Ensuring Access to Safe, Affordable Toilet for All
BY SANDRA EGUAGIE
Can you imagine a residential building without toilet? Can you imagine a school without toilets? Can you imagine a business Centre without toilet? Can you imagine not having a toilet? Can you imagine defecating in the bush? Can you imagine defecating in plastic or polythene bags and throwing it into the bush, school compound, open field, gutter, and river, (“shot put” or “take away”) as it is commonly called in Nigeria? Can you imagine not having privacy when you want to relieve yourself? Although unthinkable for those living in the western world or wealthy environment but it is a common phenomenon in this country. In fact, one in three people on this globe does not have access to a toilet! Have you ever thought about the true meaning of dignity and equity? These are the issues of focus for this year on world toilet day.
Every November 19, international and civil society organizations all over the world celebrate World Toilet Day. But until 2013, it was not formally recognized as an official UN day.
“Ensuring access to sanitation for all, which is safe, affordable, acceptable and sufficient, requires multiple interventions from different stakeholders, leadership, an enabling environment, and an engaged population willing and able to claim their rights.”
Approximately 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, while one billion people practiced open defecation. World Toilet Day highlights this ‘silent crisis’. Founded in 2001 by the World Toilet Organization (WTO), the event celebrates the importance of sanitation by supporting and accelerating efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.
The theme for this year world toilet day is equality and dignity. More than one billion people still practice open defecation, women and girls bear the greatest burden of lack of access to toilet throughout all life stages, One in three women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet and 526 million women have no choice but to go to the toilet out in the open. Women and girls living without any toilets spend 97 billion hours each year finding a place to go. “Poor sanitation exposes females to the risk of assault, and when schools cannot provide clean, safe, toilets girls’ attendance drops
A joint UNICEF and World Health Organization report of 2012 has revealed that estimated 34 million Nigerians have no toilet and practice open defecation.
ANEEJ and other organizations in conjunction with UNICEF Benin was involved in community led total sanitation sensitization exercise in 10 communities in Ovia south local government area of Edo state in Benin city early this year. It was discovered that 90% of the population have no toilets in their houses; they defecate in the bush, river banks, farms etc. When told about the health implication, they said rain water will wash it into the river and that is the same river that they drink from as their only source of water and you hear them say disease does not kill an African man, the common phrase use in Nigeria.
Open defecation has become a normal habit in Nigeria system. Even in urban area people urinate on the road, side of parked cars without any shame or disgust. There are some residential buildings without toilets, the occupants defecate in plastic or polythene bags deposit it in nearby bush, school compound or inside the gutter and thinks that rain water will wash it away.
In the schools especially public schools you see students and pupils going or running into nearby bush to answer the call of nature and this has become a recurrent feature. The same thing happen in the markets and other public places. Also passengers travelling from one part of the state to another often stop to defecate inside the bush and pee on the roads whenever they are pressed; it has become a common sight.
It is even worst in any open public events (wedding, burial, birthday ceremony, etc.) you see adults and children stooping to urinate and defecate at any available place close to the event centers whenever they are pressed and food and drinks is being served while others are eating at the same place and it seem normal. Nobody dares complain or worry about it and even when some persons want to complain, what you will hear them say is it doesn’t mean, is not her/his fault, leave him/her alone, it can be you, what do want him/ her to do, are you the only person here and so on while others will just laugh over it. And often at times most people organizing parties and ceremonies plans for the food, drinks, decoration and other things and does not put into consideration toilet facilities but can keep invitees for hours and what then do you expect, the stomach will react after being filled and the implication will be defecating and urinating at any available place and this boils down to the fact that most Nigerians are less concern about open defecation which has become part of our daily life. There are some cases were toilets exist in public places, and some persons still refuse to use it because it is not clean, no maintenance and sometimes no water, why? We lack maintenance culture in this part of the world.
Having access to sanitation is a basic human right, yet almost a third of the world’s population suffer on a daily basis from a lack of access to a clean and functioning toilet. Without toilets, untreated human waste can impact a whole community, affecting many aspects of daily life and ultimately posing a serious risk to health.
There is need to know that sanitation is the safe disposal of human excreta and associate hygiene promotion. Sanitation so described is important as it separates humans from excreta. A safe toilet accompanied by hand washing with soap, provides an effective barrier to transmission of diseases. Every year 0.85 million children die from preventable diarrheal diseases, 88% of which are caused by unimproved sanitation. Advances in sanitation can also reduce the economic burden on health systems in developing countries. People affected by infectious diarrhoeal diseases often require health care and/or hospital support, which incur costs to both patients (transport, medicine, time-loss) and to the national governments (medical consultation, treatment, medication). Last but not least, inadequate sanitation imposes an economic burden on tourism; the lack of appropriate sanitation (and related water and hygiene) is both a cause and effect of the vicious poverty cycle in which millions of people are trapped.
Governments (of both developing and donor countries) should strengthen the sanitation sector and bringing the Millennium Development Goal target on sanitation back on track with an immediate and urgent political priority.
For Millennium Development Goals to be achievable by 2015 in the area of sanitation and water there is a role that the government, civil societies and individuals needs to play.
The government (national, state and local) should make sanitation policies and provide sufficient resources to implement these policies, and the first priority must be on making water accessible to all citizens. The guiding principle should be that “All people have fundamental rights to sufficient water for drinking and sanitary purposes and to food. That is, water should be made accessible to all even though they need to pay for it”. The provision of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is necessary to protect human health and the environment. Access to clean water is a key factor in reducing poverty , improving health and achieving sustainable development, freeing women and young girls from the back-breaking work of travelling long distance to collect water contributes to achieving gender equity and improves economic possibilities for females, as women have more time for income-generating activities and young girls attend schools. Increase attention to sanitation and hygiene issues has the potential to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poor and save millions of lives by reducing the toll of waterborne diseases. (World summit on sustainable Development. 28th August- 3rd September 2002 Johannesburg)
Secondly these policies should be centered on providing adequate sanitation facilities in all schools with hand washing facilities and there should be separate toilets for boys and girls with specific provision for proper menstrual hygiene facilities and also access for students with disabilities. There should be integration of personal hygiene into the school curriculum from the primary levels.
Government should also provide public toilets in some strategic places in the state and provision should be made for maintenance and sustenance. And adequate toilets should be built in the markets, hospitals and other government ministries.
Local government should equipped environmental health workers to go to houses for proper inspection of toilet facilities. There should be continuous enlightenment program by the government and civil society groups on the different types of toilet (the pit latrine, the ventilated pit latrine, water system etc.) that can be done and the importance and how of maintaining these toilets which can be done through organizing workshop and seminar on the television, in the schools, market places, hospitals and other public places. There should be laws that ensure that all private establishments and institutions have good toilets with hand washing facilities in their environment.
The role for public private partnerships in addressing the sanitation crisis must be fully instituted to enhance sustainability of sanitation laws.
It is a clarion call for land owners of residential buildings, government at all levels and entrepreneurs to provide adequate toilets facilities in their respective environment. Also individuals must know that it is their right to have a decent toilet and that urinating and defecating openly is not normal. The government should make water available to all citizens at a lower cost. Everybody must work together to stop open defecation if we must have a healthy environment which can improve our quality of life and also make a positive impact on the economy.
Sandra Eguagie is the Programme Assistant, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Benin City, Nigeria.