Open defecation and public health


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By Baaba Akinson:

Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people go out in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet to defecate. The practice is rampant in developing countries with the following statistics according to WHO; “About one billion people, or 15 percent of the global population, practice open defecation. India has the highest number of people practicing open defecation, around 490 million people, or nearly a third of the population. Most of it occurs in rural areas, where the prevalence is estimated at 52 percent of the population, as opposed to urban areas, where prevalence is estimated at 7.5 percent. The other countries with the highest number of people defecating openly are Indonesia (54 million), Pakistan (41 million), Nigeria (39 million), Ethiopia (34 million), and Sudan (17 million)” etc.


It is also on record that around 65,000 tonnes of faeces is defecated into the open environment in India each day.

Some reasons have been put up by those who practice open defecation or practiced it. Reasons for open defecation are varied; it can be voluntary or semi-voluntary, but in most cases it is due to the fact that the alternatives (i.e., toilets) are not available or not clean, safe, and attractive at the time of performing the act.

My friend once went into a nearby bush in the morning to defecate. Before he got to where he wanted to do it, there was a lady who was already in a more hidden location under a tree performing it there, and she saw my friend come. Even though she finished before my friend, she could not go out as my friend was on her way out of the bush. When my friend was through, he got up to put on his pants, but behold, his manhood was standing like an AK47. The lady in hiding could not control the urge for the unusual; she came out to be noticed by my friend who had been seen by the lady. Guess what? The lady under the tree beckoned to him to join her under the tree. Immediately he got to the lady, she gave him her back the dog way, and my friend pounded all the way, a few meters from the faeces of the lady.

Open defecation in urban area can be attributed to a lot factors. If somebody develops sudden stomach upset where there is no public toilet, he/she will be forced to do it in the open. My girlfriend once had such misfortune and she had to rush into a nearby bush to ease herself. As she did not have tissue on her, she made do with her handkerchief. Some people prefer to defecate in the open if the available toilet facility is dirty for their liking.

There are numerous other reasons why people still defecate in the open both in urban and rural areas. These include: (1) No toilet available (2) A toilet is available but is of “low quality”, such as:

    • Toilets are filthy, dark, foul-smelling, or unattractive (often this is the case for shared or public toilets)
    • There is a risk to personal safety (e.g., if the toilets are public or shared, and criminals are known to gather there to wait for possible victims)
    • Toilets are only at some distance; also, it may be dangerous to get there at night
    • Toilet is dilapidated, and the user may fear a collapse or danger to children
    • Toilet enclosure does not provide enough privacy

Any time one defecates outside an enclosed toilet he is engaging in open defecation. You may ask if defecating into body of water is open defecation. Yes! I once went to visit one of my friends in Ijora area of Lagos State. I saw a narrow bridge that terminated on a lagoon and I asked what it was meant for. He told me the small batcher at the end of the bridge was their toilet and bathroom. I could not belief him until I went to see how my friend was creating disease for himself and humanity.

On the sea bank everywhere in Lagos (Ijora, Maroko, Yaba, Badagary, Ogogoro Island, Takwa Bay etc.) people defecate there openly. And so it is on every sea shore and river banks across countries.

Off the coasts and things that are associated with them. Places where there are no public conveniences for mobile crowd, any bush around becomes an improvise toilet. For those who know Abuja, you will notice that the back of The Cyprian Ekwensi Cultural Centre, Area 10 (towards Agura Hotel) is an open toilet for mostly smokers. If you are passing through the “Apiam Way” opposite the Filling Station (by AMAC), heading towards MURG Plaza, you will see these guys defecating and puffing cigarettes.

Every under bridge that is somehow secluded is a defecating joint for sane, near sane and insane people. By the bush opposite Sheraton Hotel, where the money changers stay, you will see another open defecation point. The bush by Old Secretariat, Area 1 is defecating venue for visitors to the establishment. And so also for nearby bushes to public places.

 Open defecation has serious health implications on humanity.  It is one of the major factors that cause many diseases; diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, polio, etc.  Open defecation can lead to water pollution when rain flushes feces that are dispersed in the environment into surface water or unprotected wells.


Countries where open defecation is most commonly practiced have the highest numbers of deaths of children under the age of five, as well as high levels of undernourishment (leading to stunted growth in children).

Open defecation can be prevented if the following measures can be put in place. Through political will legislatures prioritizing this issue and elevating cleanliness and sanitation should be at the front burner of the government discuss. There must be behavioral change on the part of the people. Some tribes still say that adults do not defecate in the house if such adult is not incapacitated. Government at all levels should endeavor to provide public toilets at strategic locations. The WHO should provide incentives to dissuade people from defecation in the open.


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