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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Stemming the tide of open defecation: The Kwara approach

Globally, Nigeria is ranked second after India on the rung of countries with the highest prevalent rate of open defecation practice, and the first in Africa, as at October 2019

AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq
Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State

According to the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM) 2019, 44 million people still practise open defecation in Nigeria, a little improvement on the 47 million people captured in the 2018 report.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Kwara is rated the highest among the states with the prevalent practice of open defecation.

The State of Harmony, as Kwara is fondly called, is followed by Plateau, Ebonyi and Kogi.

Based on the findings of the WASH NORM, 64 per cent of Kwara residents engage in the practice, 61 per cent in Plateau while Ebonyi and Kogi are tied at 58 per cent prevalent rate.

The findings further assert that only 14 per cent of people have access to basic sanitation services in Kwara, Oyo and Ebonyi states.

This, undoubtedly, should be of grave concern to any responsible government because of the negative health implications of the trend on the citizens, and on the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6.

In addressing the challenge, the Kwara Government in a proactive step, rolled out several programmes to reverse the situation, one of which is the “Clean Kwara Campaign”, billed to run from 2020 to 2030.

The Clean Kwara Campaign which kicked off in September 2020, marks the commencement of a decade of action against open defecation practice in the state.

The campaign is in addition to the construction of integrated modern public toilets in 2019 in some strategic parts of Ilorin, the state capital, to stop open defecation among the masses.

More toilets are also to be constructed in other senatorial districts across the state to further improve the people’s access to basic sanitation services particularly in the hinterlands.

In his address at the official flag off of the Clean Kwara campaign, Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq described as appalling the rating of the state in the SDGs including Goal 6, which is availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

AbdulRazaq, who was represented by his deputy, Kayode Alabi at the programme that coincided with the 5th anniversary of the SDGs, explained that his government had prioritised provision of water for all and sundry.

He said it was after this that the government realised the huge gap in the provision of sanitation services for the people.

To bridge this gap, the governor said his administration embarked on the rehabilitation of several water works that had long collapsed, noting that the state had, since the inception of his government, made considerable progress in this respect.

“Last year November, we conducted what is called the Kwara-Social Assessment and Vulnerability (KW-SAVI) study which revealed something even more sordid.

“We established that more than 75 per cent of our schools have no access to potable water while 20 per cent have disused or non-functioning water hand pumps.

“A similar study by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on SDGs, on public toilets and services at our motor parks showed that 95 per cent of the latrines are dry pit while just five per cent of them are pour – flush.

“The situation is grimmer with our healthcare facilities and hospitals because we discovered that up to 90 per cent of them lacked improved water supply with no hand washing facility.

“I must add that we have moved very quickly to address this yawning gap in the health sector with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is why we are so passionate about Kwara under our administration, keying into various national initiatives.

“Mention should therefore be made of SDG 17 which emphasises the importance of partnerships to strengthen the efforts concerning all the sustainable development goals,” AbdulRazaq said.

Also, Dr Jemilat Bio-Ibrahim, Special Adviser to Gov. AbdulRasaq on SDGs, whose office is handling the campaign, explained how the state would recommit itself to the global action to achieve sustainable development.

Bio-Ibrahim while presenting the roadmap for achieving the desired goal, stated that the plan would cut across the critical sectors of human development.

According to her, such sectors included agriculture, water, clean energy and environment protection, education, health and inclusion, and youth development.

Bio-Ibrahim announced that civil society organisations, development partners, and the private sector would be incorporated in the action because government at all levels could not do it alone.

She said the partnership would ultimately balance global challenges with local responsibilities and solutions.

Acknowledging the effort of Kwara government to change the awful narrative, the Minister of Water Resources, Mallam Suleiman Adamu, commended Kwara for being listed among the frontrunners that had taken all initiatives to launch the campaign at the state level.

Adamu said this was a clear demonstration of the kind of political commitment needed to reverse the appalling position of the state in open defecation practice and lack of access to basic sanitation services.

