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Developmental Implications of Lack of Sanitation in Nigeria

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Sanitation refers to public health conditions related to safe drinking water and adequate treatment and disposal of human waste and sewage (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.). Nigeria is located in West Africa and has the largest population of approximately 200 million in Africa (UNDP, 2019). Nigeria has a Human Development Index of 0.534, which ranks the country as 158th in the world (UNDP, 2019). The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living (UNDP, 2019). HDI is an important tool in assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone (UNDP, 2019). Although it is important to note that HDI does not take into consideration other fundamental aspects of human development, and hence does not reflect inequalities within a country or the level of empowerment. These two aspects, inequalities and empowerment are vital when it comes to sanitation and its consequences. This essay argues that lack of access to sanitation disproportionately impacts women and girls, hindering the ability of countries to develop. In 2010, the UN General Assembly recognized access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right, and called for international efforts to help countries to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation (WHO, n.d.). This provision of water and sanitation has not been achieved in Nigeria, in fact access to sanitation is declining due to rapid population growth. To understand how the lack of sanitation affects Nigeria, and in particular females, this essay will firstly focus on the prevalence of diseases associated with unsanitary conditions. Furthermore, it will explore the consequences lack of sanitation has on the level of education achieved in Nigeria. Additionally, the essay will display how discrimination and violence towards women and girls is motivated by lack of sanitation. Finally, how these circumstances hinder the ability of Nigeria to flourish and develop.

The United Nations estimates that there are 2.5 billion people who still do not use an improved sanitation facility and a little over 1 billion practicing open defecation (UNDESA, 2014). The Millennium Development Goals which ceased in 2015, aimed to improve access to sanitation. This was not met. Therefore, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlighted basic sanitation again as a key issue. “Goal 6 of the SDGs is to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’, where Target 6.2 aims by 2030 to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” (United Nations, 2015; Saleem, 2019). Nigeria happens to be among the top 5 countries with the largest number of people without access to sanitation and also practicing open defecation. Overall, about 50 million people defecating in the open (Gilbert, 2017). Open defecation poses many risks to the health and wellbeing of women and girls. Open defecation refers to a condition where human feces are disposed of in fields, forests, open bodies of water, beaches or other open spaces or disposed with solid waste (UNICEF, n.d.). When this occurs, human feces contaminate water used for agriculture, washing, drinking, etc. A direct result of this is contact with pathogens that make people ill. Poor sanitation is associated with the transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis A, dysentery, typhoid and polio (WHO, n.d.). Diarrhea is the water-borne disease (Gross, 2013), and in Nigeria 121,800 people die from diarrhea each year (UNICEF, n.d.). Repeated cases of diarrhea weaken the body and immune system, making individuals more susceptible to malnutrition and other infections. For pregnant women, this can serenely impact the pregnancy, causing outcomes such as preterm births, low birth weights, stunted growth and infections. In Nigeria, one woman in every 23 will on average lose a baby to infection during her lifetime compared to one in 7,518 in the UK (WaterAid, 2016). Nigeria has a low Inequality Human Development Index (IHDI) of 0.349 (UNDP, 2019). This means that there is a large amount of inequalities within the Nigerian demography. Desai (2013) acknowledges that health varies between countries and amongst different groups within countries. It is these differences that are known as health inequalities. This is noticed in the burden of disease experienced by men and women in Nigeria, as women are more likely to contract diseases linked to poor sanitation. Currently the world doesn’t have a strong focus on tackling burden due to communicable diseases, which are prevalent in Nigeria. This is an example of the 10/90 gap. This refers to the fact that 10% or less of the world’s health research spending is directed to conditions that account for 90% of the global burden of disease (Schrecker, 2017). If diseases associated with poor sanitation are to contribute less to the mortality rate in Nigeria, the world health research industry must work together. In order to develop ways to provide universal health coverage, regardless of one’s ability to pay. Additionally, once there is wider health coverage in Nigeria, improving the country’s ability to cope with the burden of disease, development can be directed towards sanitation.

In Nigeria only 50% of public schools have access to a basic sanitation facility (Idoko, 2020). In many cases girls who attend schools that do not have basic latrines drop out, once they reach menstruating age, or simply are absent when they are menstruating. In Nigeria females achieve 5.3 mean years of schooling, whereas males achieve a higher 7.6 mean years of schooling (UNDP, 2019). A significant reason for this is poor sanitation. The UNICEF and UN Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) program ‘WinS for Girls’ aims to increase the number of girls completing primary school, and entering secondary school. One of the keys focuses of the initiative is menstrual health management (Government of Canada, 2014). Nigeria is a country of focus for this program. They found that the lack of privacy makes it difficult for girls to change menstrual products with safety and dignity. (UNICEF, 2015). There was also a common fear that used sanitary pads might be used for ritual purposes, hence girls won’t throw away products at school (UNICEF, 2015). These challenges to manage their menstrual health, courage being absent from school and for girls to drop out completely. If Nigeria improved their facilities in schools, they would see many benefits. Educating women and girls results in falling fertility rates and stable population growth. If girls don’t drop out for school, they are less likely to be married early and become pregnant while they are a teenager. Currently in Nigeria the adolescent birth rate is 107.3 births per 1000 women aged 15-19 (UNDP, 2019), and 44% of women are married by age 18 (UNDP, 2019). These figures are very high, by providing sanitation services in schools these can improve. Educated mothers not only have fewer and healthier children, their children have a 40% higher survival rate (Beaumont, 2017). They are also twice as likely to send their own children to school as mothers without an education (Beaumont, 2017). In Nigeria this could be vital in managing current rapid population growth and ending the cycle of poverty. If the number of educated women increases, this would initiate economic growth due to increases in productivity from a larger workforce. Furthermore, by improving sanitation in Nigerian schools, this will assist in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 Quality Education and Goal 5 Gender Equality, by allowing all children access to education regardless of gender.

