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Realising Nigeria’s sanitation dreams

Posted 3 Dec 2015 by Erin Flynn

Nigeria is one of the world’s five biggest contributors to the problem of open defecation, despite ongoing Government efforts. Erin Flynn, WaterAid’s Research Manager, looks at the country’s sanitation problem and whether the sanitation ladder will help Nigeria reach its ambitious targets.

The bottom of the ladder

Felicity runs a successful dress-making business in Nigeria’s Enugu state. She first set foot on the sanitation ladder in 2012, when her village was ‘triggered’, or motivated, through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). The approach, which helps communities assess their sanitation situation, resulted in her husband building a basic pit latrine for their family home.

Although their building a latrine is considered a success in terms of CLTS, Felicity and her family are embarrassed by this basic structure, and inform visitors that the toilet is not finished, directing them instead to the bush. The water-based toilet the family dreams of would cost too much.

Two types of latrine.
Left: Felicity’s latrine. Right: an example of a modern, aesthetically pleasing toilet to which Felicity and others in Nigeria aspire.

Felicity’s story is not uncommon. Since 2004, the Nigerian Government has used CLTS to move communities up the sanitation ladder, starting, if necessary, from the ‘cat’ method of dig and bury, or a basic pit latrine, moving up to a more expensive and sophisticated toilet. CLTS is a key component of the UK Department for International Development's sanitation, hygiene and water in Nigeria projects (SHAWN 1 & 2 ). Over the years WaterAid has played a significant role in the use and development of CLTS in Nigeria and beyond, including running a three country study in 2009.

Reaching the top

Surprisingly, despite the widespread use of CLTS, robust and reliable evidence in support of it in Nigeria and beyond is still relatively sparse.

WaterAid is continuing to build a body of evidence in Nigeria, through the Sustainable Total Sanitation (STS) project in Ekiti, Enugu and Jigawa states. The data and findings from formative research in 2014 gave valuable insight into common sanitation beliefs, practices and service availability. The findings exposed much about the sanitation aspirations of households in these states, like Felicity’s, who are upwardly mobile and exposed to urban life.

Importantly, the findings showed:

  • Open defecation is not safe or convenient and is difficult for sick and older people…
    …but households aren’t ashamed to practice open defecation – it is better than starting at the bottom of the ladder, using a poor-quality toilet. A low-quality toilet is an embarrassment for the family. 
  • Like Felicity and her husband, people have a strong desire for an ‘ideal’ water-based toilet – the last rung on the sanitation ladder. Such a toilet is easily cleaned, connected to modern urban life and aesthetically pleasing…
    …but this is financially out of reach, costing between 44 and 77% of an average family’s annual income.  
  • There is agreement that toilets result in happier and healthier households, thanks partly to approaches like CLTS…
    …but these benefits are believed to decrease if the toilet is low quality.  
  • Households have a fairly accurate understanding of the costs involved in constructing an ideal toilet (around £260)…
    …but even when a household can afford a toilet, the process is long and involves several negotiations with different suppliers.
A man shows an affordable latrine.
Local business owner, Emeka, with a prototype of the new toilet. Enugu, Nigeria.

Giving households a step up

Nigeria is one of the world’s five biggest contributors to the problem of open defecation, with over 45 million Nigerians currently practising it. This situation is made worse by the country’s declining sanitation coverage – based on current trends, the new Global target of universal coverage will not be reached by 2030.

Successive Nigerian governments have made attempts to improve the country’s sanitation practices. In August this year, Ebonyi State Government made it illegal to defecate in the open (creation of such a law is also in progress in Yobe State) and Akwa Ibom State Government declared a “war against indiscriminate disposal of waste”. It is unclear what the implications of such laws will be in Nigeria; however, a recent study by WaterAid on the Asian Tigers highlighted the importance of political leadership, and changes in public health and hygiene policies, for resolving the issue.

Sanitation marketing

Building on the insights we have gained about household aspirations and purchasing hurdles, the STS project is supporting local businesses to develop and sell high-quality, affordable and desirable toilets. Through the formative research and iterative testing of prototypes with businesses we have developed a new water-based toilet costing an estimated £85.

WaterAid have also supported the improvement of marketing and sales models to remove some of the purchasing burdens from households. Although not new to the sector, this market-based approach will be new to Nigeria. Delivered alongside CLTS and social marketing messages which reflect the pride and status associated with owning and using a good-quality toilet, we expect the approach to lead to increased toilet coverage and use.

Under the STS, sanitation marketing and CLTS will be rigorously evaluated to help us understand how effective each approach is, both independently and combined. Although the study’s final results are not expected until 2016, it’s already clear that, in order to reverse the current trend and accelerate progress towards 2030 targets, Nigeria will need to rapidly introduce complimentary sanitation approaches that respond to the large-scale problem at hand.

The new approaches must respond to the aspirations of households, significantly reduce the cost and complexity of purchasing a hygienic (and desirable!) toilet and ensure financial mechanisms are available for the poorest. With these approaches in place, maybe Nigeria won’t need a ladder to reach it's ambitious sanitation targets after all.

Erin Flynn is WaterAid’s Research Manager.

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Comments

  • Greg Fletcher said:

    27 Mar 2016 15:59

    It is good to hear of this project and I hope that it will be a success. Maybe, the bowl needs to be made of a sustainable and renewable product, other that using plastic as in time, they may end up causing pollution when newer and improved models are created.

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