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Feature Article of Sunday, 13 February 2011

Columnist: GNA

Open defecation; is it a case of attitude or lack of toilet facilities?

A GNA feature by Prosper K. Kuorsoh

Wa, Feb. 12, GNA - Efforts by authorities to beautify the Wa Municipality of the Upper West Region would be a mirage if pragmatic measures are not put in place to arrest the indiscriminate droppings of human excreta otherwise known as open defecation.

Open defecation is increasingly becoming alarming in some sections of the Municipality putting residents at the risk of sanitation related diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and typhoid among others. The few available public toilets are constantly abused by users should be attractive to those who cannot withstand the sight of the filthy looking facilities and maybe resort to open defecation.

Children below ten years are often seen defecating around the premises of these public toilet facilities and waste containers freely without any reprimand thereby giving a very bad smell to residents of the within that vicinity.

The Municipality which is fast developing into a Metropolis must resor= t to the use of household toilet facilities, but this had constantly been overlooked by landlords because of the increasing demand for accommodation by students of the Wa Polytechnic and the overpopulated Wa campus of the University for Development Studies (UDS).

This increase in population without the correspondent increase in toilet facilities, the lackadaisical attitude of landlords to put up household toilet facilities coupled with the abuse of the few ones availabl= e by the ignorant people are some of the reasons believed to have caused some residents to resort to open defecation.

According to the Municipal Health Service 2010 annual report on sanitation related diseases, which was made available to the GNA by the Municipal Health Director, Mrs. Beatrice Kumfah, a total of 73,903 cases were recorded. Out of this, typhoid and diarrhea diseases which were closely linked t= o the problem of open defecation accounted for 624 and 5,300 cases respectively.

No cholera case was however recorded during the year. Open defecation did not only make the environment messy and smelly but also pollutes water bodies which some parts of the Municipality depended on downstream for their domestic use.

Mr. Mwinipuo A. Bangs, the Acting Municipal Environmental Health Officer told the GNA that the Municipality as at 2008 had about 8,505 residential buildings.

With this number of residential buildings, the Municipality can currently boast of only one Water Closet (WC), 12 KVIP's, 31 septic latri= nes and one Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) as its public places of convenience. Private and institutional toilet facilities include 1,511 WCs, 36 KVIP's, 227 VIP's, 35 pan latrines and six pit latrines without any sin= gle private septic tank latrine in the municipality. Mr. Bangs said there were 53 approved public refuse dumps and about 1,008 unapproved places. He said there were also two approved institutional refuse dumps and 52 unapproved ones. This clearly tells the story of the sanitation situation in the Wa Municipality.

The only refuse collection vehicle of the Assembly according to the Acting Environmental Health Officer got broken down months ago leading to heaps of refuse and over-filled containers in the town. The Assembly after constructing the toilets privatized the management and such lucky private individual toilet managers are then required to pay GH¢15.00 as fee for the siphoning and another GH¢20.00 at the end of ev= ery month to the Assembly as revenue.

This he described as insignificant judging from the amount of money they collected a day and yet these managers refuse to keep these facilities clean for people to use. He believed that the problem of open defecation was largely a problem of attitude despite the fact that private/public toilet facilities in the Municipality were inadequate.

Issahaku Dauda, a resident of Dobile told the GNA that looking at the filthy nature of public toilets in the municipality, one could easily say that the managers were more interested in the money they collected than keeping the facilities clean.

Mr. Mohammed Rufai, the Municipal Coordinating Director, said the problem of open defecation was a result of the refusal of landlords to comply with the directive of the Assembly to put up household toilet facilities. He said public toilets were not the best but the Assembly was now bein= g forced to consider putting up more public toilets to arrest the situation o= f open defecation.

Mr. Rufai stated that building plans given to landlords by the Assembl= y usually included household toilet facilities and bathrooms but according to him, this plan is usually violated during the building process. He said in the 1990s, the World Bank introduced a project known as the "Urban three projects" which were aimed at assisting house owners to pu= t up private household toilet facilities to help improve sanitation. Interested house owners were then required to deposit small amounts of money as their contributions towards owning the facilities but only few of them responded.

He said the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development would soon support the Municipality with some sanitation equipment and hoped that the support would be able to help change the sanitation situation in the Municipality for the better. Mean while, GNA found out that the Wa Municipal Assembly has a voluminous book containing beautiful set of bye-laws on all aspects of development.

The problem in my opinion is the lack of commitment on the part of the Building Inspectorate Unit of the Assembly to strictly enforce its bye-laws in respect of planning and development. But one issue the Assembly must note is that as it continues to remain aloof as landlords shirked their responsibilities, open defecation would thwart the efforts of the Assembly in trying to promote good environmental sanitation.

The huge health bill that government foots every year could have been used to invest in Agriculture, improve on road, health and education infrastructure as well as create more jobs for the unemployed if we change our attitude towards sanitation.

These would certainly lead to a reduction in preventable diseases whic= h would in turn lead to a reduction in money spent on health. The Environmental Health Units of the Assemblies must be adequately resourced to enable it play its role in keeping our environment clean. Assemblies must make sure they do not keep their bye-laws as reference books but ensure that they work to the benefit of all. They should form a task force to go round and arrest all landlords who refuse to put up toilet facilities as well as those who defecate openly. Clean environment can lead to an increase in productivity which would create wealth and reduce poverty. Let us always remember that health is wealth.

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