By Machrine Birungi and United Purpose
GENEVA, Benue State – On 19 December, 2019, the people of Gwer East Local Government Area (LGA) in Benue state of Nigeria celebrated a spectacular achievement. The area was declared open defecation free (ODF), implying that the residents will no longer relieve themselves in open spaces, forests, and the bush.
Mr Ahile Dondo, commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, told a news conference ahead of the celebrations that the “people of Gwer East were able to end open defecation through a collective behaviour change process.”
In order to qualify for ODF status, communities would have eliminated open defecation and implemented complete sanitation practices at personal and domestic level. They should have also achieved a 100 percent score on toilet use, and improved ownership and sustainability of sanitation services.
The Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN) program, executed by United Purpose and funded by WSSCC-supported Global Sanitation Fund, has played a vital role in pushing for collective behaviour change campaigns.
“The programme uses the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, which involves empowering entire communities to collectively change their sanitation and hygiene behavior, ensuring that every community member uses a toilet and practice good hygiene.”
Mr Dondo said achieving this status will significantly improve lives especially of children under five years who have previously suffered from diarrhea and its related illnesses resulting from poor sanitation and hygiene practices.
The World Bank estimates that 1 in 10 Nigerian children lose their lives before the age of 5 due in part to the lack of access to clean water and sanitation.
Awe Emmanuel, the director – department of water quality control and sanitation, federal ministry of water resources, Abuja said it is important that households are mobilized to provide their sanitation facilities, in order to realize total coverage and sustainable access for the populace.
“The benefits of access to improved WASH, especially of living in an open defecation free environment, impacts on education, health, security and socioeconomic wellbeing of the people,” he said.
For Gwer East, an open defecation free status is a landmark achievement. The area becomes the second LGA in the North Central Region of Nigeria, to achieve an ODF status.
To mark this achievement, residents of Gwer East gathered at Aliade, Gwer East headquarters in a colourful celebration that featured a kaleidoscope of traditional dance and musical performances. Traditional chiefs, politicians, government officials, and WASH partners attended the festivities.
With 2.9 million people in Benue State still defecating in the open, Mrs Torkwase Ikyaator, general manager of Benue Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (BERWASA), said she hopes that Gwer East would sustain this achievement.
On November 19, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ campaign, a national programme designed to mobilize the entire populace to build a new culture of safe defecation in Nigeria by 2025.
The director – department of water quality control and sanitation, federal ministry of water resources, Abuja described the ‘Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet’ as “a national transformative initiative to mobilize the entire populace towards incorporating the culture of safe and sustainable sanitation practices towards the 2025 target date.”
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