By Hassan Zaggi
The shortage of Environmental Health Workers have been identified as the major factor that fuels open defecation in Nigeria.
The Director, Environmental Health, Calabar South Local Government , Mrs. Juan Eyo, disclosed this in an interview with The AUTHORITY, in Calabar, recently.
Journalists drawn from different media houses across the country were in Calabar for a two-day media dialogue on sanitation on Clean up Nigeria; Use the Toilet Campaign.
The dialogue was organized by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and supported by UNICEF, UKAID and European Union.
Nigeria is among the countries that is said to be notorious in open defecation. In the next few months, Nigeria will overtake India to become the open defecation capital of the world.
This is even as a Specialist on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bioye Ogunjobi, has disclosed that 761 out of 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria still practice open defecation.
Only 13 out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria, he said, are open defecation free .
Eight out of 13 local governments got their open defecation free status through UNICEF’s supported intervention, while 4 in Cross River is through the state government’s efforts.
Responding to questions from The AUTHORITY, Mrs. Juan Eyo, lamented that the lack of sufficient environmental health workers was the cause for the rise of disease burden in the country.
She regretted that most local governments in the country have very few environmental health workers, insisting that the governments at all levels must act fast in the recruitment of environmental workers to salvage the situation.
According to her: “We are not even many. For example, in Calabar South local government, we are less than 10. Other local governments in the state have only just 4, some are lucky to have 5. All over the country, environmental health workers are in short supply.
“We only go around to ensure that we teach them how to live healthy lives. We have not been funded to do anything. We don’t have vehicle to go around doing our work.
“Some years ago when environmental health workers were going round communities in the country to ensure that residents clean their environments and build toilets facilities, there were less incidences of diseases burden as we have now.
“It will be difficult to achieve our target of zero open defecation in the country if health workers are not recruited to ensure enforcement.
“It is the environmental health workers that can enter houses and neigbourhoods to ensure that home owners build toilets and avoid defecating outside, but since we are in short supply, who will take this responsibility?”
In another twist, residents of Akai Etta Mbutu community in Calabar South Local Government Area, Raphael Etim Bassey, have decried the high cost of constructing toilet facilities in the area.
This, according to them, is because the area is riverine in nature, hence, erecting a structure is always very expensive.
Raphael Etim Bassey, a member of Akai Etta Mbutu, Village Council in Calabar South LGA, called on the government, local and international organizations to assist residents of the area with mobile toilets.
“The challenge is that we do not have the money to build toilet facilities here because it is very expensive. We cannot afford it.
“We call on government to assist us on that. Building pit toilet here is not the best because of the nature of the area- it is riverine.
“Our people here regularly suffer from Typhoid and other related diseases due to poor sanitation in the area,” he said.
While at the Akai Etta Mbutu community, The AUTHORITY observed a grandmother, throwing feaces into the nearby stream which is also their main source of water for domestic uses.
When confronted by The AUTHORITY on the dangers of throwing ‘shirts’ into the water, she said,”there is no place for my grand children to shirt, therefore, they do it here and we throw it into the water.
“This water will soon go and another better one will come. There is no problem about this.”
Findings across some states in the North Central part of the country indicated that the dearth of environmental health workers is more chronic in the region.
According to UNICEF, North Central has the highest number of people practicing open defecation in the country.
While 1 in every 4 Nigerians defecate in the open, in the North Central, 1 in every 2 persons engage in open defecation.
Out of the 47 million Nigerians said to be practicing open defecation, 16 million live in the north central.
In Plateau state for example, most local governments have less than 5 environmental health workers in their employ.
Josephine, a staff of Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau state, while speaking with The AUTHORITY revealed that the number of environmental health workers in the LG will not be up to 5.
The situation is same across many local governments in the north central states, our findings has shown.
An expert in environmental health, Mustapha Audu, while responding to questions from our Correspondent, in Abuja, warned that the government must take make the recruitment of environmental health workers seriously if it wants to achieve the target of zero open defecation in the country in the near future.