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‘Why National Sanitation Day should focus on enforcing attitudinal change’

Nigeria over the last weekend marked National Environmental Sanitation Day with the theme, “Go Greener, Stay Clean: Climate Change is Real,” to create awareness on…

Nigeria over the last weekend marked National Environmental Sanitation Day with the theme, “Go Greener, Stay Clean: Climate Change is Real,” to create awareness on the need for Nigerians to enforce proper sanitation and hygiene in their daily activities.

According to WHO, environmental sanitations are efforts or activities aimed at maintaining a clean, safe and pleasant physical environment through water supply, excreta and sewage disposal, solid waste disposal, and ensuring the safety of the environment in all human settlements towards the promotion of social, economic and physical well-being of all sections of the population.

The day is commemorated every June 28th as declared by President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 2005 at the launch of the National Environmental Sanitation Policy document.

National Environmental Sanitation Policy, which addresses specific areas like pest control, school sanitation, and proper waste disposal, also prioritises safe sanitation practices, promoting a cleaner and healthier environment for all.

The policy is currently under review and to be presented to the Federal Executive Council for endorsement in days to come, according to the federal ministry of environment.

Despite having a day like that, it is a common fact that sanitary conditions in most urban cities and rural areas keep deteriorating due to the unsustainable hygienic measures, as people litter places with refuse dumps, faeces and urine.

Some stakeholders have maintained that sustainable waste management is paramount to achieving good sanitation, which is yet a mirage in the country.

People dispose of their waste anywhere in the market places, road median, fields, drainage, rivers and anywhere they deem fit with little or no consequences.

An FCT resident, Bath Njoku, said when he was transferred to Abuja from Port Harcourt, he was convinced that it would be a neat and an organised tidy city and different from what he saw in Port where waste defaces places it is not supposed to.

“But I was disappointed that the same thing happens in Abuja and many other cities in the country. Here it is impossible to pass through some major roads and breathe fresh air; all you get is pollution from urine, faeces and waste.

“It is funny that I don’t even know Nigeria still celebrates sanitation day unless I see news. It is better to go back to the days of compulsory sanitation day where everyone comes out to clean their streets and homes of which failure to do so will lead to penalty and besides people will not dispose of refuse anyhow if they know it is on them to clean it,” Njoku said.

According to a report tagged ‘Conceptual Modelling of Residents’ Environmental Sanitation Behaviour in a Nigerian Metropolis’ by a lecturer with the University of Ile-Ife, Oluwole Daramola Obafemi Awolowo, the major determinant of residents’ environmental sanitation behaviour was the mandated environmental sanitation exercise.

Daramola said despite the positive contributions of the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, the residents need to know the importance of daily environmental sanitation exercise (which is the practice), especially at the household and neighbourhood levels.

While it is established that human activities on the environment have tended to degrade and make the environment untidy and unfit for human habitation because of its unsanitary nature, the federal government in 2005 introduced the National Environmental Sanitation Day to institutionalise sound environmental sanitation practices among Nigerians through sustained awareness creation and reward for best practices in environmental sanitation with the aim of improving the living condition of the people through an improved environment.

At an event to mark the 2024  National Environmental Sanitation Day in Abuja, the Representative of WHO, Alexandra Chimbaru, said the day serves as a timely reminder of the urgent need for attitudinal change and comprehensive all-of-society action at both national and subnational levels to address poor sanitation and promote climate mitigation and adaptation measures.

Chimbaru congratulated the ministry and agencies supporting the event for using the National Environmental Sanitation Day to encourage community participation in clean-up drives, awareness campaigns, and the promotion of personal and environmental hygiene in local communities in the Federal Capital Territory and beyond. This helps to reduce communicable diseases such as cholera affecting some states in the country

“I would like to say that we need to Go Greener, Stay Clean: Climate Change is Real. It is we as individuals, as communities, and as advocates that can make Nigeria go green. An aggressive adoption of environmental hygiene practices and WASH measures in our communities is needed more urgently to prevent the ongoing spread of cholera in the country. Ladies and gentlemen, together, we can make a significant impact by improving sanitation and promoting health for all,” he said.

Speaking, the Minister of State for Environment, DrIziaq Adekunle Salako, said the annual commemoration, spearheaded by the Federal Ministry of Environment in collaboration with key stakeholders, serves as a national advocacy platform that highlights the importance of sanitation and hygiene as a veritable tool for disease prevention and control and a weapon in reducing the adverse effect of climate change.

He said it offers the opportunity to increase awareness and the understanding of the importance of sanitation and hygiene as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases, save lives and progress towards the achievement of two important Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which are SDG3 -Good Health and Well-being and SDG6 Clean Water and Sanitation.

The minister said the theme is apt considering the devastating impacts of climate change on the planet and the current resurgence of cholera being experienced in Nigeria as in several other parts of the world.

“The combination of climate change and poor sanitation without doubt poses a double jeopardy to the health of our planet and all creatures on it. While climate change results in extreme weather events that challenge good sanitation, poor sanitation creates the perfect conditions for the worsening of the adverse effects of climate change thus creating a vicious cycle of disease, poverty and underdevelopment. This combination is standing squarely in the way of achieving many of the sustainable development goals.

“Nigeria is experiencing the adverse impact of climate change as evidenced by the shift in seasons, species distribution changes, rising sea levels, and more frequent extreme weather events like floods, droughts and heat waves with undeniable health consequences. Rising temperatures, humidity, and rainfall expand the range of disease-carrying vectors like mosquitoes, increasing the geographical spread and prevalence of such diseases,” he said.

While noting that floods and other extreme weather events also damage infrastructure, hindering healthcare access for vulnerable populations like women, children, and the elderly, he added that flood-related displacement, livelihood loss, and poor nutrition leave people susceptible to malnutrition and diseases like malaria, cholera, gastroenteritis, among others.

He said  the ongoing cholera outbreak in the country comes as a stark reminder that when they fail to prioritise proper environmental sanitation, “we leave the very things that sustain us; our food and water vulnerable to contamination, our public health jeopardised, our productivity reduced and our economy adversely affected.”

The minister maintained that in the face of all the challenges posed to socio-economic and physical well-being by climate change and poor sanitation, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Environment and other stakeholders continues to deploy innovative policies and interventions to safeguard current and future generations of Nigeria.

Salako however urged Nigerians to play their part and practically demonstrate the power of collaboration, cooperation and synergy in making their communities clean, sanitary and safe, saying, “Let’s remember that National Environmental Sanitation is more than a day; sanitation and hygiene should be woven into the fabric of our daily lives.”

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