Preserving dignity for people living with disabilities with toilets

With toilets, showers and water points, UNICEF, with support from the UK’s FCDO, is ensuring the safety and dignity of displaced and physically challenged population in north-east Nigeria.

Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A physically challenged man and boy
UNICEF/2021/Adebayo
19 November 2021

Haruna Abdulsalam thrived as a farmer and part-time commercial motorcyclist in Baga, his village in north-east Nigeria. But that was before 2016, when armed groups invaded his village. The father of five was hiding in the bush, trying to escape the invaders, when a snake bit his left leg. Complications from the venom eventually left the 57-year-old permanently blind.

Now resident at the Teachers’ Village IDP Camp in Maiduguri with his family, Abdulsalam has taken his new reality in stride. He moves around the camp with the aid of a stick and the help of his devoted son. Like other households at the camp, the family depends on monthly aid packages from the Borno State Government and humanitarian partners.

“I believe this is my destiny, though I wish the conflict had never happened,’’ said Abdulsalam at the camp last week. Dressed impeccably in white with a cap to match, Abdulsalam was, as usual, in the company of his son. “It has been five years since that incident, but I am grateful for life,’’ he said.

UNICEF is supporting Abdulsalam and other displaced persons at the camp with integrated water, sanitation and hygiene services to prevent disease outbreak and preserve the dignity of people displaced by the ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria.

In collaboration with the state government, UNICEF, through its partner the Centre for Integrated Development and Research (CIDAR), has provided solar-powered boreholes, toilets and showers with ramps. Abdulsalam, like scores of others at the camp, is also a beneficiary of the new Cash4Wash programme, a cash assistance initiative funded by the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and implemented by UNICEF to help displaced families buy essential non-food items.

A physically challenged man and boy
UNICEF/2021/Adebayo

Abdulsalam said the toilets and showers have helped to protect his privacy and ensure his safety. He added that the ramps have made it easier for him not to resort to open defecation at the camp.

“I was bitten by a snake in a bush while hiding from armed groups. Anything can happen when you are in the bush, whether it is for open defecation or something else. Thank God for these toilets, because open defecation will result in ridicule for people like me. You don’t know who is watching, and you could be abducted.

“There was a time when we used to queue for toilets here, and many people here were practicing open defecation. But UNICEF constructed more toilets with ramps. Now, you can’t find a toilet queue anywhere on this camp – they are easily available,’’ said Abdulsalam.

Beyond Teachers’ Village, open defecation is a widespread practice across Nigeria. With 46 million people practicing it, Nigeria has huge footprint of open defecation, globally. Globally, about 3.6 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation

Open defecation has been linked with outbreaks of preventable diseases and deaths from cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery and severe acute malnutrition. Without adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in any society, the cycle of disease continues unabated, resulting in preventable deaths, decreased school attendance, increase in gender-based violence and higher healthcare costs, among other disadvantages.

A man standing in front of a toilet
UNICEF/2021/Adebayo

Out of 774 local government authorities in Nigeria, only about 71 are open defecation free. As recently as August 2021, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have declared cholera outbreaks with fatalities. In Borno State, about 16 per cent of the population still practice open defecation; in Yobe, the number is as high as 32 per cent.

By ensuring adequate toilets and water facilities among the displaced population, UNICEF is working with partners to reduce the number of child mortalities in north-east Nigeria.

Sabo Mohammed, Chairman of the Nigeria Association of the Blind at the Teachers’ Village IDP Camp, said the ramps attached to the toilets are a huge relief to the blind community in the camp.

“I was already in this camp before I went blind. This is why I can go about without anyone - I know my way around. Whenever I want to use the toilet, I just use my stick to climb the ramp and trace the door of the toilet. In all honesty, I am grateful that I don’t have to practice open defecation at my age,’’ he said.

Highlighting the importance of the World Toilet Day, UNICEF WASH Manager in Maiduguri, Mamita Bora Thakkar said that  the aim is to draw attention to the fact that toilets, and the sanitation systems that support them are underfunded, poorly managed or neglected in many parts of the world, with devastating consequences for the poorest and most marginalized communities.

However, for a country like Nigeria, with 46 million people defecating in the open, Thakkar says she is hopeful that the country has set itself on the path to address this crisis, with a strong leadership on the issue. She adds that Borno State will soon join the list of states with open defecation-free LGAs in Nigeria.

“To achieve an open defecation-free state, a combination of efforts is required, led by a strong political will and a committed leadership to address lack of sanitation services. This should be complemented with adequate budgetary provision, targeted intervention and modelling of right approaches to create LGA wide ODF.  Institutional capacities are required to plan, create demand and deliver services through partnerships and engagement with private sector through business investments. UNICEF is strongly committed to support the state to achieve its plan of ODF communities. UNICEF is hopeful that the first few ODF LGAs will be achieved soon,’’ said Mamita Bora Thakkar.