Ending Open Defecation

Eliminating open defecation by changing social behaviour and building basic and well-managed sanitation systems in poor communities.

Girl takes a bath in a plastic bathtub
UNICEF/UN073097/Dicko

What’s at stake?

According to the latest published data,[1] 122 million people were practicing open defecation (OD) in WCAR in 2015. This number has increased by 34 million since 2000 as the rate of progress in ending OD was insufficient to account for population growth. WCAR accounts for 14% of global OD with eight countries having more than 5 million open defecators, including Nigeria which ranks second in the world with 47 million. In addition, in 12 of the region’s 24 countries, more than 20% of the population practices OD. 

Inequities persist in terms of location and wealth, with almost 85% of the open defecators living in rural areas, while people in the poorest quintile are nine times more likely to defecate in the open than those from the richest quintile.

Why is Ending Open defecation a Key Result for Children in WCAR?

OD contaminates the environment and spreads disease (diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, dysentery). These preventable killers of children result from poor sanitary and hygiene condition and contribute to stunting, which affects the physical and mental development of 28 million children in WCAR. OD also causes losses in productivity and valuable time that can be spent on productive tasks. When there is no toilet at school, children are going home to use the toilet or defecating on the school grounds. Girls are often absent from school during menstrual periods and lack access to quality products, infrastructure and information for managing their menstrual cycle in safety and dignity.  The World Bank estimates that inadequate sanitation costs African countries billions of dollars each year in lost GDP.


[1] WHO/UNICEF JMP report 2017

Our goal

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Change strategies

In West and Central Africa, UNICEF will carry out these integrated strategies to accelerate progress toward change.

The focus in the next four years will be on supporting countries to align their sanitation policies, strategy, road map and subnational operational plans to the new SDG areas and to Pan-African commitments.[1]

UNICEF will generate and use evidence to advocate for the political prioritization and adoption of best practices for sanitation in rural, peri-urban and urban areas, health centres and schools, in national policies, strategies, plans and budgets.

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UNICEF will continue to support community involvement and collective action in sanitation-related programme design, implementation and monitoring by increasing their capacities, informing them about their rights, promoting changes of behaviours and social norms, supporting data availability at all levels and increasing the accountability of duty bearers at national and local government levels.

UNICEF will work with governments to build supportive business environments and regulatory frameworks enabling an enhanced engagement of the private sector to provide adequate and affordable sanitation services.

UNICEF will encourage and support the use of innovative financing mechanisms including blended financing (involving bilateral grants, loans and other funding sources), South-South financing, microfinance models, trust funds, the use of cash transfers for WASH to support affordable local sanitation solutions.


[1] 2015 N’Gor declaration for Sanitation and Hygiene

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