*The smell will kill us if we ‘pooh’ in toilet – Residents *Govt., EU, UNICEF declare war against open defecation
Since he was born 67 years ago, Bitrus Dung “has never defecated in a toilet.” For the sexagenarian and his kinsmen, passing excreta in a toilet is unhealthy, and in fact, a taboo. Thus he would rather relieve himself in the bush.
He said: “Since I was born, I have never defeated in a toilet. I am not used to it. Most of us in this village are used to doing it in the bush. If all my family members will be doing it (defecating) in the house, the smell will kill us. I don’t know how we can manage that.”
Like Dung, 73 –year-old Joshua Pam also dreads using the toilet. He disclosed that he has also never defecated in a toilet.
“We don’t use a pit toilet because of our water source. The only water source we have since I was born over 73 years ago is the well, which we dig in every house, and the water comes from under the ground. That means if you dig the ground and defecate inside it, it will surely pollute the water that is coming from the ground,” he argued.
The issue of open defecation in rural and urban areas in Plateau State has become a source of concern to the state government and international organizations like the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) and the European Union (EU).
Findings revealed that there are several communities in the state, where open defecation is seen as part of their tradition. In such communities, residents shun public toilets constructed for their use by the government and international donor agencies.
The worst cases of open defecation in the state, however, occur in schools in the rural areas, where there is a dearth of water and sanitation facilities.
In some of the schools, pupils were seen running from their classes into open spaces around the premises to defecate. Some teachers told The Nation, that, they were fighting hard to change the pupils’ orientation as regards open defection, sanitation, and personal hygiene.
A teacher, who pleaded anonymity stated thus: “Since I was posted to this school three years ago, my colleagues and I have been battling to change the orientation of these children. It is like we are forcing them to make use of the pit latrine system which they don’t have at home.
“We have also been talking to parents to dig pit latrines in their homes, but that has been difficult. But now that these stakeholders are making it a law, I’m sure the parents are going to take it serious. The people hardly care about sanitation and all these things we are taking about,” he said.
The Plateau State government, the European Union (EU) and UNICEF are collaborating to wean the rural dwellers off their attachment to open defecation. The intent is alert them to its health hazards and thus avert a looming health crisis.
To this end, the stakeholders have developed plans and set aside over £200 million to construct public toilets in all the schools and the rural areas while embarking on vigorous public enlightenment campaign against open defecation in the state.
The EU is meant to provide 70 per cent of the fund while the Plateau State government is to provide the remaining 30 per cent; UNICEF is billed to handle the water and sanitation aspect of the entire project.
The collaboration to fight the open defecation menace was unveiled recently, when they went to a remote part of the state called Lo-Gwom Kwi in Riyom Local Government Area to commission a water and sanitation project including a motorized borehole.
While welcoming the visitors to the programme in Kwi, the Riyom Local Government authority headed by Emmanuel Jugul, declared that the local authorities were going to put in place, a task force, for the purpose of fighting against open defecation in the villages. He also threatened to arrest and prosecute any member of the community caught defecating openly as soon as the sanitation facilities were commissioned.
Jugul disclosed that the task force would begin its work with public enlightenment campaigns as the first phase of the assignment. The second phase, he said, would involve monitoring and arresting anyone engaging in open defecation in the area.
The paramount ruler of Riyom Local Government, the ATA Aten of Ganawuri, HRH Yakubu Chai-Mang, in his remark at the occasion said, “We as traditional rulers in Riyom LGA, have decided to collaborate to ensure every home has a toilet. There will be time frame for households to do that, after which any family that does not have a toilet will be arrested and prosecuted for posing danger to public health. It is only animals that defecate openly, not human beings. Now that EU and UNICEF have come to our aid by constructing this solar powered borehole, the issue of lack of water will no longer be an excuse for anyone,” he said.
The head of delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ketil Karlsen, reeled out disturbing statistics about the water, sanitation and hygiene situation in the state. He said: “Sixty two million Nigerians live without access to improved water and spend over half an hour travelling to fetch water, and over 27 per cent of Nigerians have no access to water at all.”
He added that, “47 million Nigerians defecate in the open while 45, 000 children under five years die annually from diseases caused by poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Only 5.5 per cent of schools and 5.2 per cent of health facilities have basic, gender sensitive water sanitation and hygiene services.”
As a result of the campaign, pupils in one of the primary schools in Kwi, are being compelled to come to school with water in cans for them to wash their hands after excretion.
The pupils were also delighted when they saw modern toilet facilities fully connected to the solar-powered borehole in their schools to ensure the availability of water, day and night. The UNICEF representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, appealed to the residents, school teachers to protect the facilities for the benefit of the school children.
“Feel free to use the water we have provided for you to drink, cook and wash your hands so as to remain healthy at all times. Look after these facilities for your benefits and that of the future generation. Ensure you maintain and sustain the facilities,” he advised.
Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, in his remark, expressed gratitude to the donor agencies for their intervention in the promotion of personal hygiene and sanitation in the state. Lalong, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the State (SSG) Richard Tokma, said the intervention would go a long way in addressing some of the challenges, particularly in rural communities.
The governor recalled, that, at the inception of his administration in 2015, the state government paid 30 per cent counterpart fund of N550 million, which was aimed at fast-tracking both urban and rural components of the European Union Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform Programme Phase III, that was stalled before he assumed office.