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Opinions of Sunday, 27 November 2016

Columnist: Parul Budhraja Khanna

The stinky catastrophe

I’m sure all of us would agree that stinking isn’t appealing! We buy various kinds of lotions, perfumes, deodorants, etc. so that we can smell good because we’re all aware of the fact that smelling good is one of the delightful traits in an individual.

Who’d say no to being delightful? Yet, have you ever given your brain cells a rest from the worldly pomps to think about what a commotion sanitation is even in this day and age? Most of us shy away from talking about the most natural bodily processes, for instance our excretory processes and other significant elements pertaining to it, such as sanitation.

Sanitation entails hand hygiene, provision of clean drinking water, decontaminated food, adequate sewage disposal/drainage, safe removal of human urine and faeces and personal cleanliness, among other things. A major form of public health that I left out in the aforementioned sub-parts of sanitation is the facility of a toilet.
Let me enlighten you with a profound bit of information that currently there’s one third of humanity, i.e. 2.5 billion people in the world who are deprived of toilets.

Astonishingly, the number of people who are unfamiliar with the importance of sanitation surpasses the number of those deprived of toilets! Certainly, quite a few of you must be appalled by now and that’s the reaction I’d expect, unsurprisingly. Take a moment and let your imaginary horses run with this picture in mind; early morning birds are chirping, sun is shining and you’re driving to your respective workplaces while listening to one of your favourite morning booster songs and all of a sudden this alluring image is intruded by an image of a person either defecating or urinating on the roadside! Quite a rupture of a beautiful image there, but most of us have experienced it and clearly it’s not something any of us would want to see on an early morning or for that matter anytime of the day.

About three years ago, in 2013, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly formally labelled November 19 as World Toilet Day to resolve the issue of sanitation and increase awareness. Instead of shunning these issues as distasteful, they need to be discussed and made priority for global development. As one of the award winning nurses, Terri Swearingen, once said, “We’ve been living on this planet as if we’ve another one to go to!” It’s not just the environment that gets hampered with poor sanitation but it also affects the health, education, gender equality, nutrition and the economy. Let’s ask ourselves, why should peeing and pooping be troubling? Why should it be a source of several issues to our lives and our mother nature? To combat these sanitary glitches, we need to make ourselves alert to a few facts; how imperative is the usage of toilets, ventilation, hand & personal hygiene, decontaminated food, appropriate disposal & drainage of the waste, be it human waste, industrial waste or household waste.

Preventable diseases

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3,600 Ghanaian children under the age of five suffer annually from diarrhoea, additionally from pneumonia, cholera, typhoid, polio, infectious hepatitis and from malnutrition, all connected to contaminated water, tainted food or poor hygiene.

These diseases are preventable by following good personal hygiene, food sanitation protocols, provision of water plants and waste water plants as such plants remove dangerous materials, chemicals, microorganisms, etc. from water. There can’t be enough emphasis laid on how crucial clean food & water are to our existence.

The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) states three out of five Ghanaians practise open defecation. It means they poop in an unveiled area, either in the bush, beach, drains or dump sites, predominantly due to unavailability of toilets for all, which makes it nauseating for passers-by too.

Although the Ghanaian government has taken an initiative by marking the first Saturday of every month as sanitation day in market places/private residences to aid in public awareness and make them participate in the same, poor hygiene costs the country a ginormous amount of $79 million per annum. I’ll dodge from getting into statistics further; nonetheless apart from the severe health issues, shortage of toilets also poses a threat to the vulnerable; females, the elderly and children, as anyone can take their defenceless situation for granted. This can be amended through a viable sanitation arrangement/waste management programme and in the support of same, UNICEF in Ghana has driven an initiative termed “Let’s talk s..t” in partnership with Alliance Francaise. Yes, with any luck that’ll enthuse some people to talk s..t unless they already do! Excuse my pun.

Some solutions

While we’d like to put the blame on the administration, since in tough situations that’s the inherent human tendency for most, it’s not just in the hands of a government or a department. We all need to do our bit, as some behavioural changes are required on our part too in favour of carrying out good hygiene practices. For starters, keep a sanitiser handy. Use clean utensils in addition to untainted food. Let’s not throw trash on the road. Let’s train ourselves on thorough handwashing after we’re done attending to nature’s call, before/after cooking, diaper changing, before/after attending to an ill person, after touching animals and after smoking: in essence, whenever we imagine we have tarnished the purity of our hands. Remember to flush and keep the toilets clean too! Above and beyond, use the toilets where they’re available instead of urinating or excreting elsewhere, after all there’s something like self control and imagine if someone took your snapshot in action! So there you go for privacy plus dignity reasons too.

Let’s be a bit philanthropic with this knowledge, but as they say, charity begins at home. Keeping that in mind, let’s educate all around us on the power of sanitation and let’s not forget to practise what we preach. Let us all join hands (clean hands I beg) and kick this stinky crunch to its curb. We’ve probably forgotten to be good guests to our planet and there’s only so much disappointment it can take. Let’s give ourselves and our mother nature the care and love that they’re worthy of, because safety is no , folks. A very popular Hollywood actor and co-founder of water.org, Matt Damon, says, “We can live in a world where all people can get clean water and proper toilets at home, at school and at work. Let’s make it happen!” Together we can, looking forward to the day when everyone everywhere has access to clean water and toilet. Add fragrance, not stink, to your life and to this earth, both literally as well as figuratively.

Writer’s Email: Parulb@hotmail.com

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