Over the last two days, my colleagues and I on the Citi Breakfast Show have been raging about the filthy towns and cities. We were stunned to learn the World Bank was considering cutting aid to Ghana over our sanitation challenges.
According to the Chronicle newspaper, the Bank was upset with the inability of authorities to end the practice of open defecation. Nothing offends our Ghanaian sensibilities more than being told what to do by an outsider. But this time, we couldn’t stay summon any outrage to tell the World Bank that our president was aiming for a ‘Ghana beyond aid.’
This is a regular conversation on the Show, every time it rains, we’re triggered to discuss all the hundred and ten ways city authorities at least, reduced the impact of the annual floods on residents. Every season of cholera outbreak draws our ire and outrage. All of us are appalled by the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish, the choked drains, the littering and the stench that looms over Accra.
The filth, isn’t just an Accra problem, our entire country is dirty. All major towns and cities are being engulfed in piles and piles of filth and they stink.
It gets worse, people are not just dumping their rubbish anywhere, they’re also defecating and dumping human excreta anywhere. In Accra, city authorities proudly dump untreated liquid waste into the sea.
According to Unicef, only 15 percent of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation and one in five Ghanaians do not have access to a toilet. All these people defecate in the open. In the three regions of the North, about 70 percent of residents practice open defecation.
We do not need the World Bank to threaten to cut aid before we do something about this. It’s bad. The unsanitary conditions in which we live have implications for the economy, tourism, and above all, our health and well-being. It is estimated that Ghana loses about 290 million dollars to poor sanitation and bad hygiene.
Every year, hundreds die from preventable diseases, notable among them is cholera. Reports suggest about 500 people died in Ghana from cholera.
Data from the World Bank again, indicates that “19,000 people, including 5,100 children under the age of five die each year of diarrheoa, with 90 percent of these deaths attributed directly to poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.”
Over the years, governments have promised and failed to fix it. They have failed because we let them. The good thing is, our new president recognizes the importance of clean communities – he has created a ministry of sanitation, and appointed someone to clean Ghana up. He won’t succeed if things are done the same way past governments did – throw laws, promises and money at the problem.
Clean communities are a shared responsibility, we cannot have clean towns and cities if everything is left to the politicians and local assembly officials who are often distracted by the need to secure their votes. There are things residents and all Ghanaians can do to make our towns and cities livable again.
Stop spitting – First off, brush your teeth, chew the stick or whatever it is you need not to feel nauseated throughout the day. Stop spitting in public spaces – you’re spreading diseases through the air. And it’s just disgusting. No one wants to see your spittle.
Don’t urinate in public – Just because you feel the urge to urinate doesn’t mean you should drop your pants and do it anywhere. You foul the air, then your diseased urine will end up in some water body that farmers water vegetables with.
Don’t practice open defecation – It’s a great shame that, this even has to be said. We, people who hold the earth sacred and worship mother earth shouldn’t dishonour our environment by shitting at will on every open space.
Stop littering – Again, if you’re reading this, you should know littering is also bad for the environment. The plastics you threw from your car ended up choking a drain. The rain will take it all the way to the sea, and it’s there destroying aquatic life.
Hold family and friends accountable – Shame them, if you must, if they breach any of the above rules.
All the above is great, but the greater responsibility lies with government. So here is what government must do to keep Ghana clean.
It’s time for a massive campaign – It’s an emergency – our cities are buried in loads of plastic, liquid and solid waste. The rains will soon be here and we’ll so be dealing cholera, malaria and other diseases. The awareness must be created about the importance of keeping our environments clean. Years ago, some agency ran an effective hand-washing campaign that reduced cholera in some communities. Education campaigns work – we must be taught to unlearn the unhygienic practices we perceive as normal. The Indians and Mexicans use different mediums, including telenovelas and radio dramas to tackle their social problems. We’d be killing two birds with one stone.
Laws must be enforced – The problem seems huge and overwhelming when all the things that ought to be done are considered. But local assemblies can start small – they can start by enforcing existing laws on cleanliness and order. People must be punished for the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish, littering and other offenses. Moral suasion alone won’t fix it, we can keep appealing to people’s good senses, but some won’t stop their destructive behaviours until they are caught and punished.
Every home must have a toilet – In 2017, open defecation should be unacceptable to all Ghanaians. This must be the law. No landlord should be allowed to rent out rooms if they do not have toilets for occupants. There can be a schedule and a plan for existing properties to include toilet facilities for the number of occupants. But there should be no reason new properties should go up without toilets, Shops and other public places must have toilets – and they must be open to members of the public.
Police the beaches- Beaches must be policed, cleaned and preserved – Seriously, the idea of fish fattened on poop is not natural or funny. It is not a worthy cultural practice either. It should stop. The sight of adults and children constantly shitting at our coastline is one of the quickest ways of spreading disease and degrading the seabed.
Place bins at vantage points – It has been said that, the last time this was tried, the bins were stolen. Unpatriotic Ghanaians shouldn’t stop us from living well. Assemblies must work out ways to keep the bins from being stolen.
Highways and communities should have clean public toilets – The hawker, the traveler and the mason all need to go at some point during the day. If we want to stop open defecation and save our environment, the toilets shouldn’t be a luxury.
Local assemblies must do their part – Roads, streets and pavements should not be left overgrown with weeds and rubbish. And when they clean, the waste must not be left on the edges of roads and gutters for days. Here, leadership by example works. When residents see the Assembly’s insistence on clean spaces, they’ll begin to amend their ways.
Time for innovative waste management solutions – They are segregating and converting rubbish to useful materials in rural India. If they can do that in India, then there is no reason we cannot use composting and recycling to transform waste in Ghana.
Agencies must run cleaning programs – No. I’m not asking for one-off clean-up exercises like the National Sanitation Day event where politicians and other society gather for photos. As this is an emergency, we will need all the agencies mandated by the constitution and the government to manage towns and cities to get together and devise practical ways of providing sanitary services. They must sift through all those well-written policies gathering dust in corners at the ministries, and draw schedule for implementation.
By: Nana Ama Agyeman Asante/citifmonline.com/Ghana