The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, on Thursday declared Obanliku Local Government Area in Cross River State, as the first open defecation-free council in the country.
Mr. Adamu made the declaration in Calabar while inaugurating the council with the new nomenclature in Calabar on Thursday.
Emmanuel Awe, director, Water Quality in the ministry, represented the minister.
Mr. Adamu said the event, which he described as a landmark achievement for the country, would give impetus to motivate other councils to achieve similar result.
Nigeria is reported to be among nations in the world with the highest population practising open defecation, estimated at no fewer than 46 million inhabitants.
He added that 71 per cent of this population was reported to be without access to basic sanitation facilities, saying the trend needed to be reversed.
“This poses a great challenge to women, girls and those in vulnerable conditions, and impacts negatively on the health and economy of the populace,” he said.
The minister explained that the programme was implemented by the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN) in six councils of Benue and Cross River.
He expressed the hope that the implementation of the programme would promote behavioural change toward ending open defecation in the country.
He said the Federal Government introduced the Partnership for Extended Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) Programme, toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on water and sanitation in the country.
Mr. Adamu said that the programme was a national collaborative instrument among all tiers of government, development and private partners.
He said that PEWASH, which aimed at addressing the rural components of the SDGs 6.1 and 2 targets, was launched last November.
He said that government had adopted national roadmap aimed at making Nigeria achieve Open Defecation–free by 2025.
The minister called on Nigerians to be committed toward meeting the desired goal.
Tim Connell, Country Director, United Purpose, Implementing Agency of the RUSHPIN Programme, said that although water was important, there was the need to emphasise sanitation toward meeting the SDGs by 2030.
Mr. Connell disclosed that Bekwarra Council in the state was about to attain open defecation-free status, saying that the organisation hoped to replicate the success story in Obanliku to other councils.
He said that 150,000 under-five children died annually from sanitation-related diseases and 29.4 per cent households defecated in the open in the country.
The country director disclosed that the programme had reached 780,000 people from 1,500 communities in four years, saying that 380,000 people of the figure had been enjoying the benefits of open defecation-free-status.
The Chairman, Obanliku Council, Mr Jerry Ashua, said that there had been reduction in deaths from sanitation-related diseases since the introduction of RUSHPIN.
He said that staff of the council, partnership with the traditional rulers, introduced a fine of N20, 000 as punishment for anyone caught defecating in the open.
Ita Ikpeme, Director-General, Cross River Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, said the declaration of the council was an opportunity to celebrate the giant strides that the state was known for.
He said that communities in the state had been benefiting from the Community-Led Total Sanitation, adding that their peoples had been empowered to embrace the fight against preventable diseases and deaths.