Open defecation (toilet) in Nigeria: Causes, environmental hazards, and control measures

Over a billion people in the world defecate in the open. Open defecation is the human practice of emptying of bowels in the open environment, rather than into a toilet, or structures designed for its purpose.
In 2018, the National Outcome Routine Mapping, NORM, reported that an estimated number of 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open environment; this common act has earned Nigeria a ranking in Africa and in the World.
In Africa, Nigeria is described as the country with the largest number of persons practising open defecation, and the second largest country with this practice in the world, after India. This act is widely practised by children, adults and even the aged. There is also a close index in the number of males and females engaging in open defecation. This seems to suggest that open defecation is a general problem in Nigeria.

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UNICEF: ‘Nigeria Needs N959bn To Eradicate Open Defecation’

Causes of open defecation in Nigeria

In Nigeria, it is a common sight to find human faeces in public places such as motor parks, foot-paths, prayer houses, stadiums, filling stations, school environment, market places and bridge sides. Some states in Nigeria are recognized to have a greater percentage of people practising open defecation than others, areas like Plateau and Lagos, especially Mushin, Iba, Agege pen-cinema, Iyana Ipaja and Okokomaiko areas of Lagos have earned a name as the highest practising open defecation areas.
The cause of this menace in Nigeria is as a result of various factors which could be voluntary or involuntary, they include;

  1. Poverty: this is the primary cause of open defecation in Nigeria. Due to the inability of some families to build a private toilet facility, they resort to open defecation in near-by bushes and pathways or secretly pass out faeces in their houses and throw them to surrounding bushes (an act commonly referred to as shot-put by Nigerians). Open defecation is also attributed to lack of support from Government to build latrines.
  2. Unsafe and inconvenient toilets as a result of the poor situation of toilet facilities. Nigerians consider open defecation as the best possible alternative in cases where the available private toilet is considered unsafe for use. This could be as a result of too many people using one toilet, leaking toilets, presence of maggots and cockroaches (pests) in toilets and poor soak-away pits. Open defecation may also be considered to be the most suitable option at night, where the toilet is located far from the home.
  3. Aesthetic reasons: It has been discovered that some persons choose to empty their bowels along a bush path than in private toilet just for the fun of it. Some have described it as enjoyable, especially when carrying out the act with a group of friends or age-mates.
  4. Lack of water supply: because of the absence of water in some rural areas, citizens choose to go the easier way, rather than undergo the stress of having to trek long distances for water to clear the faeces after defection in a toilet. Some see the use of toilets as unnecessary and stressful in comparison to open defecation where a toilet roll or paper is all that is required.
  5. Lack of health awareness: This has caused an increase in the practice of open defecation. Lack of sensitization on the diseases caused by this practice has increased the rate of open defecation in the country.

Environmental and Health hazards caused by open defecation

Irrespective of the various reasons for open defecation as listed above, this practice has posed a great threat to Nigeria’s socio-economic development as well as the good health of its citizens.  According to WHO, the practice of open defecations affects more than 161 million women and children all over the world. Children have been reported to be the most affected of all ages. These hazards are:

  1. Water pollution and water-borne diseases: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has associated water-borne disease with open defecation. Oftentimes in rural areas, public defecations are done in flowing waterways, such as rivers or streams. As a result, the water source becomes contaminated and may eventually end up in the main water source of a family or individual.  This water, if untreated and taken into the body may cause serious health issues like cholera and typhoid. Children are the most susceptible to these diseases. In addition to this, bathing with faeces-contaminated water could lead to Swimmer’s itch.
  2. Air pollution: this is the most ignored environmental hazards caused by open defecation. Foul smells pollute the surrounding air and often cause nauseating effects.
  3. Vector-borne disease:  the presence of faeces in an area usually attracts the presence of insects such as flies, as well as pests. These flies, travel to surrounding areas such as houses and offices. If they eventually find their way into uncovered foods and drinks, they perch on them, thereby transmitting diseases. The after effects of these are usually stomach ache and diarrhoea.
  4. Malnutrition: when a child is exposed to lack of proper sanitation and hygiene for a long period of time, he or she begins to lose appetite for food, and will occasionally lead to a weakened immune system thus making the child susceptible to other diseases.
  5. Increased risk of polio infection. The poliovirus infection is transmitted via a faecal-oral route; hence, babies and children who are fond of their hands into the mouth can get easily infected.
  6. Others hazards of open defecation include; vulnerability to rape and assault, usually peculiar to woman and children, dangers of wild animals especially along bush paths.

Control measures

  1. Provision of toilets: since poverty is the main reason for open defecation in Nigeria, construction of public toilets in communities by government or NGOs will drastically reduce the menace caused by open defecation. Also, the provision of mobile toilets in public places with help curb this menace.
  2. Education and sensitization of the citizens on the importance of good sanitation and hygiene as well as the diseases caused by poor hygiene. Rallies and sensitization programmes should be organized by the government with the aim of eradicating open defecation.

Advice for Nigerians

Open defecation has been a re-occurring problem in Nigeria. The solution to this lies in the concerted effort of various families and communities at large. It has been reported that only a gram of faeces contains as much as ten million viruses, one million bacteria and a thousand parasite cysts.
Diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid, dysentery and polio can be easily prevented through proper defecation. Nigerians are therefore encouraged to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation for the good of their health.

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