WORLD TOILET DAY.
Have you ever wondered what World Toilet Day is all about? Most people in our part of the world do not realise the 19th of November is a day set aside for World Toilet Day. As we celebrate World Toilet Day, the emphasis on the importance of dealing with human waste cannot be over emphasized, many people will become embarrassed or shocked, and some would rather avoid the subject altogether.
However, the sanitation crisis that exists in many parts of the world, and the impact it has on nature, can also not be ignored.
If you eat, then you must answer to ‘’nature’s call’’
Observations from most public schools and other community spaces like health centres, motor parks, markets, religious and event centres in the suburbs of Nigeria revealed the decadence and stark reality of not having access to a toilet. 52% of these schools lack basic toilet facilities that hygienically separate human excreta from human contact; the unsafe structure that served as the toilet is either under lock because there is no water to maintain it or abandoned due to its dilapidated state. As a result of this, students resort to using open fields, uncompleted buildings, farmlands or bush to relieve themselves not minding the dangers of open defecation because they are left with no choice.
On World Food Day, people around the world promote awareness and take action for those who suffer from hunger and declare their commitment to eradicate global hunger. Food, like water, is invaluable and life-sustaining. But have we given a thought to what happens when we eat or feed people but there is no access to a convenience to answer nature’s call? What happens when our children use their playground as a toilet because there is no toilet at home?
Open defecation comes with many risks and negative impacts, amongst which is its contribution to global hunger. This inextricable link between open defecation and hunger is common but rarely recognized. Families living in areas where open defecation is widely practiced usually face a high incidence of water-borne diseases, especially amongst the children. These outbreaks of water-borne diseases have adverse effects on health and eat deep into the pockets of families. The little income they have is spent on medical bills. For such families, hunger and starvation are always close allies.
Women and children living in areas without toilets and with high open defecation practices are often undernourished because they are exposed to bacterial brew. According to Jean Humphrey, a Professor of Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the bodies of these children divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival. When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What is particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.
The practice of open defecation has been a menace and a clog in the wheel of development in Nigeria. It hampers economic growth and also infringes on people’s privacy and dignity. One out of 5 Nigerians, around 40 million people defecate in open areas, a figure which places Nigeria as the Open Defecation Capital of Africa and only ranked second globally, behind India as the country with the highest number of people practising open defecation. This demeaning reality prompted the government to declare a state-of-emergency in Nigeria’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, in November 2018. While the Nigeria sanitation status should be of deep concern to decision-makers, it amounts to a full-blown crisis for those directly affected, which according to former UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, called their plight a silent disaster that reflects the extreme poverty and huge inequalities in the world today.
To address this sanitation crisis, the Government has taken some bold steps; one of which is the recent introduction of the “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign. The campaign is aimed at coordinating interventions to end open defecation in Nigeria by 2025. The robust citizen-led campaign is multispectral and can only be effectively implemented through a concerted effort of all key stakeholders in the WASH Sector.
Recognizing the need for synergy and grassroots engagement, UNICEF as a key development partner in the Clean Nigeria campaign has been coordinating dialogue meetings and workshops with other key stakeholders (Media, CSOs and private sector) that will drive the Campaign. The private sector, research institutions, and academia have key roles to play in ending open defecation in Nigeria. Corporate Social Responsibility projects of organizations should be targeted towards the provision of toilets, while relevant research institutions and academia are charged with innovations in low-cost sanitation technologies.
In some communities where open defecation is a cultural practice, there is a need for massive triggering and sensitization that will spark behavioural change amongst community members. Enhanced collaborations between CSOs, development partners, government and private sector organizations are needed to drive this behavioural change campaign.
In terms of financing, there is a need for more engagement of microfinance banks or the provision of subsidies for sanitation technologies. The informal sanitation workers should be re-integrated into a formal scheme, that would enable them to easily access loans. On the other hand, the unbanked population can be trained on a savings scheme, such as the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) scheme, to enable them to purchase toilets for their homes.
We can end hunger in Nigeria and achieve the Zero hunger target when every Nigerian has access to toilets. If you eat, then you must use the toilet. We eat to stay alive but without toilets, how do we survive?