Open defecation: Children At Risk Growing in Toxic Environment

By Funmi Lawrence


Key findings of the research study revealed that Nigeria ranks second among countries practicing open defecation globally.

According to findings from the 2018 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) survey, 24 per cent of the population (47 million people) practice open defecation

Eno Etukudoh, a 54 year old mother of 14 children and 22 grandchildren has lived all her live including her children and grandchildren at the bank of Calabar River and has been practicing open defecation without knowing the health implication.

Calabar River flows through Idang community in Efut Akai Etta-Mbutu Village in Calabar South where Etukudoh has been living for years, doing fishing business with her family.

The water from the river has been her only source of livelihood as fishing is the hallmark of her career and her entire generation, what however calls for concern was why and how she and her children including the grandchildren were able to survive the health hazard associated with open defecation.

Etukudoh’s daily activities is hinged on Calaber River where they engage in open defecation as they drank, bath, wash and defecate in the same Calabar River.

According to Etukudoh, I gave birth to all my children at the bank of the river, we do not have toilet here and what we do is that after we defecate, we use shovel to pack the excreta and pour it inside the river.

“ It is only God that has been helping me and all my children as we do not fall sick and I have never visited a hospital, It is this same water that we drink that makes us strong.

“When the water dries, we fetch the clean one and drink it, before the water dry, I fetch water from a nearby borehole.’’

Miss Deborah Ekpeyong-Ita, a Primary three pupil of Idang Primary School while corroborating Etukudoh’s claim stated that her school does not have toilet facilities, adding that the pupils often go to the nearby bushes to defecate.

She, urged the relevant authorities to look into their plight by providing toilet facilities within the school and also constructing mobile toilets around the community.

Mr Williams Kufra, Personal Assistant to the Village Head, Chief Ene Anthigha noted that the only means of survival for most villagers was through the river.

According to her, we survive here by going into the water to get fishes, we defecate into the water and it flows with the water and most times, the fish will have to eat the excreta as well.

“But most of the times, when the water goes down which is the period of low tide, we put bucket inside the water, then the clean water will come up and we fetch it for drinking.

“ The water will go down during the low tide before 3 p.m. every day, this is when the water is good for drinking, but during the high tide at about 5 p.m the water comes up.


“ We need the government to give us good water, sink boreholes because, with this river water that we drink, we contact diseases like have typhoid, malaria, diarrheal.’’

Narrating his experience, Samuel Nsaben, a 16-year-old boy said he has never used the toilet all his life, stressing that he grew up knowing and using the water as a source through which he evacuate his waste.

Findings reveals that open defecation has an economic, social, and health impact on national development.

Nigeria loses about 1.3 per cent (N455 billion) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually due to poor sanitation and a third of that cost is as a result of open defecation.

Pundits have noted that, more than 100,000 children under five years of age die each year due to diarrhea; of which 90 percent is directly attributed to unsafe water and sanitation.

They noted that it is also worrisome that most schools in the country from primary to tertiary institutions do not have good sanitation facilities to ease learning outcomes.

In November 2018, the Nigerian president declared a state of emergency in the WASH sector, this, reaffirmed Nigeria’s commitment for eliminating open defecation in the country, and launched a national campaign to jump-start the country’s journey towards becoming Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2025.

At a two-day Media Dialogue on “Clean Nigeria campaign: Use the Toilets’’, Mr Eyo Offiong, Acting Programme Manager, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) , says only 15.7 per cent of schools in Nigeria have basic water and sanitation services.

Offiong said that the percentage signified low Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities in the educational sector.

He called for an increase in the number of WASH facilities across the educational sector in the country.

According to him, there is need for adequate water and sanitation facilities in schools to aid teaching outcomes.

“The 15.7 per cent of schools in Nigeria with basic facilities is a national outlook, it is a national average.

“It is for government to ensure the political will and commitment to provide water in schools as well as basic sanitation facilities to expand beyond the communities or local government where the donor partners are involved in.

“It is for government to commit funds into ensuring that this happens. The good thing about the statistics is that it brings clearly what needs to be done and how it can be done.

“So far, in Cross River State, the government has also declared emergency in the WASH sector last year.

“The government has gone further to drill over 200 solar powered boreholes in the past six months and the process of completion is ongoing.’’

Offiong said that Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River had also committed to providing three million dollars annually for the next five years to make the state an Open Defecation Free state.

“Going by the statements of the governor, the state is ready and willing to move ahead to ensure we become open defecation free state and to drive the state in education and health.”

The acting manager also noted that to drive the initiative, six Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the states had been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF), which is the highest in the country.

He said that the LGAs declared ODF included Obanliku, Bekwara, Yala, Ikom, Boki and Yakurr.

He said that the state had provided 20,367 new household latrines under the Water Supply and Sanitation Council Programme (WSSSRP), while 4,088 volunteer hygiene promoters were trained on hygiene practices.

Mr Bioye Ogunjobi, WASH Specialist, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), disclosed that Nigeria now has 13 local governments certified open defecation areas.

He added that Jigawa and Bauchi states had over 3,000 communities certified ODF, adding however that in terms of geopolitical zone, North Central has the highest percentage of 53.9 per cent of its population still practicing open defecation.

He said the North East has 21.8 per cent of population also practicing open defecation,
while North West has 10.3 per cent, South East; 22.4 per cent, South South; 17.9 per centand South West; 28.0 per cent.

Ogunjobi said that one in four Nigerians defecate in the open and 16 million of those
who practice open defecation live in the North Central part of the country.

He also said that “35 million Nigerians practice unimproved sanitation,
while 30 million practice limited sanitation.

“There is a total of 43 million people who practice basic sanitation and 37 million practice safe managed sanitation.”

The WASH specialist also said that UNICEF was working hard toward making
Nigeria ODF and urged the media to redouble the effort toward raising awareness on

Also, Mrs Yemisi Akpa, the Chief Scientific Officer, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, said the achievement of the 13 ODF Local Government Areas in the country was not enough as more efforts were needed to ensure good hygiene practice by 2025.

Akpa said that to achieve ODF by 2025, there was also the need to provide an average of 100 household latrines annually in all the 774 LGAs.

She urged Nigeria government to constitute a technical working group to operationalise the National Roadmap toward ODF.

She, therefore, called on the Cross River government to be more committed through funding to deliver the remaining 12 LGAs yet to be declared

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