Can Nigeria close the Public Toilet Gaps?

Matthew Obi, a 32-year old unemployed job seeker, came into the Federal Capital City from the Eastern part of the country to attend a job interview.

Arriving late into the night, trying to figure out the location of his relative, was forced to use the roadside as he wanted to defecate, that was the only option available as there were no public toilets around.

One may begin to wonder why he had to use the available option, think no further, public toilets are non-existent in many parts of the country.

In city centres across the country, one is overwhelmed with the challenge of getting a convenient place to `answer the call of nature’.

A public toilet is a room or small building with toilets/urinals and sinks for use by the general public, the facilities are available to customers, travelers, employees of a business, school pupils among others.

In context, public toilets play a role in community health and individual well-being. Where toilets are available, people can enjoy outings and physical activities in their communities.

By letting people get out of their cars and onto their feet, and use mass transit, public toilets can contribute to improved environmental health.

Mental well-being is enhanced when people are out with families and friends and know a place “to go” is available.

Public toilets also serve people who are “toilet challenged”. First, some people need to go very frequently, including young and old people, people who are pregnant or menstruating, and those with some medical conditions.

Inadequate access to a public toilet when required, can lead to substantial problems for men with prostate problems, women who are menstruating or going through the menopause and anyone with urinary and faecal incontinence.

According to UNICEF, poor access to improved water and sanitation in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five.

The use of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitary conditions result in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea which leads to deaths of more than 70,000 children under five annually.

Seventy-three per cent of the diarrhoeal and enteric disease burden is associated with poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and is disproportionately borne by poorer children.

Frequent episodes of WASH related ill-health in children, contribute to absenteeism in school, and malnutrition.

The UN body says presently, around 50 million people defecate in the open, while another 68 million were likely to be added between now and 2030.

Data received from the Joint Monitoring Progress report from the WHO and UNICEF says globally, more than one billion people are engaged in open defecation practice while 47 million or 26 per cent of Nigerians still practice open defecation.

This, the report says, was contributing to many problems, including water pollution and spread of diseases leading to childhood malnutrition.

Around 87,000 Nigerian children below 5 die of diarrhoea yearly. Nigeria loses NGN 455 billion or US $ 3.6 billion annually due to poor sanitation. This is 1.3% of the national GDP.

Only 26.5 per cent of the population use improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities. Also, 23.5 per cent of the population defecate in the open.

The Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) aim to ensure everyone everywhere has access to Toilet by 2030; stop the practices of open defecation and reduce public health and other economic consequences from exposure to untreated Human faeces.

Also, the presidential order 009 on open defecation free Nigeria, Clean Nigeria Campaign by Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the Clean and Green initiative of the Federal Ministry of Environment are all working together to make Nigeria open defecation free by 2025.  

Stakeholders in the environment and hygiene promotion sector have led advocacy and several attempts to draw attention to the challenges of lack of toilet and sanitation facilities in public places in the country.

The Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, said 116 million out of approximately 200 million Nigerian citizens do not have access to decent toilet facilities. This has led to 38.8 million of them indulging in open defecation.

She said the crisis in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector extends to institutions, for example, 50 per cent of all schools in Nigeria do not have basic water supply and sanitation facilities while 50 per cent of health care facilities lack clean water and 88 per cent of them lack basic sanitation.

She encouraged tiers of government to create a suitable environment for the private sector to come on board in the provision of toilets to the millions of people in need as it would reap major profit, create employment opportunities and contribution to taxation.

“For me, the missing link is always the government taking the lead. If the government takes the lead, creates the enabling environment, makes laws, policies, then the private sector can step in,” she said.

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that Reducing open defecation is intimately tied to increasing toilet ownership in Nigeria.

“In Nigeria, almost 100 per cent of the households who own toilets use them, reductions in open defecation are only achieved through increased ownership of functioning toilets.
· At the time of study completion, by the end of 2017, 48 per cent of the households in our sample did not own a functioning toilet (55% in poor communities), the report shows.

However, the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, called on all Nigerians and stakeholders to make toilets attractive towards promoting dignity and ending open defecation practices in the country.

