Every other student paid rapt attention as the biology teacher explained the process of reproduction It was a class we all looked forward to, but something felt wrong, within me I knew all wasn’t well.
The more I tried to concentrate, the more impossible it became. My stomach had begun to rumble and I tried to figure out the cause. Oh! I remember, I had a plate of moin-moin (bean pudding) last night.
Everyone around me could tell from the sweat that had graced my face and soaked my uniform that something was wrong, though no one could tell precisely what it was.
I knew I had had it and could not bear it any longer. Seeking permission from the biology teacher, I dashed out of the class towards the toilet, because that’s what we called the poorly ventilated enclosure that housed two pit latrines that served the entire school.
As I raced towards the toilet some 20m from the classroom blocks, I held my breath and said a short prayer to make it to the toilet. I could not just imagine living with the shame and disgrace all my high school days. It would shatter what was left of my self esteem.
As I approached the toilet, I was greeted by the stench coming from the latrine. Opening the door, I was welcomed by moulds of faeces that littered the pathway as well as pieces of papers, nylons and leaves which were used to clean up.
‘This is impossible, I cannot do it here’ I said to myself. I raced out of the toilet, into the nearby maize farm and had one of the most relieving moments of my life.
We live in a society where amenities like toilets, pipe borne water and the rests are perceived as luxuries, I guess it’s a carry-over from our primitive days where everything happens on the go.
How else do you explain building a house without any provision for toilets?
‘It’s easy and cheap, you just s**t and walk away’ was one of the answers I got when I asked why people still practice open defecation in this modern age. Is it really cheap? I asked myself. Think of the cost of healthcare, think of the possible loss of life from disease outbreaks, think of contamination of water sources by faecal matter .
The provision of toilets and sanitation facilities do not seem to have any economic benefits at first though. Nobody benefits directly from toilets as most people would wrongly think. That explains why we have more access to a cell phone that to a toilet.
However, years of diseases and epidemic, resulting in poor health and reduced man hours would have thought us better by now. In fact, for every $1 spent on hygiene and sanitation facilities, there is a return of $9. The WHO estimates that the time saved by people using a toilet close to home have an economic benefit in excess of US$114 billion annually. Did I still hear you say that it’s cheap?
That is not to talk of the security issues associated with open defecation. Our women and girls still remain the most vulnerable as they become victims of rape and sexual harassment in the search for a suitable place for defecation.
There is the need to properly educate Africans to desist from this archaic act of open defecation via school programmes and grassroots enlightenment campaigns. The media is also a strong and potent tool that should be implored in educating people.
It is however still an undeniable fact that poor sanitation and lack of accessible potable water have strong ties with poverty.
All these raves about putting an end to open defecation would be an absolute waste if there are no alternatives. Toilets need to be provided as an alternative to open defecation and they also need to be adequate enough to meet the demands of this growing population. There also has to be a structure in place to properly maintain those facilities. Provision of water supply for the maintenance of these facilities is also essential.
Let’s all break the bondage of ignorance that has cost us our lives, health, time and money and embrace true knowledge that fosters growth and development.
Jide is an hydrologist and advocate for clean water supply and improved sanitation in Africa. As an advocate he believes water is a basic right that must be protected and provided. He is also an entrepreneur, teacher and radio presenter. He’s @jideleigh on Twitter.
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