By; MOHAMMED KAWU
It seems unbelievable, but it incidentally happened in Dass Local Government Area of Bauchi State with all its 351 communities that have a total population of conservatively 308, 377 people attaining the status of open defecation free (ODF).
With this achievement, Dass LGA is now the first and invariably the second among all the 774 LGAs across the country to attain the ODF status. It is the first LGA under the Federal Government/UNICEF intervention, and the second in Nigeria to become open defecation free (ODF) after Obaniku LGA in Cross Rivers State
This feat however, did not come to Dass LGA and its people in an easy manner. It was as a result of intervention by the Department for International Development (DFID) of the Government of United Kingdom (UK) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The two international partners came in to support the Nigerian government at scaling up rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) intervention towards achieving the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The intervention for Dass to attain the ODF status came through the Sanitation, Hygiene and Water in Nigeria (SHAWN) project of which Bauchi was one of the four selected states in the federation for implementation, while Dass was one of the three LGA in the state initially selected for the project.
The project implementation started way back in 2010 with a conduct of baseline survey which showed that Dass had 13 wards, 351 communities, 308, 377 people as per 2006 national head count with 3, 965 unimproved toilets that made open defecation practice so prevalence, supported by cultural and traditional beliefs and norms.
Before the intervention by SHAWN project, successfully implemented by DFID/UNICEF, open defecation was a norm, defecation in a latrine was considered a taboo, while defecation in the open has created conflicts in the Dass communities, and was mistaken for witch craft that has been killing members of the households. These and many more are the situations SHAWN inherited in Dass before the intervention in 2010.
The prevalence open defecation practice in Dass was also compounded by water and sanitation related diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhea, among other communicable diseases that made children not going to school on time for they have to every day trek long distance in search of drinking water, mostly from ponds and streams being used by both human and animals.
It was in the bid to address this ugly scenario and provide healthy environment for inhabitants of the selected LGAs that the DFID/UNICEF supported SHAWN project built the capacity of stakeholders at both the state and LGA levels, and adopted the LGA-wide approach in the community led total sanitation (CLTS) implementation.
The LGA-wide approach was complimented with the provision of water facilities and strict adherence to LGA wide intervention logic that significantly improved the water and sanitation situation of participating LGAs in Bauchi state, particularly Dass to which this write-up is centred.
As a result, all the 351 communities in Dass LGAs became committed to the construction and use of latrines, not only at the household level, but also in places such as markets, motor parks, and places of worship, while the project in collaboration with the Bauchi state government provided such facilities in schools and health centres.
Advocacy visits to stakeholders at community level made the stakeholders showed zeal and commitment to working together in order to achieve a common goal of attaining open defecation free. Triggering was similarly done to create feeling of shame and disgust to community members on the construction and use of latrines not only at household level but also in institutions and public places.
It however started with the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) inception orientation for Dass LGA WASH staff unit, then followed by capacity building on community led total sanitation (CLTS) at community level was facilitated by trained unit staff supported by Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA) and various resource persons to trigger behavior change through shame and disgust from community members both adults and children
The provision of the water, sanitation and hygiene facilities signaled the emergence of ODF communities with established procedures for verifying the specified ODF status, while claims by the communities are reported to LGA WASH Unit for verification through un-announced house to house inspection visits.
Open defecation date then set by community members, as action plan developed and submitted for follow up on action agreed in the 351 communities. Follow-up and monitoring of triggered communities were conducted to push communities to attain and sustain ODF status with the support of trained functional water, sanitation and hygiene committees to achieve community based actions on sustainability and ownership of WASH interventions at the community level.
The process to attain ODF in Dass LGA saw constant monitoring, training and re-training, and mentoring of water, sanitation and hygiene unit staff for effective implementation of various strategies, effective feedback mechanism put in place to assess and report progress and address challenges, and share successes with consistent support from LGA council, traditional institutions, and religious leaders to strength team work and effective coordination adhering strictly to the WASH intervention logic.
