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Feature Article of Saturday, 16 October 2010

Columnist: Acheampong, Elvis Akwasi

Pan Latrines: Environmental And Human Right Abuse

At the dawn of the 21st century more than forty percent of households in the country do not have places of convenience. Any questioning mind would ask who approved these structures.
Another phenomenon in the country which has been as old as the earliest history books and as contemporary as Joy FM News night headlines is where people carry human excreta in pan on their head. Alas! This is not only an occurrence in the remote parts in the country but also the capital city of Accra. This practice is not only sociologically despicable but also it violates the fundamental human right and desecrates those who carry them. I think there are those who would argue that these carriers charge money for doing that and that since it is not some sorts of forced labor on them, it is not an issue to worry about.
Last two years, riveting decision by the Supreme Court of Ghana issued an order to ban the use of Pan or Container latrines. The ruling mandated the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to ensure that, pan latrines are completely phased out of the city by January 2010. Unfortunately, pan patrons are still been used in some various parts of the capital city especially in areas such as Avenor, Nima, Nii Boi Town and Lapaz. According to the Metropolitan Public Health Department of the assembly, 5,002 residences, 3 industrial and 243 hospitality joints, as well as 46 schools were still using pan latrines as of January 2010.
The detrimental consequences of the use of this barbaric toilet facility on the health of inhabitants in areas where pan latrines are dominant cannot be underestimated. Though the ruling issued by the Supreme Court put many people (mostly ‘Toilet Carriers’ as they are locally called) out of business. Human rights and environmental activists who advocated for this decree ruling should be commended, though there is still much work to be done.
Pan latrines also poses great health risks to both users and neighbors. When the pan becomes full, the toilet overflows to surroundings and the stench that emanates from it and its spills create a lot of discomfort. Pan latrines are also havens of houseflies and maggots. The next stop of these houseflies after visiting a pan latrine is usually food and water of people who live in and around houses with such facility. The danger is even enormous in crowded communities with this kind of toilet facility. Statistics show that, people who live in areas where pan latrines are common, especially children, suffer from sanitation related maladies like cholera, typhoid and diarrhea. Many also complain of stomach aches regularly.
There is therefore the need for all to underscore the need to promote good sanitation for healthy nation and sustainable economic development.
Obviously, pan latrines contribute immensely to the surge in environmental pollution that the country is battling with. The way and manner in which the contents of these pans are emptied and disposed off, is also something to talk about. People, usually contracted to empty these pans do so without any sanitation equipments and health and safety gears. They transfer the toilets in the pan into their own pans with their bare hands and collects spills with brooms and their hands without surgical gloves. ‘Shit’ carriers, then carry the pan containing toilet on their heads to their disposing sites. These carriers usually empty the contents of pans into gutters, bushes, and hills which eventually find their way into our water bodies which serve as sources of drinkable water for many inhabitants and their livestock and vegetable farmers. The health implications of this environmentally unfriendly act on both humans and other organisms are enormous. Many water related diseases are traced to these and many other ‘environmental crimes’ like ‘shit bombs’. Shit carriers also deposit the contents of their pan at satellite refuse damps scattered across the city. These damping sites are usually a play ground of children and livestock and other domestic animals like dogs.
It is not enough to make laws to promote good sanitation in the country. Rather the laws must be enforced in order to achieve their aims.
Going further, I would like to suggest that the metropolitan and municipal authorities should come in to help households who cannot foot the bill of phasing out the pan latrine by contracting a private company to construct a descent toilet facilities in these houses and the cost be spread over a period of time.
The existence of pan latrine in the capital city and elsewhere in the country is a shame and must stop now! Lets all work together to ensure that use of Pan Latrines in Ghana become a thing of the past.

By: Elvis Akwasi Acheampong
Freelance writer and president of Green Ghana Foundation.

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