The urgent and persistent question is: “Why so much aid, yet so little development?”

Welcome to a slum where the only flowing river serves many purposes: as an open toilet, refuse dump, domestic bathing area and, sometimes, as a source of drinking water - especially during the rainy seasons. 

At the heart of the 3rd most populous and largest city in Nigeria is the Oranyan slum in Ibadan.  Boasting a rich historical background, proximity to the ancient Olubadan palace, these easily-recongizable brown roofs of dilapidated mud houses make it quite impossible for hundreds of residents to have access to simple facilities like toilets.  The people and environment here have been inextricably linked, as good health and quality of life are influenced by the slum’s hygiene.  I couldn’t have imagined nor predicted what I saw on my recent visit to the Oranyan slum, where incredibly poor people somehow managed to find a way to carve out their daily lives in difficult and disorganized conditions.  Their energy was characterized by their daily struggle to survive in an unjust environment: children and young people grow up and seek opportunities to thrive here, a testament to the human condition in a part of the world that doesn’t reflect the kind of life they deserve or hope to live.  Many people who live in slums find themselves stripped of dignity and of their basic human rights: in every household, a hole is not just a hole, it’s an open toilet. However, this is far from being a local phenomenon, as people in poorer neighborhoods everywhere are faced with limited access to almost everything.

Globally, around 2.4 billion people in the world – one in three – do not have adequate toilet facilities. Around 1 billion people use a makeshift outdoor toilet, in the open air or behind a bush, whilst around 900 children die every day from diseases caused by not having a working toilet or access to clean water.  That’s one child every two minutes.  In Nigeria, around 57 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water, and over 130 million people do not have access to any form of adequate sanitation. 

Despite the staggering evidence, little is done to improve the plight of the people in the Oranyan slum.  For this community, access to good sanitary facilities such as toilets, potable water, and a clean living environment remains a luxury, a day-dream.  The current situation means it is easier for a disease outbreak to occur and children to miss school or die of a preventable illness than to have access to good sanitation or water facilities.  I fear the day we wake up to breaking news of the worst disease outbreak in history as a result of the huge consequences of the incessant practice of open defecation and lack of potable water, amongst so many other preventable practices that are polluting the water and environment in Oranyan.

Slums like this are not asking too much, what they want is a simple solution that addresses their real problems.  The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 6 provide a viable framework to bridge the sanitation infrastructure gap and restore good health and hope to the worst-affected communities.  Governments, development partners and donors must all work in the direction of harmonizing efforts towards investing and turning every commitment into a measurable action.  With every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a huge return in the form of reduced health care costs for individuals and societies around the world.

My dream is that by the end of 2030, slums like Oranyan and those across other parts of the world will have a reason to sing new songs, songs that are anchored in real-time impact on the quality of life for generations yet to be born. 

Let’s be reminded that where there is nowhere safe and clean to go to the toilet, people are exposed to lack of privacy and indignity, lifelong diseases and reduced healthy life expectancy (WaterAid).  Simple solutions – like basic sanitation – can truly change the world.


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