INVESTING IN PUBLIC SANITATION FOR DIVIDENDS
World Toilet Day Extra
Consider this: it is estimated that for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a $4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs around the world.
Excretion is a vital human function. It is an important biological requirement for the body to expel waste that is toxic to the human system. Most of it is removed through the skin, urinary system, respiratory system or gastrointestinal system.
But it is unfortunate that most Nigerians carry out this body function indiscriminately. But one thing we always forget to understand is that this fecal matter is toxic waste and therefore is our responsibility to ensure that it is properly channeled in such a way that it does not have contact with the body or indirectly find it ways back into the body system. One way this can be avoided is through the provision of, and access to toilets. And this brings us to this year’s World Toilet Day which is celebrated November 19th every year with the 2016 theme being “Toilets and Jobs’’. The focus, I know surely, is how sanitation or lack of it can impact on livelihoods and also create jobs.
Investing in public sanitation is a fourfold investment and empowerment plan which can enhance economic growth, health advancement, human rights protection and preserve good cultural values. Today about 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation and one in ten people have no choice but to defecate in the open. Economically, when toilets facilities are built in public places, it means more jobs will be created where individuals will be employed to maintained and run the facilities and there is the likelihood that there will be more income for investors. But if access to toilets is restricted, people will even avoid food and drink to minimize how many times they might need to use the toilet without considering the health implication. This therefore translates to more incidences of open defecation especially in social outings like weddings, birthdays, funeral and other events where food and drink is usually free.
Consider this: it is estimated that for every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a $4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs around the world. The global demand for water and sanitation services is worth over $50 billion. So there is a massive demand waiting to be met. In Nigeria, we can say there is slight improvement in the water sector where individuals have resorted to sinking boreholes and selling water for other households. You hardly find public toilets and even where they are present, they are not accessible because there is no water for handwashing, no separate toilets for men and women and the environment is unhygienic. So some people prefer to defecate in the open.
Secondly, working towards a world of toilet for all will enhance and increase the protection of the dignity, safety of women and girls and it will reduce sexual violence. There have been cases of rape and sexual assault of girls and women as a result of lack of toilets. A good example of sexual violence that got a big reaction from the world due to lack of toilet is the rape and murder of the two Indian girls who were attacked as they went into the “bush” to defecate. This could have been avoided if there were toilets. The availability of separate toilets will also reduce girl absenteeism in schools as well as help them manage their menstruation period and in turn increase their academic performance. It can help women, especially pregnant women, maintain their dignity when answering the call of nature in public places.
Thirdly, toilets play a vital role in protecting our health especially in the reduction of child mortality. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death among under age five children and is entirely preventable with access to proper sanitation and clean water. Diarrhea caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene is linked to 50% of child under nutrition, which can lead to stunted physical and mental development (WHO 2008).
Although it can be argued that there is sufficient fresh water on the planet to achieve adequate sanitation but due to bad economics, poor infrastructure, corruption, ignorance and our “ Nigerian adage” that disease does not kill African Man, we have continued to neglect our duty to provide efficient and safe toilets. Every year millions of people, most of them children, die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. More toilets in our environment will help to preserve our cultural values and promote the privacy of individuals especially women and girls who must do their business privately.
Access to toilets contributes positively to our standard of living; frankly speaking open defecation is a characteristic of poor standard of living. How I wish access to mobile phones by Nigerians is equivalent to access to toilets and good hygiene practice. That way, achieving the sustainable development goal 6 will be easy. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 is the attempt to ensure access to water and sanitation for all with a target that ensures everyone everywhere has access to toilet by 2030. It is pertinent to note that achieving this goal helps us to achieve goals 3, 5 and 8.
Sandra Eguagie, Programme Officer, ANEEJ