By Jonathan Ugbal
No fewer than half a million people in Cross River State are now said to live healthier lives following the declaration of Ikom and Yala local governments as the fifth and sixth Open Defecation Free (ODF) council areas in Nigeria.
Both local governments with a combined population of 501,500 which are the first and second to be declared OD free under the Community – led Health Improvement through Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (CHISHPIN) program in Cross River State as well as fifth and sixth in Nigeria, now join Obanliku and Bekwarra local government areas with the ODF title which means the State is leading in the number of local government areas (4) from the six declared so far in the country.
The declaration follows the completion of the three-stage verification, certification and final validation by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the National task Group on Sanitation (NTGS) in line with the national ODF protocol, said Mr. Oliver Okon, the project manager of the CHISHPIN for United Purpose, whom in his address, commended all residents, development partners and the funding partner, UKaid for the result which according to him, did not come easy.
“In the course of engaging with the community members, we harvested natural leaders who voluntarily agreed to support their communities to reach DF and even extend their services to other communities,” Okon said adding that thousands of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committee (WASHCOM) members and hundreds of Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) communities were trained in both local government areas; groups, he said made “this day a success after series of quarrel, name-calling, abuses and even beating.”
Continuing, he said: “Thus project did not progress steadily from beginning till now without challenges. In October 2017, the donor suspended the project due to non-release of counterpart fund by our state government – a situation also suffered by the sister programme – RUSHPIN. We all lost hope that the project had ended abruptly.
“The donor sent in two separate consultants to audit work done and report back to them. On submission of the report, UKaid was really impressed with the result of the project and had to loft the suspension, approved a no cost extension for us to r-scope and complete the project with the balance of finds from the UKaid.”
The country’s minister for Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Adamu who presented the certificate, plaque and flag for Ikom on Friday, lamented that despite making significant progress in the provision of safe water supply in 10 years, the country has remained backwards in sanitation and hygiene which completes the tripod in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.
“Nigeria is currently the country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation in Africa and ranks second globally with an estimated 47 million people involved in the act, while more than two-thirds of the population are without access to basic sanitation facilities. A critical look at the situation shows that it cannot be business as usual in tackling this challenge,” the minister, represented by Dr. Emma Eze said.
Explaining further, He decried the slow implementation of the roadmap to eliminate open defecation in 2025 which was launched in 2016 while disclosing that only 10 out of the country’s 774 local government areas have so far been declared ODF.
At Yala on Saturday, the minister said that Sustainable Development Goal 6 which ensures the provision of all WASH needs, directly impacts on the attainment of Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 17 and contributes indirectly to other Goals.
He commended the roles of the implementing partners and charged residents of both local government areas to remain steadfast as the main task was ensuring the sustainability of the status they have attained.
On his part, the Director General of the Cross River State Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Agency, Mr. Ita Ikpeme told journalists that the State was proud and hopes to be the first to achieve statewide ODF status.
“In four years of this (administration), four local governments have attained Open Defecation Free (status). This is wonderful because in the whole country, out of six local governments, Cross River State has attained four,” Ikpeme said.
Several WASHCOM members testified the impact of the program in their communities and pledged to remain steadfast to ensure the status is not withdrawn.
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