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Insufficient access to sanitation in Nigeria, shows a correlation to discrimination and violence towards women and girls. The inability of Nigerian women to access basic sanitation, is a failure to address this at a national level is a form of gender discrimination a further violation of human rights (Saleem, 2019). The dignity of women and girls is compromised when they do not have access to a private latrine. Often, women and girls relied themselves at dawn and dusk so that they had a form of privacy. There is also a social stigma surrounding females defecating. Women can face deep shame and loss of personal dignity if indecently exposed to men outside their home (Saleem, 2019), therefore the times of day with minimal light are used as a form of security, placing them in a position of vulnerability. An appalling trend has emerged, which highlights that when women go to relieve themselves, they are prone to violence and harassment. This physical and verbal assault that women experience due to lack of household satiation facilitates can lead to increased fear, anxiety, sense of powerlessness, and disempowerment (Saleem, 2019). The HeForShe campaign by the UN, is a pledge that calls for action, to end forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls. This movement acknowledges that gender development is a human rights issue (Tiessen, 2017). In order to improve sanitation, women in Nigeria must recognize their own rights and strive to achieve human dignity. This in turn, will promote gender development, by removing inequalities, women will be more empowered to see change.

Nigeria’s economy is dependent on oil. This has helped it grow from a developing country to lower-middle-income status, although changes in global oil prices make this progress unstable (WaterAid, n.d.). In the world of modern development, Nigeria has a reputation of oil-fueled corruption (Watts, 2013). The country has very little to show in a development sense, for the $700 million dollars of oil revenues captured in the last half century (Watts, 2013). Despite this Nigeria is still one of the largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria has a gross domestic product (GDP) of 1,041.2 (2011 PPP $ billions) (UNDP, 2019). Yet Nigeria is failing when it comes to progress on delivering sanitation. It is the third most regressive country in the world on sanitation and access to basic sanitation is decreasing rather than improving (WaterAid, 2016). The percentage of Nigeria’s population without access to private toilets is currently 71%, accounting for 130 million people (WaterAid, 2016). A huge 25% of the population, equaling over 46 million people practicing open defecation (WaterAid, 2016). According to UNDP in 2019, research and development expenditure accounted for only 0.2% of Nigeria’s GDP. This lack of sufficient private and public investment (Rud, 2019) into development directed towards sanitation has contributed to the ‘sanitation crisis’ (Rud, 2019). In a study on the economic impact on poor sanitation in Nigeria in 2012, it was estimated that Nigeria loses NGN 455 billion or US$ 3.6 billion annually due to poor sanitation. This amounts to US$ 20 per person in Nigeria per year or 1.3% of the national GDP (UNICEF, n.d.). Universal access to sanitation services would significantly contribute to growth in Nigeria. Greater productivity from less time spent accessing water and sanitation, will result in reduced health care and mortality costs (WaterAid, 2016). Investing in improving access to sanitation will be effective in growing the economy and improving the standard of living in Nigeria (WaterAid, 2016). The market potential of investing in a sanitation program, would create employment in both construction and service. The cost estimate of a pit latrine with a slab is approximately NGN 25,000, the resulting total market potential for both material and labor would be worth NGN 1.25 trillion (UNICEF, n.d.). These estimates are based on the figures of approximately 50 million people still open defecate. Ultimately a greater focus on improving sanitation, can enable Nigeria to prosper.

To conclude, this essay has illuminated that sanitation is a basic human right. The lack of sanitation in Nigeria disproportionately impacts women and girls. Gender and economic development have been hindered in Nigeria, through gender gaps in education and exhaustion of women’s dignity. Until Nigeria can improve sanitation standards across the country, they will be unable to control their rapid population growth, increase education levels of girls, and prosper economically. Women must be empowered to end inequalities as they hold the power to progress the development of the nation and thus benefit the lives of others and of future generations.

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Developmental Implications of Lack of Sanitation in Nigeria. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
“Developmental Implications of Lack of Sanitation in Nigeria.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
Developmental Implications of Lack of Sanitation in Nigeria. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Mar. 2023].
Developmental Implications of Lack of Sanitation in Nigeria [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Mar 27]. Available from:
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