How epidemic broke age-long open defecation practice in Osun community 

Demola Olanrewaju is the General Manager at the Rural Water and Environmental Sanitation Agency (RUWESA) in Osun State.

He is currently the number one advocate in the campaign against Open Defecation in the State of Osun. Although, he now leads an agency that is at the forefront of the campaign to make the State Open Defecation free, he, alongside other family members and friends were culprits while growing up in the village.

“While growing up, we would wake up early in the morning and go to nearby bushes and dumpsites to defecate in company of my siblings, friends and neighbours,” Olanrewaju said. 

This according to him was a routine they so looked forward to every morning because it provided opportunities for them to interact.

“We usually look forward to going to do the early morning defecation in the bush and dumpsites because it gave us the opportunity to converse with friends and neighbours. After defecating, we would use the cob of a maize or any available hard object to clean up without bothering about washing our hands,” he said.

This was the general practice in the village and environ until they were hit by a water/feacal-borne epidemic.

Olanrewaju who was lucky to have survived the ravages of the epidemic said it was initially ascribed to the fury of a deity.

“The disease came with so much venom that people who had like thirteen children were left with only two after losing the others to it. The immediate action by the community then was to approach the chief priest to help them appease a certain deity, as they thought it was behind the mass deaths and sufferings of the people from the disease. This did not help as the disease continued to wreak havoc,” he recounted.

Succour, he said, came after environmental sanitation and health officers were sent to the village.

“Some environmental and health officers popularly known then as wole wole were sent to assess the situation and ascertain the cause. After going around, they discovered that the people were getting water for cooking and drinking from the lowland area of a stream that comes from where the people defecated freely in the open. So, we were drinking and cooking with water that was laced with diseased faeces,” Olanrewaju said.

Demola Olanrewaju, Osun RUWESA GM

He said, once this was ascertained, the immediate action was to place an order against open defecation.

“The authority also embarked on an aggressive sensitization in the community on how to maintain personal and environmental hygiene alongside  the medical intervention. That was how that epidemic was halted, and since then a law was instituted against open defecation in the village,” Olanrewaju further recounted.     

Although enforcing such laws may be weak, it went a long way in resolving a dire situation then. Looking back, the Osun State RUWESA GM said it has been more than a pleasure leading the campaign to end Open Defecation in the state in recent time.

EU-UNICEF’s WASH Intervention in Osun – The journey so far

Osun State, an inland state in Southwest Nigeria that was created 1991 from the old Oyo State derived its name from the River Osun. Being the host of a major river, it is presumed that Osun would be free of water and related challenges. Ironically this was not the case as no record of proper water and sanitation management was on ground prior to the creation of the Osun State Rural Water and Environmental Sanitation Agency (RUWESA) in 1994.

Formerly called Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) unit under the state’s ministry of health, RUWESA was transferred to the Office of the Military Administration in 1994 as a project as agreed with the UNICEF.

Since its metamorphosis in 1994, Osun RUWESA has benefitted from UNICEF programmes under Water Supply Sector and Sanitation Reform Programme (WSSSRP)I, SRIPII and WSSSRPII.

Seven Local Government Areas (LGAs) including Oriade, Olorunda, Ife Central, Ejigbo, Atakunmosa West, Ede North and Obokun benefitted from WSSSRPI interventions, Three other LGAs, including Ayedaade, Ifedayo and Odo-Otin LGAs benefitted the WSSSRP II programme in Osun whereas, under SRIPII interventions, Ejigbo LGA was the only LGA that UNICEF supported in the State. A total of 265 handpump borehole facilities were constructed in Ejigbo LGA under this programme.

At inception of the programme, only 396 water facilities were in the projects communities (30 LGAs) but the program provided another 856 facilities in the project communities.

This aided access to safe sanitation, increasing the drive for the achievement of Open Defecation-Free (ODF) status across the focal LGAs in Osun.

Prior to the commencement of the programme in the state, only three communities (all in Ejigbo LGA) out of the 655 at inception were ODF. But as at end of the programme, 554 communities are certified ODF. Interestingly, one LGA, Ifedayo, has been certified LGA-Wide ODF and while Odo-Otin LGA has achieved similar status rural-Wide.

“Before the commencement of WSSSRP in the state, there are no records of hand washing available in the state and no campaign specifically to that regard. But as at today, all the schools and health centres in the project’s communities and the entirety of the communities are reached with water, sanitation and hygiene message leading to greater behavioural change and reduction in numbers of incidence relating to water, sanitation and hygiene,” the Osun State RUWESA GM revealed.

According to him, prior to UNICEF WASH interventions in the state, there were no safe spaces for the girl child to defecate, as there were no gender sensitive WASH facilities in all the 81 health centres, 117 public primary schools and public places in the projects communities under the three LGAs.

The programme, he said, was able to provide 74 WASH packages in institutions in the 3 LGA which are gender sensitive and inclusive, with water, sanitation and hygiene messages.

Similarly, the agency’s head disclosed that, before the commencement of the programme in the state, WASH facilities in institutions across the project communities under the three LGAs were virtually non-existent. The program, however, was able to provide a total of 74 WASH packages in institutions in the 3 LGAs which are gender sensitive and inclusive, with water, sanitation and hygiene messages to guide their usage.

Support for sustainability

In Osun, some measures of successes have been achieved through strategic engagements and building of capacities of members of staff of partner institutions through various trainings and workshops. This is as the state WASH policy and regulations were reviewed and funded to support commitments.

In the state, the financing arrangement is contributory, with EU-UNICEF contributing 70%, while the State and LGA provides 25%. The community contributes 5% of the total contract sum.

“We are pleased with the outcomes so far. We are also optimistic that at the end, vulnerable children and their families would have equitable access to and use improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities and practice safe hygiene, especially in the focal LGAS,” the RUWESA GM said.

Meanwhile, Osun State, as part of the scaling up strategy, is participating in nation-wide WASH programmes like PEWASH, National Action Plan towards ODF, among others. It is also actively part of the UNICEF assisted Menstrual Hygiene Programme and State Financed Water and Sanitation Programmes.

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