As early as 5am, the public refuse dumping site close to Yidi Agodi in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria is a beehive of activities – not by sanitary inspectors and hygiene officers – but by individuals who have found the place the best (or most convenient) place to defecate, even though a bold notice threatens ‘open defecators’ with huge fines.
The site is unique because it is very close to a stream that empties into a major river hence the grave medical implications of open defecation to the aquatic niche and human lives in extension. Furthermore, flies are flying around the area and could easily perch on uncovered foods and fortify such meals with potentially harmful ingredients.
The story is the same at major refuse dumping sites across the city and by extension the entire nation. The belief is that if refuse could be allowed, so should fecal materials since they’ll all be incinerated or allowed to decompose.
To some extent this is true but the reality is that incineration and decomposition are not immediate processes. Before refuses are picked up and treated accordingly in Nigeria, the sites dump site must be full thus allowing vectors of diseases including cholera to carry out their essential phases in disease progression.
Why Nigerians defecate openly
Housing is a major reason why open defecation is a major issue in Nigeria. Even in 2014, it is still worthy to note that the number of houses without toilets outnumber those with appreciable toilet facilities.
Owners of such houses believe the toilet would be an additional burden since money would be neded to keep it clean and usable.
In houses popularly called face-me-I-face-you, there could be 8 rooms occupied by 8 families without toilets hence members of such houses are compelled to defecate at open spaces such as dump sites and on the bank of slowly flowing streams and rivers.
This is a major reason why cholera outbreaks are rampant in Nigeria.
Although governments at all levels are urging owners of buildings to make sure there are toilets, they are usually unable to enforce such advices believing that it could present them as harsh and disconnected to the plight of the poor citizens.
Local and state governments in Nigeria are attempting to tackle open defecation by putting up public toilets in communities where a large number of houses don’t have public toilets. The shortcoming however is that a fee (about 20 cents) is asked whenever individuals want to use such facilities.Even though the cost is inexpensive, many would prefer to openly defecate and save some money.
What could work
Free is key is combating open defecation in Nigeria and other developing countries. When public toilets are ubiquitous and cosmopolitan, individuals – especially residents of the community – will have no choice than to use such facilities if they are well cleaned.
If public toilets cannot be sustained using a free government-funded model, then a paying model that levies a community could be adopted. Such a model would be easier to maintain and sustain over the years.
Awareness may not change much
Even though awareness is good, it won’t change much as far as open defecation is concerned. There is no amount of awareness that would change people’s minds about defecating openly when there are no affordable, sanitary and better options – secretly or openly, feces must be excreted.
Therefore, regulatory agencies, governments at all levels and stakeholders should intensify efforts to ensure that in the long-term, every house in Nigeria has toilets; and in the short term, public toilets are everywhere and people can use it for free – or made to think they aren’t paying for it.
United Nations’ 1 billion estimate of people forced to openly defecate could not be far from the truth; and many of the people involved are aware that they are at a high risk of contracting cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, diarrhea, worm infections, reduced physical growth, impaired cognitive function and under-nutrition.
The message is already out there, what remain missing are available and affordable better options.
This post also appears on HealthNewsNG.com