Achieving Open Defecation-Free Status in Nigeria by 2025: Examining the Struggles and Advancements in the Campaign

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By Cecilia Attah

In a decisive initiative aimed at enhancing public health and sanitation, Nigeria has set an ambitious target to eradicate open defecation by 2025. Despite the commendable nature of this goal, concerns have been raised by experts and activists regarding the feasibility of achieving such a monumental task in a country where open defecation remains a deeply entrenched issue.

Termed as “shot-put” in rural areas, open defecation persists as a significant problem in Nigeria, contributing to the proliferation of diseases and presenting formidable challenges to public health, water quality, and overall well-being in numerous communities across the country.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria exhibits one of the highest rates of open defecation globally, with approximately 46 million people practicing this unsanitary behavior.

Recognizing the urgency of the matter, the Nigerian government has set an ambitious target to become open defecation-free, aligning with global efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 – clean water and sanitation. The “Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet” campaign, launched in 2019, aims to make the entire country open-defecation-free by 2025.

As the 2025 target approaches, both progress and obstacles have emerged in the journey to eliminate open defecation. Some regions, particularly urban areas, have made notable strides through the construction of public toilets, awareness campaigns, and penalties for open defecation. However, rural areas, where the practice is more prevalent, continue to present a significant challenge.

Primary hurdles hindering progress include infrastructure deficiencies, lack of access to sanitation facilities, and deeply rooted cultural practices. In many rural communities, the absence of proper sewage systems and the cost of constructing toilets act as barriers to achieving the set goal. Addressing deep-rooted cultural norms and attitudes toward open defecation is imperative for lasting change.

In 2022, the federal government declared Jigawa as the first state to become open defecation-free in Nigeria. This achievement stemmed from a local government in Jigawa enacting a law requiring couples to have toilets in their homes before getting married. Conversely, some states, especially those hosting Nigeria’s largest commercial cities, still grapple with the prevalence of open defecation, with the Rivers State government aiming to resolve this issue by 2030.

In June 2023, UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), Jane Beva, expressed concern that without prompt action, Nigeria may miss the 2025 national and 2030 global open defecation-free targets. She advised tripling the investment in WASH, stating, “Nigeria cannot continue business as usual or it will miss the target of 2025 and 2030. There is a need to strengthen and scale up proven strategies to reach the country’s goals.”

Despite significant investments by various state governments in 2023 to eradicate open defecation, the potential consequences of failing to meet the 2025 target are severe.

Open defecation exposes individuals to health problems such as diarrhoea, leading to untimely deaths, stunting, wasting, and malnutrition in children. Moreover, it pollutes the environment and waterways, causing disease outbreaks such as cholera, resulting in economic losses of about 1.3% of GDP annually.

Nigeria’s failure to end open defecation by 2025 would mean not meeting the revised global target set by the United Nations.

However, in July 2023, the Nigerian Government announced significant progress, with 104 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in different states effectively achieving open defecation-free status.

To achieve the campaign’s objective, it is crucial for all states, including the federal capital territory, to embrace and execute comparable initiatives. Despite the time remaining before the 2025 deadline, reinforcing key suggestions from the roadmap is essential.

These key considerations include addressing the significant financial challenge by increasing funding for sanitation programs.

The government should enhance community-specific approaches for total sanitation, ensuring universal access to proper sanitation facilities. Equitable provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene services is imperative to diminish open defecation rates, requiring intensified advocacy efforts to raise awareness in communities. Achieving the target necessitates collaborative efforts among communities, civil society, development agencies, the private sector, and sub-national government levels.

Investing in sanitation facilities in public spaces can serve as an incentive for individuals to adopt proper sanitation practices, with the adoption and implementation of the CLTS strategy showing success in some communities. By implementing these recommendations, Nigeria can make significant progress towards ending open defecation by 2025.

As Nigeria strives to eliminate open defecation by 2025, the journey remains challenging. While progress has been made in certain areas, comprehensive and sustained efforts are required to overcome deeply ingrained cultural and infrastructural issues perpetuating open defecation. The success of this ambitious goal hinges on bridging the gaps between policy intentions, community needs, and practical realities on the ground. Only with a united and persistent effort can Nigeria hope to achieve a future free from open defecation and its detrimental impact on public health.

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