As Nigeria Marks World Toilet Day


By Agbo Agbo

The statistics by the United Nations (UN) is scary; 34 million Nigerians do not have access to toilets! This is part of a 2.5 billion (40%) global population of people without access to toilets. There is therefore no better time to beam the searchlights on this all important issue than the day, Wednesday, 19 November, that the world – including Nigeria – is marking the World Toilet Day.

The road toward awareness creation and call to action started in 2001 when a Singapore business tycoon, Jack Sim left his lucrative investment in the construction industry to establish the Restroom Association of Singapore and World Toilet Organization (WTO). In that same year – just months after -, he received the Schwab Foundation award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year for “creating good will and bringing the subject into the open” and “mobilizing national support in providing on-the-ground expertise.” Sim was also named one of the Heroes of the Environment for 2008 by Time Magazine.

With this singular act, Sim broke the global taboo of toilet and sanitation by making it a global event that is marked on November 19 every year. Today, WTO is a growing network of 235 organisations in 58 countries including Nigeria where a “World Toilet Day” is celebrated to create awareness towards improving the state of toilets and sanitation globally. This year’s theme is anchored around “Equality and Dignity.”

In Nigeria, Reckitt Benckiser, a multi-national company and the apparent market leader in health, hygiene and home care products, will be using the occasion to create awareness through its Harpic brand on why clean toilets are relevant in the society. It will be doing this through the promotion of discourse and debate on toilets and concomitant sanitation issues that are seen by many public health analysts as a ticking time bomb which affects billions of people around the world. Regrettably, this issue has been severely neglected on the global development agenda, which is why the UN is getting actively involved.

This day is significant considering the fact that Nigeria was only recently certified Ebola free by the World Health Organization after one of the most frightening public health scare this nation has ever witnessed. We were able to do this because of our proactive awareness which was anchored on good sanitation.   

So why do we have to bother about toilets in the first place? According to the WTO, a clean and safe toilet ensures health, dignity and well-being for people. The theme for the year seeks to put a spotlight on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face due to the loss of privacy as well as the inequalities that are present in usability.

Because of lack of toilets, many practice open defecation which often comes with lack of privacy, health hazards and environmental concerns. In some places, women and young girls are vulnerable to attacks – like rape – when they go into open spaces to defecate. Equally too, toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene.

With the hashtag #WeCantWait, the Day provides an opportunity to inspire action and underscore the urgency needed to end open defecation, which is why all hands must be on deck to create the awareness and point to the dangers of continuing the practice.

When it became apparent that the sanitation target is the most off-target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson – on behalf of the Secretary‐General – launched a campaign earlier this year to break the silence on open defecation and spur dialogue as part of the UN Call to Action on Sanitation.

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The initiative builds on the strong commitment already made by UN Member States. This call to action led to the “Sanitation for All’ Resolution (A/RES/67/291) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2013, designating 19 November as World Toilet Day. The Day is coordinated by UN-Water in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. This is where Harpic, as a stakeholder steps in by visiting communities in Lagos to teach people how to manage and maintain clean toilets.

The UN revealed that 1000 children died per day from diarrhea related diseases due to poor sanitation in 2013, most of this sanitation issues revolve around inadequate toilet facilities mainly in developing countries. These deaths – unfortunate as they are – are preventable. It is disheartening that the 2015 goal to halve the proportion of people living without sanitation is running 150 years behind schedule as 1 billion (15 % of the world population) still practice open defecation.

The lack of toilets in some communities is an endemic problem. However, where there are toilets, the absence of poor management and hygienic maintenance are equally serious issues. A well-kept toilet will encourage proper usage and prevent deadly diseases.

As we strive to have clean toilets, it would not be a bad idea if we imbibe the “World Toilet College” (WTC) model started as a social enterprise in some countries – mainly in Asia – in 2005. The “college” believes there is need for an independent world body to ensure the best practices and standards in toilet design, cleanliness, and sanitation technologies are adopted and disseminated through training and capacity-building courses, in both rural and urban areas.

The ultimate goal of WTC’s programmes is to ensure the dignity of sanitation workers and elevate the otherwise poor image (and consequent low pay) associated with this employment category in many places around the world. In this regard, Nigeria has come a long way from the time night soil men carry human faeces on their heads on the streets in some cities.

Some companies have begun providing toilet caretakers with professional skills in both cleaning and performance of small repairs, thereby boosting their self-confidence by providing them with the opportunity to master a profession while at the same time enhancing their productivity. The late Otunba Gaddafi falls into this category.

From Singapore where WTC started, it gave the issue prestige by partnering with prestigious institutions including the Singapore Polytechnic which, according to reports, has trained more than 4,000 people across its various courses.

Finally, we can also imbibe the organization’s approach of mixing humour with serious facts on toilet issue which often resonated with people. Again Otunba Gaddafi did this with his “S**t business is good business” tagline. By designating a special day to celebrate the importance of toilets in our lives, World Toilet Day serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by billions of people who still lack access to improved sanitation.

•Agbo, a communication and public policy analyst resides in Lagos. Tel.: 08116759750. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @AgboAgbo65

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