Interview: All partners must team up for Nigeria’s future - sanitation and hygiene for all

Members of NEWSAN organization display their campaign materials

WSSCC: Your organization, NEWSAN, is a WSSCC partner. Can you tell us a bit about NEWSAN’s mission?

Dr Kelechukwu Okezie, the founder of the Neighborhood Environment Watch Foundation: The mission of NEWSAN, which is a network of over 300 civil society organizations working in the WASH sector, is to promote and strengthen partnerships with relevant stakeholders on policies, laws, programmes and structures that will enhance access to safe and clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in Nigeria. This guides our activities across the 28 states where NEWSAN has a strong presence.

WSSCC: Can you tell us about the state of the sanitation and hygiene infrastructure in the areas where you operate?

Dr Okezie: In terms of the state of sanitation and hygiene infrastructure in many states and communities in Nigeria, we still have a long way to go. And this applies to the areas where NEWSAN operates. There are inadequate toilets, and both the rural water supply and urban pipe-borne water remain a challenge. There are no handwashing stations in many schools and no running water. Menstrual hygiene management is very poor. Water access points are non-functional.

Unfortunately, key stakeholders have not shown enough will to fund sanitation and hygiene infrastructures in the communities. For us to move out of this WASH poverty crisis, our government partners need to team up with organizations and stakeholders, including NEWSAN, to drive the WASH sector across many communities in Nigeria.

WSSCC: How has NEWSAN helped to reach marginalized populations most in need of sanitation and hygiene, and what impact has your partnership with WSSCC had on the communities? 

Dr Okezie: NEWSAN’s role is to ensure that no one is left behind in WASH sector interventions. In order to realize the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets in the WASH sector, all stakeholders must be identified, provided for and carried along. NEWSAN is a critical stakeholder and partners with the Nigerian government at various levels.

NEWSAN, with support from WSSCC, has been able to provide water access points to many communities in Nigeria and ensured the reactivation of non-functional boreholes. Our member organizations have been providing handwashing stations in many schools, motor parks, primary health care centres and loading bays. Our impact is such that some communities have achieved open defecation free (ODF) status, and there is a remarkable improvement in the culture and behaviour of our people in sanitation and hygiene.

WSSCC: WASH infrastructure is important, but so is financing. How do you see the link between infrastructure and financing as they relate to scaling up household sanitation and hygiene services?

Dr Okezie: You can only provide WASH infrastructures - whether software or hardware – if you have funding. Funding is germane in the sanitation and hygiene value chain. As I stated earlier, we need to scale up our sanitation and hygiene services across urban and rural communities. Access to water and sanitation is a human right. We must pressure the government and the private sector to finance water, sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria. We cannot grow as a nation without adequate water and sanitation services.

WSSCC: WSSCC is transforming into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund, supporting the four strategic objectives of household sanitation, menstrual health and hygiene, sanitation in schools and health care facilities, and innovation. Which of the four objectives do you see as the biggest challenge in Nigeria? 

Dr Okezie: Menstrual health and hygiene is the biggest challenge because it is a sector that has received the least attention. There is much period poverty, especially among adolescent girls and poor women. There is discrimination, low esteem, poverty, myths and misconceptions associated with menstruation. These misconceptions and the lack of support to girls and women both need to change and it can be done when we invest in menstrual hygiene management and bring men in to support menstrual investment at the family and public levels.

Menstrual health and hygiene is key to bringing a healthy population to life and increasing our individual and national productivity. The government should ensure that menstrual pads in public primary and secondary schools are free.