UNICEF calls for rapid action, collaborative efforts to end open defecation in Benue

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has called for rapid action, increased state leadership and more collective efforts to end the menace of open defecation in Benue state.

The world body observed that it was only through such concerted effort that the state would be able to achieve Open Defecation Free, ODF, status by 2025.

The UNICEF Water Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, Manager, Enugu Field Office, Mamita Thakkar made the call Tuesday in an address during a two day Benue Open Defecation Free, ODF, Roadmap Validation Stakeholders Consultation Workshop held in Makurdi, the state capital.

Thakkar noted that it was not encouraging that available data obtained between 2018-2019 indicated that 50 percent of Benue’s population approximated at 2.9 million still practiced open defecation while only nine percent of households had access to soap and water for hand-washing.

She stated that the development of the ODF Road Map for the state was a major milestone achievement in WASH.

According to her, “this road map is linked to a larger national vision for creating an Open Defecation Free country by 2025.

“You may be aware that the Federal Government of Nigeria declared a state of emergency on the WASH sector and launched a National Action Plan (NAP) for the revitalization of the WASH sector in November 2018. Sanitation as one of its five key priorities areas for intervention.

“To meet the sanitation goals of the NAP, the FGN launched the Clean Nigeria: Use a Toilet Campaign. The National Action Plan reiterates the fact that the provision of potable water supply, adequate sanitation and hygiene are primarily the responsibilities of State and Local Governments.

“The National Action Plan makes provision for the establishment of a National WASH Fund (NWF) to mobilize available resources in line with the estimated expenditure to ensure the attainment of the SDG targets for water and sanitation by 2030.

“It may be noted here that in order to accelerate progress in sanitation in the State, especially in order to access the National WASH Funds and the PEWASH Funds, presently with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, States have to satisfy certain conditionality’s as laid down by the Federal Government.

“17 states have already completed the below process, in the country. These include;

Declare a State of Emergency on the WASH Sector in their State; Inaugurate an inter-ministerial State Steering Committee chaired by the Governor or designate;

A State Action Plan/ODF Strategy or a Road Map to set the State Vision, Mission and Targets, and;

A State Investment Plan informed by a State WASH Master Plan.”

Continuing, she said, “Benue has already completed the first two tasks and now it’s time to develop the State ODF Strategy and the Investment Plan.

“The ODF Rod Map, besides fulfilling one of the above conditionality, will provide an overall framework or a strategic direction to advance sanitation in the state. It is expected to guide investment planning with timelines, based on an understanding of the gaps that exist and the funds required to bridge those gaps.”

She observed that the key objectives of the Benue ODF Roadmap includes to achieve ODF status in Benue State by 2025, with every person, everywhere having a safe place to use as toilet. To establish the systems – policies, regulations, and structures required for the attainment of the SDG target of safely managed sanitation by 2030; To strengthen the capacity of sanitation and hygiene institutions and actors to meet the needs of the new vision and targets, including a robust M&E system; and to secure the funding, commensurate to the needs and demands of the vision and targets.

While noting that Benue had already delivered six LGAs as Open Defecation Free, the WASH Manager said however that “there are 17 LGAs which are yet to ahieve this target, including at least 9 LGAs where no Community Led Total Sanitation, CLTS, activities have started.

“In the last five years less than 50 percent of the planned allocation has been released, much of which has been spent on capital investments, salaries and overheads. Very little to programme and even less to sanitation and hygiene. So where do we go from here?

“We need more collective efforts beyond the walls of this hall. UNICEF, NGOs cannot help with mainstream investments.

“The sector needs increasing State leadership – leadership in strengthening the policy environment, releasing budgets and stricter monitoring of results. Else 20 years later we will still speak of gaps and not the gains.

“The ODF Road Map exactly talks of those actions that the State needs to take, The State has six LGAs that are ODF – three contributed by UNICEF and three by UP. Where are those examples where the State has led ODF achievements, leading the entire process. Where is the example of institutional leadership within Education to fulfill the WASH in Schools target. We are still sending our children to schools – less than 5% of schools in this state has access to complete package of WASH facilities. Have we failed our children? Lets ask ourselves some hard questions

“We need results at scale. There needs to be a combination of strategies to achieve sanitation at scale, Emergency means we need rapid actions with clear vision and defined results.

“We need to start moving to newer LGAS, where real work is still to begin. We need to create community demand for sanitation, build awareness of ill effects of open defecation, mobilize communities to collectively decide that they no more want to live in filth and dirt, that they want better future for their children, dignity and privacy for their women.

“The NORM data of 2018-19 show 50% of the population in Benue which is close to 2.9 million, practice Open Defecation and only 9% of the House Holds, HHs, have access to soap and water for handwashing. This is indeed not and encouraging picture.”

She warned that, “business as usual will not work. We need rapid actions. We cannot simply pick up a few communities here and a few there and then hope to achieve ODF Benue by 2025.

“On one hand we need LGA wide actions and on the other hand we need to drive State wide actions. On one hand, there is a need for large scale drive by communities, awareness raising and a social mobilization campaign, on the other hand we need the State to support with budgets, monitoring systems, capacity building, and more.

