How UNICEF, EU helped 143 Niger-Delta communities stop open-defecation

  • By providing region with potable water

Recent developments in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta region show that there is no social problem that cannot be addressed with right partnerships, determination and sincerity of purpose from government and communities. Name it: infrastructural deficit, crime, unemployment, and need for human capacity development – they can all be addressed when right partners are identified and government and communities show they are responsible and truly yearn for a sustainable positive change.

A good example of such productive partnership was the one between state governments of the region with United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, the European Union, EU, and the region’s communities.

It is not new that the South-south, as it is popularly known, had been volatile; its people helplessly complained bitterly of underdeveloped and marginalization despite being the source of the nation’s economic wellbeing.

Niger-Delta is blessed with abundant oil. And exploration of oil resources had been taking place in the region before Nigeria got her independence in 1960. Amidst glaring monumental destruction which oil exploration causes farmlands, sea animals and wildlife, there is high-scale water pollution, alarming rate of unemployment, among other ills.

Until the partnership that brought relief to people of some of the communities, through potable water interventions and “unprecedented” sensitization on sanitation and general hygiene, many communities in the region lacked access to potable water, and general hygiene was very low.

It is however still believed that the projects were to help address part of the problems; they haven’t and can’t solve the huge problems at hand. Chairman of Ikot Ukpong village council in Nsit-Atai Local Government area of Akwa-Ibom, Catechist Pius Udo Ukpong, accurately captured the relief brought by water intervention into his community:

“Before now, our people used to go far distance to get water. Before, anyone that had good water at home was considered as privileged person. The water is close to us now, and we can make good use of it.”

He said the projects brought into his community were the best that the village had ever seen. According to him, the projects are not only for the community, but for their neighbours who also make use of them.

With WASHCOM, they now understand the importance of washing hands after using toilet. They know they must have good toilet in their houses and keep them clean at all time.

“No more open defecation among our people, as you can see, everywhere is neat. This has brought us good breeze and we are really enjoying it. These projects were interventions from God, we are very happy about them,” he added.

Before 2013 when the partnership was sealed and the projects began, many people in the region were used to open defecation. Only a few homes in rural communities had toilet facilities, and those that had hardly used them because they preferred what they thought was a culture – open defecation.

Today, not only do they have good toilets of their own, be it pit latrine or water closet system, they have become advocates of good sanitation, hygiene and can’t stop harping the need for every household to own decent toilet of their own, use the facility and keep it clean.

Our correspondent who was in the communities when the projects were commissioned, visited some of the villages recently and observed that there had been a change in what used to be. Human faeces that once littered the streets are no longer there; every home is proud to own a toilet and make its occupants use it.

Many of the villagers however wondered how they were able to achieve the feat within few months! The interventions came courtesy the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Projects (WASH). The EU alone budgeted 20 million euros for the interventions alongside contributions from benefitting states and communities.

Two local governments were selected in five states in the region, that is, 10 local governments benefitted from the interventions.

The interventions include drilling of massive boreholes for communities, sensitization of people on sanitation and hygiene, and provision of hand-washing devices after toilet to households.

“A total of 508 communities have been triggered, to date,  through Community-led Total Sanitation Approaches (CLTS); 143 communities out of 508 have attained Open Defecation Free (ODF) status so far (28%) and 122 communities are currently claiming ODF. Additional 146,364 people have gained access to improved latrines construction or self-sponsored latrines,” said WASH Specialist for UNICEF, Mustapha Niang, at a two-day Media Dialogue on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene organized by the Child’s Rights Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and UNICEF in Uyo Akwa-Ibom recently, where the media team was made to visit some of the project sites.

“In Nigeria, 46 million people still practice open defecation; 50 percent of the population do not have access to safe water, while only 40 percent have access to sanitation,” Niang added.

This, the expert said might not make Nigeria meet the SDG six target which seeks access to water and sanitation by for all by 2030.

The project is also piloting sanitation marketing and sanitation financing in three states in the region. 90 sanitation entrepreneurs (toilet business owners, TBOs) have been identified, trained and are providing improved sanitation services to communities and households, according to a Port-Harcourt (Rivers State) based WASH specialist for UNICEF, Hokoaya Martha, while addressing journalists at the seminar.

“With 57 million Nigerian not having access to water supply – more than half in rural areas – 46 million Nigerians still practice open defecation, UNICEF Communications Specialist, Geoffrey Njoku told the media team.

According to him, only eight percent of rural households have hand-washing facilities with soap and water, even as 130 million of the nation’s population use an unimproved sanitation facilities, and more than a half of those people live in rural areas.

Figures released by UNICEF also showed that 45,000 children die annually from diseases caused by poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Besides, poor hygiene results in diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, malaria and other killer diseases which make Nigeria’s health index ranking among the world very poor.

“UNICEF has provided sanitation facilities, positioned at every toilet. This enables everyone who uses toilet to wash hands with soap when they finish,” said WASHCOM conductor in Ikot Esop, Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa-Ibom state, Mr. Edinyanga Pius Ukpong.

“The Project started in 2013 with 12 WASHCOM members approved to start the programme. WASHCOM told us that with good latrines and hand-washing, we could live better lives. They advised us to start washing our hands after toileting and gave us toilet facilities.

