Open defecation is the human practice of defecating outside (in the open environment) rather than in the toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals or other open spaces for defecation. They do so because they do not have a toilet readily accessible or due to traditional cultural practices. The practice is common where sanitation infrastructure and services are not readily accessible.
Defecating in open spaces is a very ancient practice. In ancient times, there were more open spaces and less population pressure on land. It was believed that defecating in the open causes little harm when done in areas with low population, forests or camping type situation.
In Nigeria, open defecation is a common practice. It is common place to find faeces in open spaces even in the best cities of the country. The call of nature is one which must be answered immediately; however the disgusting habit of open defecation is one which needs urgent attention. While answering the call of nature, some Nigerians defecate in any open space available. Hence, there are faeces everywhere in the country especially public places such as railways, parks, footpaths, highways, forests and even stadiums, and even in private residences etc.
This act of open defecation has earned Nigeria the rating as the country with the largest number of people that defecate in the open in Africa and second largest globally after India. According to the 2018 National Outcome Routine Mapping, NORM Report, 47 million Nigerians defecate in the open while the country losses N455 billion (US$ 1.3b) annually due to poor sanitation. (www.vanguardngr.com).
In Lagos state for instance, open defecation is a daily occurrence as some Lagosians throw caution to the wind and expel faeces from their bowels in any available space despite the existence of laws and regulations that prohibits this practice. The laws and regulations include Public Health Laws of Lagos State, Environmental Sanitation Regulation, Environmental Sanitation Law, Environmental Management Protection Law and Local Government By-Laws.
The Lagos State Environment Management Protection Law of 2017 is intended to consolidate all the laws and regulations applicable to the management, protection and sustainable development of Lagos State environment. This law created an establishment referred to as the Lagos Waste Management Authority which is vested with the responsibility of disposing waste in the state as well as cleaning streets, roads and designated public places. However, analysts are worried that open defecation has become a fashionable trend in Lagos as people are no longer embarrassed while defecating in the open. According to research, the roads notorious for this detestable practice includes the Lagos –Badagry Expressway, Ijora/Iganmu Flyover near the National Theatre, Orile, Mile 2 Bus Stop, Volkswagen, Barracks area of Ojo, Trade Fair Bridge, Alakija Bridge, Abule –odo, Iyan-Iba, Maza Maza and the popular Agboju Bus-stop which is on the second gate of Festac Town. (www.environewsnigeria.com).
Furthermore, in Oyo state, open defecation is seen to be a common trend .The situation is compounded by the absence of a city master plan leading to buildings being erected indiscriminately without provisions for toilet facilities, lack of water, poverty, lack of public toilets in schools and markets and inability of the government to monitor sanitary inspectors. In Ibadan, the capital of the state, a public dumping site close to Yidi Agodi is the most convenient place to defecate though a huge sign that threatens open defecators with huge fine is placed therein. (www.IB pulse Archive).
Plateau state is considered the leading state for open defecation. In Kufang area of Maingo Junction of the state capital, parents escort their children to openly excrete in alleys in broad day light while the parents and other adults only do so at night. This practice is so bad that residents of the area habitually cover their noses when walking through the alleys due to the pungent stench that emanates from the piles of faeces mixed with urine and slimy gutter content in the said alleys. (www.dailytrust.com.ng)
Embarrassingly, report has it that 50% of residents of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory defecate openly. This is according to a report by Emmanuel Awe, Director of water quality Control and Sanitation of the Federal Ministry of water Resources which was based on a survey done by the Federal Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF on water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) norms. The minister of the Federal Capital Territory is already having sleepless nights over this report and this should be the case with all the 36 state governors of the country as the problem is everywhere in the country.
These are just few examples. Open defecation is practiced everywhere in the country, no city or village in Nigeria is any exception. More embarrassing is the elite zones of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Ikoyi and Victoria Island in Lagos, Lekki zone etc. All over the country, there is no place that is speared.
CAUSES OF OPEN DEFECATION
- Lack of toilets: In Nigeria, many house owners build houses without adequate number of toilets. In the popular “face-me-I-face-you” houses, the place of toilets are scarce. In some houses, there is only one toilet for a population of 20 to 30 people; this makes it difficult for a person to access the toilet especially when it is being occupied hence open defecation. Furthermore, the streets and public places of assembly lacks public toilets where people can easily use when pressed.
- Poor sanitation and hygiene habit: this is the major cause of open defecation. A toilet is a place that should be properly sanitized so as to prevent infections and diseases. However in Nigeria, public toilets are usually very dirty and there is no water to either clean up the toilet or flush after use. To this end, people prefer to ease themselves in the open rather than subject themselves to infections and diseases by using dirty toilets.