“The ODF Road Map will exactly spell out these priority action that are required to create ODF Benue by 2025. It highlights the key pillars – of institutional capacity building, of behaviour change and creating social norm, of strengthening sustainability of gains made, strengthening WASH in Schools and Health Care Facilities, or public places, strengthening monitoring systems, improving budget allocations etc.

“So an important component of the ODF Strategy is a costed work plan, which takes into account what it means to make LGA wide ODF – what budgets are required. This will help develop the State Investment Plan and also allocate resources.”

Thakkar stressed that “ODF Strategy has been developed through a series of consultations with key stakeholders, including FGDs in the communities, KIIs, desk review, review of secondary literature and analysis of the collected data.

“So, in the two days, we will get to validate the findings, revisit the goals, objectives, strategies, targets and timelines with you, build consensus and finalise the product.

“Moving forward, this strategic document will be positioned in the public domain, to be used by everyone in spirit and action, and UNICEF hopes that this will strengthen coordinated actions towards ODF Benue.

“We hope this, along with other strategic actions will also fulfill the conditionality’s to access federal WASH funds and these will be reinvested in the state.

“I therefore call upon everyone to pledge support to implement this stratey, and starting with a review of the goals and impacts and what we want to achieve, work backwards on the key interventions,” she added.

In his speech Governor Samuel Ortom observed that the event was coming after about one year when his administration signaled its intention to frontally enhance Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector in the state.

The Governor recalled that “precisely, on December 10, last year, we declared a State of Emergency on WASH services and launched the Clean Benue: Use a Toilet Campaign.

“Following the landmark event, with the support of UNICEF/DFID, the Benue State Government through, Benue State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, BERWASSA engaged the services of a leading consultant to draft the Strategy and Roadmap so the state would achieve its State-Wide Open Defecation Free (ODF) status by 2025.”

Represented by the Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr. Emmanuel Ikwulono, Governor Ortom reaffirmed that “our goal is in line with the Federal Government of Nigeria’s plan to achieve a complete Open Defecation Free (ODF) status as enshrined in the National Action Plan which we have also keyed Into.

“It is gratifying to note here that from three LGAs in Benue last year that had attained the Open Defecation Free status, today six of our LGAs have been certified to have abandon Open Defecation. This is a remarkable achievement on which we hope to build on.

“We must therefore take up the challenge to ensure that the 17 remaining Local Government Areas attained the Open Defecation Free status in the shortest possible time, especially to achieve the 2025 target date. I believe that with all hands on deck, we can achieve it.”

Continuing, Governor Ortom noted that “even though we have a very disturbing picture before us as the National Outcome Routine Mapping of Water Sanitation and Hygiene Services (WASH NORM) 2018 shows that, ‘only 11 percent of the population has access to complete basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services, 68 percent has access to basic drinking water, 42 percent to Basic Sanitation Services while 24 percent practice open defecation.’

“Let me make it clear that Open Defecatlon is not only practiced by the rural dwellers. It is a huge problem in our villages, towns and cities.

“We are aware of the role we are expected and supposed to play as government: This is due to the fact that clean water and clean environment are not only essential ingredients to the general wellbeing of our people.

“We believe too that investment in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene have positive multiplier effects on health, education, the environment, productivity and poverty reduction as well as their socio-economic development as a whole.

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“In a nutshell, it is one of the crucial gate ways to the attainment of the entire Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“In view of the foregoing therefore, I urge all critical stakeholders here at this Validation Workshop to work as a team in reviewing, revising and building a workable consensus on the strategies towards achieving ODF status for all LGAs in Benue by 2025.

“I wish to emphasize Government’s determination and role in working closely with our partners, Local Government Councils, Traditional and Religious leaders as well as opinion leaders in carrying the people along in our march towards giving Benue State its well-deserved Open Defecation Free (ODF) status,” the Governor reiterated.

Declaring the consultation open, Wife of the Benue state Governor, Dr. Eunice Ortom who was represented by the wife of the Deputy Governor, Justice Mary Abounu commended UNICEF and her partners for all efforts geared towards assisting Benue state attain ODF status.

She called on all hands to be on deck to ensure that the state attained the status by 2025.

In her welcome address, the General Manager of BERWASSA, Mrs. Torkwase Ikyaator who expressed gratitude to partners for the progress the state had made in its quest to attain ODF status added that, “open defecation is a threat to our lives and dignity.”

In her goodwill message, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, WSSCC, National Coordinator for Nigeria, Mrs. Elizabeth Jeiyol stated that Benue state was making efforts to tackle the menace of open defecation and sued for the redoubling of that effort to ensure that the state became open defecation free in 2025.

“Lets make sure that between now and 2025 everyone practiced sanitation in dignity,” Mrs. Jeiyol said.

Also in a goodwill message, the assistant Director at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, and acting Director in charge of Clean Nigeria Campaign, CNC, Chizoma Okpara, represented by Mrs. Berthy Ukaegbu, a Principal Scientific Officer in the Ministry said the roadmap would help chart a way forward to end open defecation by 2025. “It is therefore a challenge we must all work hard to surmount,” she added.

Vanguard

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