After 60 years of political independence, Ghanaians still wake up to the sorry sight of waste and sewage lying indiscriminately around settlements, city centres and business districts.
Every day one is constantly greeted with incessant and overwhelming foul smells and stench from overly choked drains and over-heaped waste bins.
One needs not go far to encounter these unpleasant sights, which are most prevalent in areas of busy public engagements such as markets and transport stations.
Agbogbloshie, Chorkor, Tema Station and Lavender Hill, are but a few of such areas with inhabitants who have grown accustomed to habituating with the filth and stench.
However, the situation is less aggravated in other regional capitals and suburbs but the worst culprit of the sanitation let-down is the Greater Accra Region, the first point of call of the country.
The Stark Reality
Ghana, the supposed proud gateway to Africa, has been ranked second after Sudan in Africa for open defecation, with 19 per cent of its population resorting to the unsafe sanitation practice.
This is tantamount to a shame of no small measure for a country that just marked its 6oth anniversary of independence.
To lift the country up from this shame in which it is deeply submerged requires no meagre effort by all persons living in the country, from the statesman to the street child.
According to world statistics, poor sanitation is an issue affecting the entire developing world with two and half billion people living without toilets, whereas more than a billion people practise open defecation throughout the world.
Ghana has been doing terribly with sanitation covering only 15 per cent, making the practice of open defecation a key sanitation challenge as individuals have no access to decent toilet facilities.
Presently, more than five million Ghanaians do not have access to any toilet facility with another 20 million not having access to improved basic sanitation, a minus to the efforts of all sanitation agents in the country.
Economically, the practice drains the country of $79 million annually, albeit the threat, in no subtle form, to human health coupled with its fatal consequences, most especially for the most vulnerable, children inclusive.
The Upper East Region is reported to have the highest open defecation rate with 89 per cent, with the Northern Region ensuing with 72 per cent and Upper West Region with 71 per cent.
Experts have implored governments time and again to prioritise ending open defecation as it perpetuated the malicious cycle of diseases and deep-seated poverty as evidenced by the recent cholera outbreak that claimed more than 200 lives.
The responses to these pleas by various governments have however left much to be desired as the problem persists and stares us in the face.
Food for Thought
In a 2012 book titled “Music of the Spinning Wheel” by Sudheerna Kulkarni, Mahatma Ghandi, India’s independence leader, shared thoughts on sanitation and cleanliness, which remain as pertinent now as was then.
Ghandi said: “Sanitation is more important than political independence.” I couldn’t agree with him more because how can we, as a nation, a sovereign state, lay claim to self-autonomy but fail to put in place prudent and longer-lasting result-yielding measures to deal with issues that affect our very survival and existence.
Many governments, past and present, have failed miserably to reverse the very poor sanitary situation we are faced with today but do their best to be diplomatic and modest about the reality.
Ghandi likened sanitation to religion. Indeed, if people would be half as committed to hygiene and sanitation as they were to religion and to their various objects of worship, Ghanaians wouldn’t be in this sanitary quagmire we find ourselves in today. For cleanliness, as said, is next to godliness.
He also said “a lavatory must be as clean as a drawing-room – the cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing off excreta anywhere and everywhere. I, therefore, believe in the absolute necessity of a clean place for answering the call of nature and clean articles for use at the time”.
Mahatma Ghandi perceived that perfect sanitation makes an ‘ideal village’. He explained that an “ideal village would be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation”.
Hence, the very first problem the village worker must solve is sanitation.
“If the worker became a voluntary scavenger, he would begin by collecting night soil and turning it into manure and sweeping village streets.
“He will tell the people how and where they should perform daily functions and speak to them on the value of sanitation and the great problem caused by its neglect.
“The worker will continue to do the work whether the villagers listen to him or not,” he said.
Sanitation must be same for ministers and menials alike. A clean environment is the collaborative responsibility of all individuals – whether ministers or menials.
The Way Forward
The management of human waste in a health-conscious and efficient manner, admittedly, has and continues to be a humongous task than generally perceived.
Naturally, when constantly battered by a problem, human beings begin to ignore it. Ghanaians have thus become habituated to open defecation- a facet of the country’s sanitation despondency.
The access to and treatment of waste poses extraordinary challenges. Experts believe technology holds an answer to the sanitation problem.
However social scientists also maintain that a likely reason this problem has become so difficult to manage is because its roots run deep into our history, practices, urban and rural structures.
Human waste is not usually a topic discussed in homes. Traditionally defecation should be done outside the home and not inside of it.
Household toilets and latrines are thus rare among lower-income people, forcing many to defecate outside.
Access to toilets and other sanitation facilities is therefore not a problem of technology; it is also a problem of culture and customs.
Vijay Raghavan, Indian sanitation expert believes that waste management is more technology dependent but carrying it into practice in an effective and non-exploitative manner requires socio-cultural changes.
Solutions designed for sanitation issues should endeavour to address the prime challenge of all: encouraging individuals, communities and entrepreneurs to take ownership of the problem and embrace the solution as their own.
As Vijay puts it, top-down, supply-driven programmes have usually not worked and will not work.
We should learn from experiences such as the effort to implement a community-led demand-driven total sanitation campaign.
Though technology and budgetary allocations are essential, the involvement of elected officials monitoring accountability, incentives and ensuring the absence of corruption is paramount.
It is therefore reassuring that President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has pledged to make the national capital- Accra the neatest city in Africa.
It is my belief that his commitment to carry out what seems to be a very ambitious project, would be the blue print of the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies as well as the citizenry to fight the insanitary conditions the country finds itself in the 21 century.
As I recommend the efforts of Zoomlion, the national sanitation agency, to fight the canker, I entreat the company to step up its activities to ameliorate the sanitary condition in the country.
Only then, can we fully revel in the glory and independence of our nation Ghana.