By Olajide Adelana
ABUJA, Nigeria – Conversations around defecation are challenging. They often take place in hushed tones and can be seen as awkward or impolite. But why are we so ashamed to talk about such a natural process as our bowel movements? Sure, it might not be the most pleasant of topics but poop is universal – it is a topic that affects everyone, especially as it relates to water and sanitation.
One man in Nigeria is breaking down barriers and talking frankly about open defecation and its impact upon water and sanitation. Nanpet Chuktu is Programme Manager at United Purpose, a WSSCC-supported development organization that has been working since 1999 to empower Nigerian women and communities to voice their rights, and promote good sanitation and hygiene practices.
Nanpet doesn’t use the word poop – he calls it shit. Why? “To elicit a reaction from people”, he tells me. We had barely settled into our chairs at a local restaurant in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, and Nanpet had already used the word “shit” more times than I have heard in a week. Such is his passion for his work. Even when food arrived, he would occasionally pause, using his food, spoon and glass of water to describe how he and his team at United Purpose engage rural communities in “shit talk.”
“During our engagement with villagers, the facilitator brings out a clean transparent plastic cup and drinks water from a bottle. He then offers any community member who may be thirsty. Then, he proceeds to take a thread and dip it into shit gotten from the community and brought to where the facilitation is taking place. The thread is now introduced into the plastic cup he is holding with drinking water in it. The facilitator then proceeds to offer the same (now contaminated water) to the community members present, for them to drink. Unsurprisingly nobody wants to drink it. They are disgusted knowing that the water just had a faecal dressing.” Nanpet wears a wide grin as he describes the strategy called the ‘triggering process’ that is part of Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS).
CLTS is an approach to sanitation promotion which helps to analyze defecation patterns and threats while also promoting local solutions to reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of open defecation. The approach Nanpet explains provides a visual demonstration of what the community will be ingesting if open defecation continues. This self-realization it triggers is then translated into mobilization towards collective action by the community, to improve the sanitation situation.
Nanpet goes on. “Triggering works effectively. You should see how fired up members of the community get [about sanitation] as a result, with some of them championing the cause for an open defecation free community.”
Nigeria currently has 20 open defecation free (ODF) local government areas (LGAs) out of which seven ODF LGAs are due to efforts made by United Purpose, through the WSSCC-supported Global Sanitation Fund Programme.
Getting communities to commit to ending open defecation and eventually going ahead to achieve an ODF status has not been an easy task. There are often different perspectives and analyzing these communities’ culture, lifestyle, as well as defecation patterns and threats is often daunting. Nanpet acknowledges these challenges but for someone who oversees a team of young people who are creating a movement for sanitation, he says, “there is no giving up.”
According to the World Bank, roughly half of Nigeria’s population (a figure greater than the populations of Spain, Romania and the Netherlands combined) lives in extreme poverty. Lack of access to basic amenities, especially clean water and sanitation, education, healthcare and food are significant drivers of poverty.
According to a report by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Report, around 116 million Nigerians have no access to basic sanitation services and one in four Nigerians practice open defecation. This increases the spread of preventable diseases, contributes to high infant mortality rates, reduces productivity and affects livelihoods.
Poor sanitation feeds Nigeria’s poverty cycle and the quest by President Buhari’s administration to move 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years requires a collective approach. That approach must include empowering communities with actionable information to understand the nexus between health and sanitation and its impact on their education and livelihoods.
It is getting dark as Nanpet gives me his final thoughts, “For me, the exciting thing is the change that is possible through getting communities themselves to put an end to open defecation and improve latrines.”
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