“They later changed it to four-litter gallon we are using now called the ‘tippy-tap.’ Before, it was difficult to get water. We were only got water from small stream. But, now, it is very easy for our girls, and our women can fetch water around our homes. Even the nearby communities enjoy the water that has been donated to us,” he added.

Head of the community, Chief Akpan Nathaniel Udoh, said water, sanitation interventions from UNICEF and partners were “the biggest and best things,” that had ever happened to people of the community.

“This is the first project of this kind we are having in this village. We have never had it this good despite the fact that the community has existed for centuries,” he said.

Women Leader in the community, Sarah Nathaniel, told Nigeria Health Online  water is very important to one’s life, especially we women and children, from the kitchen to the bathroom and toilet. We need water. And, so do our men.

“UNICEF has provided us water. It has helped us with sanitation facilities positioned at every toilet. This enables everyone who uses toilet to wash hands with soap when they finish. (The device is called tippy-tap). The water project has helped to prevent diseases and deaths in the community, she added. “Once you’ve given us water, you’ve given us life and hope,” she said, as she assured the visitors that the community would do everything within its powers to protect the facilities.

The feeling of delight was more demonstrated by the people of Ukot Ukpong in Nsit Atai Local Government Area of Akwa-Ibom state.  Men and women in the community welcomed the media team who came to inspect water and sanitation projects in the community with local songs.

“We men, women and youth appreciate the effort of UNICEF, European Union for giving us magnificent water and sanitation projects”; “Thank you UNICEF for giving us standard water”; “We thank all the facilitators of these projects to our community”; “We thank the concerned authority, WASHCOM for giving us this water project,” read some of the placards carried by youths to welcome the visitors.

Deputy Village Head in the community, Chief Udosen Emmanuel, said “the community remains grateful for “making them have access to safe water for the first time.”“We actually thought it was impossible for us to own toilets because of the huge cost involved. But, with right sensitization and conviction that we don’t necessarily have to do the water closet type if we don’t have the money, some of us are now using pit latrines which we can afford. We keep them clean and ensure we wash our hands whenever we use the toilet. It is a good habit that everyone should adopt.

“You can see that everywhere here is bush. So, we used to believe that defecating in the bush is not bad. From what UNICEF told us, we now understand that there is danger in going into the bush to defecate. Snakes, scorpions and all those harmful things are there to harm us. And, don’t be surprised that during dry season, the environment does bring out foul odour that makes us uncomfortable. And, it is now that we know it contributed to sicknesses in the village,” he stressed.

“We now have access to potable water through this big project, and our knowledge of general hygiene has greatly improved. We live our lives better and we are happier now than ever,” said a community member, James Abasi-Efreke.

The communities are grateful to their benefactors – UNICEF, EU and states governments which partnered to bring the transformation. Many of the people who spoke about projects in the villages visited by our correspondent said women and children got water from distant bush, treading dangerous bushy path with consequential loss of time that could be used for productive engagements before the intervention.  Children got late to school and soon became weary to cope with school schedules.

One of the documents made available by UNICEF at the meeting reads: “The overall objective of the rural component of Niger Delta Support Programme is to mitigate the conflict in the Niger Delta by addressing the main causes of the unrest and violence – bad governance, youth unemployment, and poor delivery of basic services using WASH intervention programmes as entry point.

“The specific objective is to contribute to strengthening of social bonding and peace building among communities in the project states through local capacity building and provision of access to improved sources of safe drinking water and basic sanitation in ten self-selected local government areas in the project states.

”There are five key objectives under the project which are: to upgrade LGA WASH units to WASH departments and strengthen the capacity of rural water supply and sanitation institutions in the five states to drive and implement sustainable WASH project; to increase access to safe and sustainable water supply services in the rural communities of the self-selected LGAS; and to increase access to improved sanitation and proper hygiene practice in rural communities and schools.

“Others are: to institutionalize dialogue among stakeholders, strengthening social bonding and contributing to resolution of conflict situations; and to establish a state-level monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system linked to the National M&E system.”

“From the project, UNICEF said a total 206,954 additional people gained access to safe water against a target of 543,000. Water facilities constructed/rehabilitated targeted 600 communities.Key achievement of the projects, the UN agency stated, are triggering of 508 communities through community-led total sanitation approaches (CLTS); 143 communities out of 508 have attained open-defection free (ODF) so far, being 28 percent of communities targeted, while 122 communities “are currently claiming ODF.”

“Additional 146, 364 people have gained access to improved latrines through construction of self-sponsored latrines.35 primary schools were provided with safe water and sanitation facilities (28 schools in Delta reached with hand pump boreholes; 14 with two VIP block latrines each. Pupils in those communities were able to gain access to safe and gender-sensitive WASH facilities UNICEF said.

“Some factors delayed the projects according to UNICEF. They are delay in release of counterpart funding by state governments and communities; lack of commitment from LGAS WASH unit staff and incessant strike actions by LGA workers due to delay in payment of salaries; poor operational support to RUWASSA’s and LGAs making it difficult for them to support projects.

“Monitoring of projects is sometimes difficult in riverine communities – insecurity coupled with riverine nature of most communities; limited and delay in establishing feasible latrine models for riverine communities make it difficult to scale up sanitation,”  the agency stressed.

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