पर्यावरण

Why rural Nigeria needs to fix its sanitation gaps on a war footing  

Open defecation near water source deteriorates quality causing a visicious circle of poor sanitation & water crisis

Residents of Nigeria’s Gwagwalada area council, located around 65 kilometres from the Abuja city centre, are struggling to get drinking water. A closer look shows that the problem is due to the quality of drinking water at the local sources. The area council, like many of others, witnesses rampant open defecation near water sources. 

Providing safe and sustainable water to rural areas is very important to Nigeria, as around 70 per cent of the West African country’s population lives in villages. A focus on water and sanitation management will help the country achieve the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal 6, which talks about safe water and sanitation. 

Mohammad Ushman, 35, has been the head of the Mabo / Bashi community in Paikonkore village in the area council for the last 14 years. The people in his village are forced to drink contaminated water, he said. 

This is despite the fact that around 60-70 per cent of the households in the village have toilets, he added. These toilets are mainly ‘pit toilets’ — a pit dug in the ground covered by a pan. After heavy rains, the pits overflow and increase the risk of water contamination, shared villagers. 

Paikonkore village has only one borewell to cater to a population of 4,000. Long queues are observed in front of the borewell, especially during summers, said Ushman.

The villages in this area council also buy a jerry can of 20-30 litres, which cost 300-500 Naira, the residents said. A family of 10 people needs at 10 jerry cans per day and thus, roughly 30-50 per cent of their income goes towards getting safe and clean water, explained Ushman. 

Needless to say, as the households barely manage to get enough drinking water every day, sanitation takes a back seat. 

Small farmers make 30,000-40,000 Naira per annum. They are forced to drink contaminated water from the wells or buy poor quality water at cheaper rates of 50 Naira per jerry can.

Usually, the villages get water at a frequency of once in three days for three hours in the morning at the common water points. When these common points of water collection are out of order, it takes four-five months by the government agency to repair them. In such a case, the community has to take charge in the village. 

The scarcity of water has led to blocked and smelly toilets. Lukaiya Suleman, 41, resident of the Dagiri village has six children and cannot adequately meet the hygiene needs as they do not have access to enough clean water. 

A majority of the households in the village do not have toilets and those who have constructed toilets cannot maintain them as there isn’t enough water to clean, he added. 

After defecating in the open, they can only afford to clean themselves when they take a bath, Suleiman shared. The supply of water at common collection points is also not regular. 

Open defecation is common in the village and this is one the main reasons for contamination of drinking water, said Mohammed Sahibu, a 42-year-old government school teacher in Paikonkore. Although a few households share toilets, the condition of the toilets are poor, Sahibu said. In most cases, the toilets are choked and the people again go back to the field for defecation, he noted. 

A 2019 report by the Centre for Science and Environment Nigeria-Improving the state of Sanitation highlighted various reasons for communities practicing open defecation. The analyses showed that the reasons are more related to the topography of the areas.

Why communities practice open defecation

 

Source: CSE, Nigeria-Improving the state of Sanitation, 2019

During peak summer, when the yield of the borewells decline, the villagers go to nearby rivulets 1-2 kilometres away to fetch water. Not only is the travel time long, the water quality is also poor because the villagers relieve themselves in bushes around the rivulets. 

The CSE report also highlighted that the open defecation is the highest for rural areas. Moreover, the traditional methods of hanging toilets and bucket toilets were observed in rural areas, the study noted.

Sanitation facilities in rural and urban Nigeria (values in per cent)

Source: CSE, Nigeria-Improving the state of Sanitation, 2019

Outbreak of diseases such as cholera, dysentery and other intestinal diseases are common to all the villages in this area council. Jibril Salihu Heske, 45, deputy in-charge of the primary healthcare centre in Dagiri village, explained that the cases of waterborne diseases increase every year during the rainy season. 

The healthcare centre reported 60-75 cases of malaria in December and 3-4 deaths reported in the months of April, May and June last year, shared Heske. A household spends around 5,000-6,000 Naira per month on lab tests and medical treatment, which is around another 40-50 roughly per cent of their income. The reason behind this is contamination of drinking water sources (where open defecation is the main reason) and low awareness on handwashing and self-cleaning post defecation, according to local government officials.   

Since the villages depended on pit toilets, the desludging of the pits and dumping of the sludge are the next important points which need to be taken care of, said Hamidu Garba, a local chemist in Paikonkore village and who earns 10,000 Naira per day. Desludging charges vary from 300,000 to 60,000 Naira for a 2m x 2m pit, he noted. “It is very difficult for us to bear this cost.”

In the village Anguwan Dabodna of the central ward of Gwagwalada area council, tile artisan Habibatu Abuwaqar’s family of 30 members depend on a single toilet.  

They desludge the pit toilet themselves once it gets filled, and dispose the sludge in open areas of the village, which contaminate the nearby water source, according to Mujammed Musa Danladi, water, sanitation and hygiene in-charge of the local government of Gwagwalada environmental services.

Mismanagement and unsafe disposal of faecal sludge, especially in Nigeria’s rural areas was also highlighted in the CSE report.

Treatment and / or disposal & emptying of faecal sludge in Nigeria

Source: CSE, Nigeria-Improving the state of Sanitation, 2019

Schools in the villages are also facing the brunt of unsafe water and sanitation. Many villages have no water supply in the school and, as a result, the students need to carry their own water or even go to nearby houses to get water. 

In most of the cases, separate toilets for girls and boys are absent or are locked. The toilets are few and poorly maintained. The students use the school grounds to relieve themselves. Girl students opt out of schools mostly because of this, said 46-year-old Abubakar Sadiq Ahmad from the Lea Primary School, Dagiri.

As per the Joint Monitoring Progress Report of 2022, around 31 per cent of the population is practicing open defecation — the scenario has not changed since 2004. The population using unimproved sanitation increased from 27 per cent to 28 per cent from 2004 to 2022. Since the 1970s, the country has been facing cholera outbreaks annually. Unimproved sanitation will increase the chance of contamination of groundwater. 

Nigeria thus needs to fix its sanitation problems to get safe and sustainable water supply, especially in a climate-risked world. The country should be now ready to take up the issues of unsafe sanitation by working on the toilet technologies and strengthening policies on sewage and implement it. The country needs to provide solutions to the community that are sustainable, suiting to the needs of geography and groundwater. 





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