According to him, Nigeria cannot continue to do things the same way, if the country will meet the global target of improved access to safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) by 2030.

He said the immeasurable benefits that toilets brought and the need to care for the ones available cannot be overemphasised, saying they protected the dignity of women and girls’ and ensure safety and health, especially during menstruation.

“Toilets, alongside clean water and good hygiene practices, form an essential barrier against the spread of deadly diseases like COVID-19, typhoid and cholera.

“Toilets help in reducing cases of malnutrition in our children under the age of 5, help to keep our children in school and also improve productivity through job creation.

“It has been established that investment in sanitation yields a five-fold returns on investment, we must therefore prioritise investment and innovations towards improving sustainable access to sanitation and hygiene in our communities”.

To support Nigeria in its drive to end open defecation by 2025, Mr Michael Adegbe, Leader, SATO Nigeria, says the company had donated 60,000 affordable Satopans and stools.

Satopans are a cost effective blue plastic toilet pan placed directly over a single pit, which features an automatically-closing trap door that blocks odors and insects.

A small amount of water (0.2 to 1 liter) opens the trap door to eliminate waste, which shuts itself tightly after use.

According to him, 50,000 Satopans out of the number was given to UNICEF and 10,000 of them were donated to the Clean Nigeria Campaign Secretariat.

He noted that this intervention had seen an improvement in livelihoods of benefiting communities and Toilet Business owners in the country.

He noted that reports of outbreak of Cholera was worrisome due to poor sanitation and increasing number of persons still defecating openly.

“UNICEF has been supporting the government to meet the country’s Open Defecation-Free (ODF) target by 2025, So far, we have donated 50,000 satopans to them to support that project.

“This was installed in schools, markets, communities to scale up sanitation and hygiene. Also, 10,000 satopans were given to the Clean Nigeria secretariat to support the ODF campaign.

“By this intervention, we have seen lives transformed and diseases, sicknesses reducing in benefiting communities,” he said.

Adegbe said the critical role that clean toilet played could not be overemphasised, calling on tiers of government to quadruple their efforts to meet the country target by 2025.

He listed efforts of Indorama fertilisers and chemicals in Eleme Port-Harcourt, as using satopans as Corporate social responsibility through giving 25,000 satopans to farmers to promote sanitation and hygiene,

“Here, the condition is that as a farmer, you must have a pit toilet and to end open defecation practices, the company helps them to install it at home, and this has enhanced their health and improved livelihood’’.

For Mr Yinka Arogundade, Convener, Inclusive Environment for All, the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach has improved sanitation and reduced open defecation in poor communities in the country.

He noted that CLTS increased the ownership of functioning toilets by 10 percentage points and the ownership of improved toilets by 7 percentage points in the poorest half of study communities.

“In these poor communities, CLTS decreased open defecation by 9–10 percentage points, these impacts are sustained over time and detectable almost 3 years after CLTS triggering meetings took place.

“Households in these study communities are poor by Nigerian standards. Half of them belong to the poorest 20 per cent of the country.

“Evidence suggests that CLTS directed these households towards cheaper, more affordable toilet models, or that it corrected their perceptions of construction costs downward’’.

Mr Benson Attah, National Coordinator, Society for Water and Sanitation, said Nigeria lost about US $43 million annually as an economic impact of poor sanitation in Nigeria, due to open defecation.

He said also, $2.5 billion was lost yearly to premature death from diarrhea, 90 per cent of which was directly attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.

“Another $13 million was lost due to productivity losses arising from sicknesses accessing healthcare services. Also, the report estimated that about $191 million was lost through healthcare expenditure.

“Public toilet market in Nigeria was estimated to be about N300 million yearly and has almost 70 per cent of this market. Public toilets provided an alternative to the current widespread practice, where people answer the call of nature openly around their environment thereby creating health hazards for the public.

“Although significant progress was made in recent years, Nigeria may not reach 100% open-defecation-free status by 2025 without a change in strategy. If Nigeria cannot achieve the target, Africa cannot,’’ he said.

All in all, experts have continued to emphasised the critical role that access to public toilets play in the society, saying this was crucial for socio-economic development.

Report by Tosin Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria.

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