a propelling force must move all stakeholders: government, safety practitioners, corporate bodies, schools and the public to take responsibility towards dethroning Nigeria from holding such demeaning position in the world view, as ranked by the reputable UNICEF body.

By: Victory Bernard

Victory Bernard is a graduate of Mass Communication, Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He has great productivity and high efficiency level in the art of journalism and communication. He is skilled in writing; reporting; event-coverage; newsgathering; investigation and news interpretation.
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Victory Bernard is a graduate of Mass Communication, Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He has great productivity and high efficiency level in the art of journalism and communication. He is skilled in writing; reporting; event-coverage; newsgathering; investigation and news interpretation.
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