“Kwara is now listed among the frontrunner states that have taken all the initiatives to launch their state level campaign, as demonstrated during the national launch of the “Clean Nigeria” by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in November 2019’’, the minister acknowledged.

Adamu pledged that his ministry would provide necessary technical support for the state to record success in the campaign.

Notwithstanding the flag-off, the state government again in December 2020 gathered together stakeholders on environment.

It was during the “World Toilet Day” celebration and the occasion was used to review government activities on ending open defecation practice in the state.

Justifying the gathering of experts for the second time within three months on the same issue, Gov. AbdulRazaq said the event was purpose driven and would again afford government the opportunity of reviewing the journey on sanitation.

He said this was with a view to strengthen the campaign on global effort to end open defecation.

The governor said Kwara could not afford to be left behind as his administration had demonstrated a total commitment by completing and commissioning some prototypes of integrated modern public toilets in 2019.

“I am glad to announce that our efforts have paid off as private sector stakeholders working to end open defecation are to build 1,000 pour flush toilets in Kwara to support what we are doing.

“We are indeed very grateful to them while we pledge to step up our effort to end open defecation in our state and uphold good hygiene.

“We appeal to the good and rich people of Kwara, private businesses, communities, and other corporate organizations operating in the state to also donate public toilet facilities to our community”, AbdulRazaq said.

Speaking in the same vein, the Commissioner for Environment, Mrs Julianah Oyedun, reiterated the commitment of government to address the challenge of open defecation, particularly with construction of more public toilets at strategic locations in Ilorin and other senatorial districts.

Oyedun urged the public to see the provision of good, standard, sanitary, and hygienic toilet facilities as a task that must be accomplished by all households even before the 2025 deadline set by the UN.

The Commissioner for Water Resources, Ms Arinola Lawal, also called for an effective public enlightenment from community to community on the issue.

“The onus is on the Ministry of Environment to collaborate with the Ministry of Water Resources and the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASA) in the state for this administration to commence construction of toilets,” Lawal added.

While pledging the support of the state House of Assembly, Mr Rasak Owolabi, Chairman, House Committee on Health and Environment, said the House would support any policy or law to see that the masses had access to an hygienic environment.

However, Dr Baba Yakubu, the Registrar, Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON), observed that nine qualified and licensed environmental officers were still inadequate in the state.

To achieve the lofty goal of open defecation free Kwara, Yakubu said the process of enforcing and admonition of the populace towards having at least one toilet in a household had become a sine qua non.

He said that “provision of sanitary toilets remains an important factor in ensuring public hygiene. Kwara cannot be lagging behind in the attainment of open defecation free goal by 2025 or before”.

“It is on this note that I want to passionately appeal and implore the working governor to urgently recruit more environmental officers to help drive the objective and the mission of the clean, neat, tidy and open defecation free Kwara,” Yakubu said.

He said that doing so would avert morbidity and mortality cases from diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhea, dysentery and so on.

Obviously, the world, particularly the poverty-ridden and underdeveloped countries, will continue to grapple with challenges of open defecation, until human waste disposal mechanisms became affordable, accessible, simple and adaptable to all.

As the prevalence of open defecation practice in Kwara is alarming, the swift response of the present government to tackle the societal ill, nonetheless, is worthy of emulation.

Interestingly, the effort has begun to yield good results with the donation of 1,000 flush toilets by private sector stakeholders.

The toilets will be evenly located across the state to stem the tide of the ugly practice.

Ultimately, for Kwara to attain the desirous status of an open defecation free state, there must be concerted efforts among all stakeholders to construct more public and private toilets.

It is believed that if the effort, as partly exhibited in 2020, is promoted and sustained, the state will sooner than the 2030 target, reverse the negative trend and join states like Abia, Zamfara and Akwa Ibom on the list of states with negligible rate of open defecation practice.

By Usman Aliyu

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