As a result of the intervention by the SHAWN/UNICEF implemented project and the Bauchi state government’s support through the State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency (RUWASSA), all the 351 communities in Dass LGA now have functional volunteer hygiene promoters (VHPs) for hygiene promotion with adequate household documentation of implementation process.
Accordingly, hygiene promotion strategies are being implemented in all communities through the use of cost effective technology with 70 schools now practice group hand washing with tippy taps and all the 21, 198 households practice hand washing.
These, were in addition to functional water, sanitation and hygiene committees with a total number of 3, 165 members and 95 functional environmental clubs (EHCs) formed with trained members on management of WASH intervention in schools.
Similarly, committees have also been established and registered in Dass LGA, initiating demand for services and accountability from government and relevant stakeholders, as the project achieved strong inter sect oral collaboration between the committees, primary health centres and national population commission to support mobilization for immunization, exclusive breast-feeding, and birth registration, among others.
It also involved private sector through public, private sector participation on sanitation facilities in public places where local investors/market and motor park associations partnered with RUWASSA and UNICEF in the provision of latrines in public places on a cost sharing basis.
A number of 2, 508 smart toilets have been constructed through MFIs/WASH Adashe and individual loans in the implementation of sanitation marketing to support all households to construct and use improved latrines/smart toilets in order to have sustainable open defecation free (ODF).
In the same vein, local area mechanics were trained on water facility rehabilitation, while water facilities of various type constructed and tracked to reduce down-time, one can hardly go more than 500 meters without access to a source of portable water in Dass LGA.
The Bauchi state government remained proactive with its counterpart contribution to support the hardware counterpart, as traditional and religious leaders were actively involved in the process with reward system instituted and disciplinary measures against defaulters in the provision of healthy environment in the LGA.
It is these cumulative results achieved that gave rise to the attainment and sustainability of open defecation free (ODF) in Dass LGA that culminated to the declaration of Dass as ODF on March 5, 2018 by the Honorable Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu at an impressive ceremony held at Waziri Mazadu Primary School, Dass.
The Minister, who was represented by his permanent secretary, Dr. Musa Ibrahim, congratulated the people of Dass LGA and Bauchi state for the landmark achievement, as well as UNICEF and UK Aid for supporting the implementation of sanitation, hygiene and water in Nigeria (SHAWN), under which project Dass attain the ODF status.
Adamu recalled that his ministry last year launched the partnership and extended water, sanitation and hygiene programme designed as national collaborative instrument for the improvement of access to water and sanitation in rural areas under a roadmap of making Nigeria open defecation free (ODF) by 2025.
With this feat in Dass, the need for government at all levels to give the required support for its sustenance through the continual release of counterpart funds and operational support cannot be over-emphasized. The Bauchi state government should give all technical support while the LGAs staff must continue to provide regular follow-ups to communities, institutions and public places.
Worthy of mention is that Warji and Gamawa in the state are also on the verge of attaining such status of Dass within the shortest possible time. And it is for this reason that all stakeholders in the SHAWN project in Bauchi state be encouraged to remain focused to achieve the state-wide ODF status.
The objective of the programme can be adopted towards achieving the greater target of making Nigeria an open defecation free (ODF) country by the year 2025, and provision of sustainable access to basic sanitation facilities for all by the year 2030, leaving no one behind.
Perhaps the tougher milestone ahead for Dass in particular could be the sustenance of its ODF status, which involves improving the quality of household and public latrines, keeping general environment clean and adopting safe personal hygiene, such as hand washing with soap and ash.
The impact of this great achievement is already being seen by the anecdotal evidence in the reduction of hospital/clinic attendance, the increased attendance and completion of schools, especially by the girl-child, which trend is expected to continue if this success is sustained and improved to total sanitation level.
It is therefore hope that the collaboration by stakeholders in the sanitation, hygiene and water in Nigeria (SHAWN) will continue for the realization of state-wide open defecation free (ODF) by 2025 as articulated in the Bauchi state-wide ODF roadmap.