Addressing Nigeria’s Sanitation Crisis: Battling Open Defecation in Lagos

By Elvis Eromosele

I was at Ikeja underbridge recently and couldn’t find a place to ease myself. I looked, hard. People have had the same experience across major markets in Lagos. Lagos lacks conveniences. Open defecation is rampant in Nigeria. 

Lagos, often called the nation’s economic hub, faces a growing crisis that affects both its residents and its reputation. The lack of public conveniences and rampant open defecation have reached alarming levels. (Warning: Don’t look out of your window when crossing any bridge in Lagos). 

I’m happy to admit that it’s not purely a Nigerian issue. The United Nations acknowledges that there is a global sanitation crisis, one that the world is working too slowly to solve. World Toilet Day, celebrated on 19 November every year, is about inspiring action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and reach the 3.5 billion people still living without safely managed sanitation.

According to the UN, “Right now, we are seriously off track to meet SDG 6: safe toilets and water for all by 2030. World Toilet Day 2023 is about getting the world on track by taking much faster action. The theme of the World Toilet Day 2023 is Accelerating Change. 

World Toilet Day celebrates toilets and highlights the global sanitation crisis that affects billions of people around the world who are living without access to a safely managed toilet. 

The Impact of Open Defecation

This is precisely why open defecation is a major issue. It poses a severe risk to public health as it contributes to the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid, and diarrhoea. These diseases disproportionately affect children, resulting in high mortality rates.

The truth is that human waste left in open areas contaminates soil and water sources, leading to long-term environmental degradation. This pollution affects agriculture, water supply, and the overall quality of life in affected areas.

In addition, lack of access to sanitation facilities strips individuals of their dignity and subjects them to social stigma. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, as they often wait until dark to relieve themselves, exposing themselves to safety risks.

Moreover, poor sanitation negatively impacts the economy by reducing productivity and increasing healthcare costs. Businesses may also be deterred from investing in areas with sanitation challenges.

These are the issues. 

Understanding the Challenges

One major reason for the sanitation crisis is the inadequate number of public toilets and sewage systems in Lagos. Many times, existing facilities are often poorly maintained or not easily accessible.

The reason for this is not far-fetched, Lagos experiences rapid urbanization, leading to overcrowding and strain on existing sanitation infrastructure. The lack of proper planning exacerbates the problem.

Possible Solutions

The good news is that the situation can be remedied. Governments at all levels must prioritize investment in sanitation infrastructure, including public toilets and sewage systems. Collaborations with private sector partners can help in funding and maintaining these facilities.

Secondly, communities should be involved in the planning and maintenance of sanitation facilities. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and ensures sustainability. This must be backed with comprehensive public awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the importance of proper sanitation practices and the dangers of open defecation.

The governments would equally do well to enact and enforce policies that promote proper sanitation, including penalties for open defecation and incentives for private sector involvement.

Furthermore, collaboration with international organisations and NGOs can provide financial and technical assistance to tackle the sanitation crisis.

In my mind, as Lagos State grapples with the pressing need to improve access to public conveniences, two powerful tools emerge as potential game-changers: Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and innovative technology solutions. Open defecation is not particular to Lagos State. I’m simply using Lagos as a case because I appreciate the determination of successive governments to improve the quality of lives of residents. 

Now, PPPs involve collaboration between government bodies and private sector entities. Private companies often bring expertise, efficiency, and financial resources that can enhance the development and maintenance of public conveniences.

PPPs offer a sustainable financing model, where private entities invest in building and maintaining public conveniences in exchange for revenue-sharing or concession agreements.

Private sector involvement can lead to more efficient management and maintenance of facilities, ensuring that public conveniences remain in good condition over the long term.

Also, innovative technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) can be integrated into public toilets to monitor usage, assess cleanliness, and automatically alert maintenance teams when issues arise. Cashless payment options and mobile apps can be introduced to access public conveniences, making it convenient for users and enabling transparent revenue collection.

Biometric authentication can enhance security and limit misuse of public toilets, ensuring they are reserved for legitimate users. Eco-friendly technologies can be incorporated into public conveniences to reduce water usage and energy consumption, aligning with sustainability goals.

Conclusion

Open defecation in Lagos, Nigeria, is a multi-faceted problem with severe consequences for public health, the environment, and overall quality of life. Addressing this crisis requires concerted efforts from the government, communities, and international partners. By investing in sanitation infrastructure, raising awareness, and implementing effective policies, Lagos can transform itself into a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous city for all its residents.

Public-private partnerships and innovative technology solutions have the potential to revolutionize access to public conveniences in Lagos State. By harnessing the expertise of the private sector and integrating cutting-edge technologies, the government can create a network of well-maintained, accessible, and efficient public conveniences that enhance public health, preserve the environment, and improve the overall quality of life for its residents. The time to embrace these powerful tools for change is now.

Eromosele, a corporate communication professional and public affairs analyst, wrote via: elviseroms@gmail.com

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