Why Africa’s Biggest Economy is Falling Behind on Sanitation and 7 Ways Donors Can Make a Difference

Graph showing the rise of Nigeria in world population rankings from 7th in 2013 to a projected 3rd in2100 Source: UN

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, has a staggering 130 million people without access to adequate sanitation according to WaterAid Nigeria.

The country is witnessing rapid population growth such that urgent planning is needed to effectively pursue meeting the sanitation target of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2013, United Nations projected that the country by 2050 will be the third most populous globally after India and China at an estimated growth rate of 2.8 percent.

The country’s 2013 Demographic and Household Survey revealed that just 36 percent of households in urban areas use improved sanitation facilities, 40 percent use shared facilities and 23 percent use non-improved sanitation facilities.  In rural areas, 25 percent use improved sanitation facilities, 13 percent use shared facilities, and 61 percent use unimproved sanitation facilities.

In November 2016, in its global urban sanitation report titled, ‘Overflowing Cities: The State of the World’s Toilets’, WaterAid ranked Nigeria as the third country globally by number of urban dwellers without safe and private toilets. The report also states that 13.5 million people in Nigerian cities practice open-defecation.

(Photo: Water Aid) Top 10 countries by number of urban-dwellers without safe and private toilets.

“For every one urban dweller reached with sanitation since 2000, two people were added to the number living without.  A general lack of awareness among people and about benefits of good sanitation, and government neglect of slums, makes a bad situation even worse”, the report stated.

There is bias against urban sanitation in Nigeria as governments, both at the state and federal levels, as well as donors focus more on rural areas. Reasons for this include the belief that Community-Led Total Sanitation is only applicable in rural areas, open defecation exists only in rural areas, and that the most marginalised and poorest live only in rural areas.

In Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, open defecation is common as significant proportion of residents live in slum- like conditions.  Within the city, any available open space or roadside gutters are used for defecation by homeless people, residents and other members of the community due to lack of toilets both in private and public spaces. Residents of suburban communities like Lugbe, Nyanya and Kubwa have poor access to sanitation, making the practice of ‘short put’ (a local term for wrap and throw) widespread as it is in many communities with inadequate toilet and latrines in the country.

WaterAid’s report featured Ago Egun, a slum in Lagos, where it is revealed that everyone in the community take a boat ride to defecate into the surrounding lagoon. Residents of other slum communities like Ijora-Badia, Makoko, JMJ and Dustbin Estate in Ajegunle engage in similar practices.

(Photo: Water Aid/Tom Saater) Modinotu Sofola, 37, has been practising ‘short put’ or ‘flying toilet’ since she moved into this informal settlement within Lagos 19 years ago

In response to the state of sanitation in Nigeria enumerated above, a set of recommendations to donors will be essential considering the relevance of development cooperation to sanitation services in the country.

  • Transparent expenditure data and reporting – Donors must develop ingenious ways of ensuring sanitation expenditure data and reporting are transparent and improved in Nigeria. Donors can also insert a clause in their project or grant proposals, lending policies or credit agreements that the disbursement of funds must be publicly available irrespective of who the implementing or partner organisation is. Reports should mirror how much the principles of equality, transparency, participation and accountability are incorporated in programmes and projects.
  • Work with local government – Donors should work with the local government in funding sanitation in Nigeria particularly in establishment of functional WASH departments and advocacy. Additionally, the federal and state governments must begin to transfer responsibility to these local authorities in order to strengthen their sanitation functions. However, achieving this without adherence to constitutional fiscal arrangements and the states putting an end to cutting or blocking funds will be hard. This approach will encourage parallel focus on both urban and rural areas, prioritisation of sanitation in state and local government budgets and enhance institutional capacity building.
  • Invest in sanitation and hygiene in schools and other non-household settings – At present, the Ministry of Education have no active national school sanitation campaign and inclusive strategy and manuals on including WASH in primary and junior secondary school curriculum. An initiative of UNICEF, the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education has not been fully introduced in Nigeria and requires donors’ attention. The same applies to other non-household settings like markets, motor parks and health centres which are also severely lacking in sanitation facilities across the country.
  • Prevent and address corruption – Donors must take steps to address issues of corruption in their interventions. They should prioritise tracking of sanitation finances beyond the Value for Money framework to address wanton misappropriation and stealing of funds. This also requires transparent disbursement, monitoring and supervision of hardware components to be incorporated into project plans in ensuring disadvantaged people move up the sanitation ladder.
  • Engage and support the private sector – Building private sector capacity and interest in delivering products and services also demand attention. Training of local masons in the development and design of locally appropriate, low-cost and durable latrines which also meets technical hygiene standards is an area of intervention that has been relatively ignored by donors. This can be fast tracked by introducing state or local government level sanitation expos and trainings supported by a number of initiatives such as microfinance, credit schemes, and formal or informal loans.
  • Coordination – There is a need for donors to better coordinate their activities and seek to complement each other’s efforts in the sector. It is important to begin to consider equitable distribution of interventions across the states to avoid duplication of efforts. Spreading out of funding across states will reduce the burden of complex donor procurements rules among public authorities which could hinder ownership and timely execution of works as well as eliminating conflicts in policy.
  • Consider other means of support than traditional bi-lateral aid – Although government ownership is critical to sustainability of interventions, sanitation donors in Nigeria need to start thinking of additional means of pursuing this beyond the counterpart contribution or inter-governmental fiscal approach which has proved to be unsustainable. Technical and programmatic support, policy advice and human rights advocacy are other viable measures that can be tapped into.

While flexibility and openness to learning are required among donors, the federal government must show political will and provide stronger sector leadership by drawing up a national sanitation policy and strategy to complement the national open defecation roadmap. The aim will be to make states strengthen their existing systems and structures by allowing local governments to fully undertake their sanitation responsibilities as enshrined in the 1999 constitution.  This will create clearer enabling institutional environment for development cooperation to be more effective, sustainable and address inadequacy of sanitation funding and access.

By Bolaji Ogunfemi

Bolaji Ogunfemi is a PhD student researching Sanitation and Human Security in South Sudan and Founder of Afrodevelopment. He is also a policy researcher and research analyst with interests in Wastes, Sanitation and Human Security.