Today marks another observance of World Toilet Day. Around the world, 3.6 billion people do not have toilets that work properly. That is the starting point of the 2021 Campaign for World Toilet Day. The Observance celebrates toilets and raises awareness of the 3.6 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation.
Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces. UNICEF has expressed concern over the shortage of potable water in Nigeria, saying over 86 per cent of Nigerians lack access to a safely managed drinking water source.
UNICEF further noted that although about 70 per cent of Nigerians are reported to have access to basic water services, more than half of these water sources are contaminated.
According to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund, the extent of open defecation in Nigeria varies from as low as 1.2 per cent of households in Abia to as high as 65.8 per cent in Kogi. Other States that show higher than the national average (37 per cent) with regard to open defecation practices are Ekiti (60.8 per cent), Plateau (56.2 per cent), Oyo (54.0 per cent), Cross River (53.6 per cent), Benue (52.9 per cent), Taraba (52.5 per cent), Nasarawa (50.8 per cent), Kwara (50.5 per cent), Enugu (48.6 per cent), Jigawa (48.1 per cent), Ondo (47.6 per cent), Niger (47.5 per cent), Ebonyi (45.5 per cent), Osun (39.2 per cent) and Kebi (37.6 per cent).
Further afield, every day, over 700 children under five years old die from diarrhoea linked to unsafe water, sanitation and poor hygiene.
When some people in a community do not have safe toilets, everyone’s health is threatened. Poor sanitation contaminates drinking-water sources, rivers, beaches and food crops, spreading deadly diseases among the wider population.
This year’s theme is about valuing toilets. The campaign draws attention to the fact that toilets and the sanitation systems that support them are underfunded, poorly managed or neglected in many parts of the world, with devastating consequences for health, economics and the environment, particularly in the poorest and most marginalized communities.
On the other hand, the advantages of investing in an adequate sanitation system are immense. For instance, every $1 invested in basic sanitation returns up to $5 in saved medical costs and increased productivity, and jobs are created along the entire service chain. For women and girls, toilets at home, school and at work help them fulfill their potential and play their full role in society, especially during menstruation and pregnancy.
The solution is about taking action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
Even though sanitation is a human right recognized by the United Nations, poor countries like Nigeria urgently need massive investment and innovation to quadruple progress all along the ‘sanitation chain’ from toilets to the transport, collection and treatment of human waste.
As part of a human rights-based approach, governments must listen to the people who are being left behind without access to toilets and allocate specific funding to include them in planning and decision-making processes.
In 2016, Nigeria launched an action plan of its own, aiming to end open defecation by 2025. The plan involves providing equitable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and strengthening tailored community approaches to total sanitation. The plan is currently being vigorously pursued by the Honourable Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Hussein Adamu.
To meet the 2025 target, Nigeria needs to build two million toilets every year from 2019 to 2025. That is quite an ambitious goal, although UNICEF is currently delivering about 100,000 toilets annually.
But the goal is achievable. Over the period of five years, India was able to virtually eradicate open defecation. Even with a population of more than 1.2 billion people, the country embarked on an ambitious five-year mission to eliminate open defecation nationwide, building millions of toilets and aiming to change the habits of hundreds of millions of its citizens. That has been accomplished with will and government determination.
In Nigeria, the best way to go about achieving such a laudable goal is through public/private partnership. It has worked reasonably well in Lagos, and can be replicated in the rest of the country. Once people can make money out of a public good that fetches them money, they are motivated to go all the way to invest in such ventures.