A recent visit to Madiya, a 7 kilometers trip away from Biu town in Borno, Local Area Mechanics (LAMs) could be seen, carrying out repairs on a broken down borehole facility.
A closer look and further questioning on what could be wrong with the water facility, Mohammed Usman, 35 year-old LAM said it was an issue with a broken Oil Seal, thereby causing pump failure.
Within few minutes, the damaged seal was replaced, the issue was resolved and water flowed freely.
The visit, likened to a study tour, was to gain more knowledge on what Biu and Shani Local Government Areas did to be declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) by the National Task Group on Sanitation in November 2022.
As part of efforts to ensure sustainability of WASH facilities provided by Government and encourage its ownership by the Communities, the Borno state Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), in partnership with UNICEF trained selected volunteers in focal LGAs.
The training was done to equip beneficiaries with the technical skills to carry out immediate repairs of broken down boreholes in the Communities.
With this, village level operation and maintenance of these borehole facilities is achieved, without having to wait for the state government come to their aid.
According to Usman, “I am happy to have contributed to the development of my community, It is sad to see community members stranded on where to get water from”.
For Mariam Ibrahim, a mother of four, being a member of LAM, has been a blessing and fulfillment.
Ibrahim said the happiness on the faces of communities, especially the children when broken down boreholes are repaired, could not be quantifiable.
For Garba Julde, a Community member, who also doubles as the Secretary of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM), through UNICEF interventions, there was an overwhelming improvement in quality of life for the populace.
Julde said households with difficulty in constructing their toilets were supported, expressing gratitude and appreciation to RUWASSA, UNICEF and other partners.
In Walama community in Shani local government area, the presence of functional water facilities and toilets has improved health outcomes for the community.
At a visit to a community members’ house, Emmanuel Some, it was impressive to find the environment clean and free from foul smell or with faeces.
The pour-flush toilet in use was the Satopans, which uses minimal water and has automatic fly-proof mechanism to keep flies away.
According to Some, open defecation free awareness is of great benefit for his household and his community, saying with provision of water facilities, life was better.
“With the sensitisation to stop open defecation practices, it has helped us to stop, those who have the means constructed ‘soakaway toilets’, and those who do not have constructed pit toilets.
“Before now, we use to share the stream with animals, but now the sensitisation and construction of the borehole by UNICEF and other groups, has helped to improve sanitation and hygiene habits of the people of this community.”
According to Mohammed Walama, District Head of Walama ward, his community took action and ownership of operation and maintenance of the solar-powered borehole and other water facilities.
This, he said, was to ensure access to potable water and to encourage hygiene practices for the benefit of all.
“We have given stern warnings that no one should defecate in the open. We have also enacted a Bye-law which attracts a fine when violated”.
At the Walama Primary Health Care Centre, records provided by the Facility Manager, Mr Yunana Some, revealed that there was a huge reduction in water-related infections and deaths due to access to potable water.
Some said prior to the installation of the solar powered borehole facility by UNICEF and RUWASSA, water was bought from vendors and was inadequate for the health centre.
“It has helped our health facility to have clean water to attend to patients and also clean the toilets, and the environment. Before now, we used to buy water from the town and it was not enough”.
For Ms Phuong Nguyen, UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Northeast Nigeria, Borno Government must do more to sustain the ODF status already recorded in its two local governments, and replicate such in other parts of the state.
Nguyen said Open defecation was a threat to child survival, particularly for those who live in communities affected by conflict, saying the declaration of Biu and Shani as open defecation free is a gift to vulnerable children and families.
“It is important to bear in mind that becoming open defecation-free is a journey, and not a destination. There are key elements of this journey that we must maintain.
“These include a sustained access to safely managed water and improved toilets both at the household and institutional levels. In Biu, Shani and elsewhere in Borno, government must lead and invest more in water, sanitation and hygiene facilities”.
The UN official said for Biu and Shani to maintain their ODF status, key elements of the construction of toilets in institutions such as schools, health centres and markets must be sustained.
She said households must be supported to maintain their improved toilets just as access to safe water for households and public institutions must be sustained.
“We must invest more to strengthen sustainability efforts, including sensitisation on hygiene services. Communities must be accountable in the protection and maintenance of WASH facilities”.
Similarly, Alhaji Babagana Saad, Acting General Manager, Borno Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), said key factors in the achievement of ODF status included joint funding of projects activities between Government and development partners.
He said the state government also declared the first Saturday of the month as an environmental sanitation day for its residents to take ownership of their hygiene and enactment of a bye law on sanitation.
The general manager said Traditional leaders had played their part in encouraging the community members in taking ownership of the WASH facilities provided.
Saad however pledged the commitment of the state government to continue or work with UNICEF and other donors to sustain the status of the open defecation communities.
“RUWASSA will also work with respective stakeholders to champion the enactment of a law to upgrade the current LGA WASH Units to WASH department.
“This is in order to be independent, facilitate the attainment and sustaining the ODF status in all the LGAs in the state.
“We sincerely want to commend the efforts, and contributions made by UNICEF, other development partners and WASH unit staff for this achievement”.
UNICEF WASH Specialist, Mr Lonis Salihu, said the organisation was using the ‘No one is Left Behind’ mantra to ensure that communities imbibed the behavior change approach to build and use their toilets at all times.
Salihu said borno had shown the possibility of becoming an ODF state through its commitment, strategies and funding mechanisms.
The WASH specialist noted that sanitation marketing had seen business expansions for toilet business owners, saying many of them had been linked to Microfinance institutions for access to revolving loans.
All in all, experts say there was the need to support all states to ensure that all local governments launch their Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) efforts.
This, they say, would reveal the opportunities that open defecation creates and a demand for sanitation marketing for toilet business owners.
Written by Tosin Lanre-Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria.