Bartering for toilets

Determined to end open defecation, vulnerable households in North East Nigeria are paying for toilet installation with food items and crops

Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A man pointing at the wall
07 July 2021

When Yusuf Ibrahim, a toilet business owner in Shani, North East Nigeria returns home after a hard day’s work, it is rarely with a pocket full of money. In return for his labour installing Satopan toilets provided free of charge by UNICEF to households, the 33-year-old regularly arrives home instead laden with corn, tubers of yam and other food crops as wages.

‘Service by barter’ is a system that has grown in popularity in Shani, where the majority of the locals are farmers. UNICEF, with funding from the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), is eradicating open defecation by supporting families with free Satopan toilets. However, the families must pay for their own installation.

Ibrahim says he has installed over 500 Satopan toilets in the community since 2019, with the payment for a sizable number of them coming as food items.

“If I don’t collect the crops, I might forfeit the money because the toilet owners are don’t have a lot of money,’’ he said. “The first time I collected food items as payment for installation was in 2020. The client was a struggling young man, but he wanted the toilet badly. I had no choice but to take the food item in exchange for my work. Many of my clients have made similar payments for toilet installation after that.”

A mason
Ibrahim installing a Sato pan toilet

Thirty-year-old Hauwa Abdullahi is one of them. Before the installation, the mother of four and her family answered the call of nature behind their house and sometimes in the bushes around Shani. Many households in Shani had no toilets, making open defecation a widespread practice among residents.

But when UNICEF initiated a project to support the community with free Satopans in 2019, residents embraced the odourless toilets instantly. Abdullahi says the decision to install the toilet was taken so the family could be healthier.

“My husband and I were eager to stop open defecation and live in a healthy environment like our neighbours. But my husband didn’t have money. It was the harvest season at the time, and we had plenty of corn. Before that, we had never paid for anything with food items,” she said.

A woman standing beside a sato pan
Hauwa Abdullahi stands beside her Sato pan toilet

“Since then I noticed that the toilet is easy to maintain and does not attract flies. It needs little water and has no odour. I noticed too that we hardly take our children to hospital now. We don’t fall sick with diarrhoea anymore. Our toilet is always neat now. Our neighbors respect us too, because we don’t have to go to the open to defecate,’’ she said.

According to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Nigeria has over 46 million open defecators, the second highest in the world. An overwhelming percentage of open defecators are vulnerable people living in rural areas. Open defecation and poor sanitation and hygiene practices compromise children’s health and development, and children born into vulnerable families practicing open defecation are at great risk of stunting and dying of cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid and dysentery.

The odourless, fly-repelling Satopans help prevent the contamination of water and food sources by fecal deposits. In North East Nigeria, UNICEF is addressing child mortality and stunting by providing free Satopans to families in rural areas like Shani, along with other water, sanitation, and hygiene programmes to help children reach their full potential.

UNICEF is also providing training to toilet business owners like Ibrahim on how to properly install and fabricate lids for the toilets.

There is no doubt that with Satopans, open defecation is on the decline in Shani. Ibrahim says he has installed toilets for people who could neither make payment with cash nor food items.

“They are too many to count. However, I let them go because I am doing this for the health of our people. UNICEF is bringing us something we have never seen, and I want our people to benefit from it because I am enjoying my own so much,” he said.

“I want everyone to have hygienic toilets so that we can stop the spread of diseases - so that our children will grow up healthy, strong and intelligent,’’ he added.