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Nigeria loses N455b annually to poor sanitation

By Babatope Babalobi

Nigeria loses an estimated N455b ($3b) annually, to poor sanitation,  according to a report by the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a multi donor partnership administered by the World Bank.

The report which analysed the  economic impacts of poor sanitation in Nigeria  states that this huge lose translates to the equivalent of N3,200 (US$20) per person in Nigeria per year or 1.3% of the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet the WSP states that “the total costs of poor sanitation contained in the report are likely to be a significant under estimate, as several other economic impacts (such as funeral costs, water pollution costs, epidemic outbreak costs, loss of income from tourism, impairment in intellectual and cognitive development of children, and loss of income from materials that should have recycled) have been excluded due to lack of data.”

Access to improved water and sanitation is generally a major challenge in Nigeria, and the country ranks among the  bottom 25 countries worldwide in terms of water and sanitation coverage.

A woman holding her baby being treated for cholera

Reeling out figures, the WSP report released in July 2011, states that about 70 million Nigerians use unsanitary or shared latrines, 32 million use no latrines at all or defecate in the open, and 25% of the poorest of the population are ten times more likely to practice open defecation than the richest.

Quoting a 2010 WHO/UNICEF JMP Joint Monitoring Programme data,  the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) study states that only 32% of Nigerians used improved latrines, 26% used shared latrines, 20% use unimproved latrines, and another 22% defecate in the open.

Open defecation cost Nigeria $1b per year – yet eliminating the practice would require less than 6.5 million latrine to be built and used”, says the WSP study which provides an estimation of economic impact on populations without access to improved sanitation in order to provide information on the losses to society.

A breakdown of the economic impacts of poor sanitation in Nigeria as contained in the report reveals that US$43 million is lost annually each year in access time as each person practicing open defecation spends almost 2.5days a year finding a private location to defecate leading to large economic losses.

This cost falls disproportionately on women or caregivers who may spend additional time accompanying young children or sick elder relatives; and this cost is likely to be an underestimation as those without toilets, particularly women, will be obliged to find a private location for urination as well”, says the WSP .

Another $2.5b is  lost annually to premature death as an approximate 121,800 Nigerians, including 87,100 children under 5, die each year from diarrhoea – nearly 90% of which is directly attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In addition poor sanitation is a contributing factor – through its impact on malnutrition rates – to other leading causes of child mortality including malaria, and measles”, says the Water and Sanitation Program’s report.

Yet another $13m is lost each year due to productivity losses whilst sick or accessing healthcare. This includes time absent from work or school due to diarrhoea disease, seeking treatment from a health clinic or hospital, and time spent caring for under 5’s suffering from diarrhoea or other sanitation-attributable diseases.

Lastly, the WSP report estimates that $191m is lost through expenditure in accessing health care annually. Diarrhoea diseases directly, and indirectly via malnutrition (and its consequences for other diseases such as respiratory infections and malaria) are all leading causes of morbidity. Cost associated with health seeking behaviour includes consultation, medication, transport and in some cases hospitalisation – which place a heavy burden on households and government spending.

The WSP which is a multi donor partnership administered by the World Bank acknowledges that “while not all these economic impacts can be immediately recovered from improved sanitation practices, the report provides a perspective on the economic gains that are available to countries through a range of policies to mitigate these impacts over a longer term”.

The report also analysed the economic burden of poor sanitation among various economic strata of the population revealing that access to sanitation demonstrates inequities that is unevenly skewed against the poor.

The economic impacts of sanitation falls most heavily on the poorest”, states the landmark report which is accessible online at

“The costs of poor sanitation are inequitably distributed with the highest economic burden falling disproportionately on the poorest. The average cost associated with poor sanitation, constitute a much greater proportion of a poor person’s income than that of a wealthier person. The poorest 20% of the population are 10 times more likely to practice open defecation than the wealthiest 20% of the population. For the poorest therefore, poverty is a double-edge sword – not only are they more likely to have poor sanitation but they have to pay proportionately more for the negative effects it has”, states the report.

Open defecation

To redress the situation, the report recommended the various measures. First, allocation of higher investments to sanitation.”Current sanitation investment in Nigeria is less than 0.1% GDP: which is lower than several estimates for what is required. Increased investments in sanitation and hygiene promotion are required not only to realise health and welfare benefits of sanitation but also to avert large economic losses”.

Second, bottlenecks in the service delivery pathway, should be addressed, and “financing will be more efficiently used if shortcomings in equity and uptake are addressed”.

Third, investments to the poorest should be targeted by government agencies at all levels in Nigeria. “Sanitation inequity should be addressed through specific strategies to address the sanitation needs of the poorest”, says the WSP.

Lastly, in recommended the prioritisation of the elimination of open defecation, the report states that, “Open defecation not only has higher costs than any other sanitation practise, it has considerable adverse social impacts. Low cost and effective ways of stopping open defecation need to be scaled up”.


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