- Habits and culture: it is common practice for some people to defecate in the open. Some even defecate in nylon bags or bowls and throw them into the drainage and dustbins. People believe that since there are no toilets available, they would rather defecate openly than to remain pressed and uncomfortable.
EFFECTS OF OPEN DEFECATION ON HEALTH, ENVIRONMENT AND REAL ESTATE.
- Open defecation leads to diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and other water borne diseases. To this end, when faeces are deposited in rivers or water ways, it becomes contaminated and this water is channelled to the main water source without treatment. As a result, when people that reside in such areas use the water as it is for drinking or cooking, they become infected.
Furthermore, children are particularly vulnerable to ingesting faeces of other people that are lying around after open defecation, because young children crawl on the floor, walk barefoot, put things in their mouth without washing their hands thus making them victims of diseases.
The popular cause of infant mortality is diarrhoea. According to the World Health Organization in 2014, an average of 2,000 children under the age of five dies every day from diarrhoea. (www.worldhealth organization retrieved 10 March 2014). Countries where open defecation is practiced have the highest number of deaths of children under the age of five as well as high level of malnourishment.
- Pollution of environment: open defecation pollutes the air as the smell of faeces is unpleasant. It also introduces toxins and bacteria into the ecosystem in amounts that it cannot handle or break down at a time. This leads to build up of filth. Furthermore, open defecation is linked to vector borne diseases. Experts say apart from water borne diseases, when the human waste collects into heaps, it attracts flies and other insects. These flies then travel around the surrounding areas, carrying defecate matters and disease causing microbes when they land on food and drinks that people ingest unknowingly.
- Open defecation is an enemy of tourism as it portrays the country as one which lacks proper sanitation and hygiene. To this end, you cannot bring tourists to parks, beaches, or even highways where there are faeces lying around hence revenue from tourism would be lost.
- It affects the choices of people in making a choice in terms of location of their businesses. No one would choose a location where open defecation is practiced because in most cases the environmental bad odour of the area would be unbearable.
- The same is applicable with those who are making choices of residence. No one would like to live in an area where open defecation is practiced in other to avoid the inherent disease associated with such areas. And this has a devastating implications in real estate development.
As earlier elucidated, open defecation is a threat to the health and general well-being of the people in the society. To this end, Property Advisory Network (PAN) would recommend the following solution to curb the menace called open defecation in Nigeria.
- Provision of Toilet facilities: There should be collaboration between the states and local government’s authorities to provide at least two public toilets in every community or streets in every state of Nigeria. This would drastically reduce the rate of open defecation in the country as people would no longer have any excuse to openly defecate. Furthermore, these public toilets should be open to all and sundry without any cost attached to the use. For instance in some parts of Lagos state, there are charges of N20 to urinate in a public toilet and a charge of N50 to defecate.
When people consider the fees attached to the use of these toilets, they would prefer to defecate openly and save some money and many do not even have these little amounts to pay because of the economic situation of the country. Provision should be made for water to always be available in these public toilets in other to clean up the toilets after use thereof.
- Education and sensitization of the members of the public: The members of the public should be made to understand the negative effects of open defecation. To this end, Radios, Television, Newspapers and even social media can be used to disseminate this information and as it goes viral, people would desist from the act. This is very important because a lot of people do not understand how dangerously open defecation affects their health, social and economic development.
- The Local Governments should have a law specifying the number and type of toilets recommended for any type of building which must include private and business premises. The Local Government authorities should ensure that there is strict compliance to these laws. Furthermore, the Local Government should ensure that there are enough public toilets in markets, Motor Park, recreational parks, and other public places in the country and these toilets should be properly maintained at government cost.
We in Property Advisory Network recommend that the National Assembly should as a matter of urgency consider a law which will compel companies operating in Nigeria to collaborate with the Local Governments of their locations in provision and maintenance of public toilets in Nigeria as part of their corporate social responsibility. This should be made compulsory as a condition for their continued operations in these locations.
When this becomes part of the conditions for the operations of these companies, there would be enough public toilets and open defecation would be drastically reduces if not eradicated.
Open defecation is a sign of under development. The Federal Government of Nigeria on its own should be worried that Nigeria is second only to India in open defecation. This is not a good credit to the country as it portrays Nigeria as a very poor countries. The Federal Government should also look at the overall effect of open defecation in the environment, health of the people, tourism and more importantly real estate business which is the driver of the economy.
It would not be out of place if the Federal Government of Nigeria considers a direct National Policy on provision of public toilets and it’s maintenance under the Federal Ministry of Health.