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Opinions of Sunday, 23 September 2007

Columnist: Okpara, Ikenna Goodyear

SAMA-SAMA (2): A Broader Conceptualization of Our Sanitation Problem

Industrial wastewater containing dangerous, poisonous chemicals must of course be taken care of at the source, by the industry generating it. All the heavy metals and toxic chemicals used in industrial processes must be retained in closed loops. This can be accomplished by the introduction of the POLLUTER-PAYS PRINCIPLE. It is not a technical question because it can be done, nor an economic one because prevention is bound to cost less than treatment. The question is political.

Uno Winbland, Director of an International Sanitation Research Project

When I published my first article on sama-sama, a realm of thought tickled me. And what was that: we need to move from the ‘box perspective’ to a ‘broader perspective’.

Broader perspective in the sense that we need to look beyond the daily functions of sama-sama—cleaning up the streets, etc—to a more wholistic solution to our environmental sanitation problems. We need to position our industries, whose activities cause pollution of the environment as a stakeholder towards solving the sanitation menace. We need to harness the environmental costs, which these companies are accruing and channel them towards good environment keeping. For instance, at a time the ‘National Association of Sachet Water Producers (NASWP)’ pledged to contribute funds {to Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA)} towards the cleaning up of Accra Metropolis, which mostly is littered by their products. Part of these funds could be channeled to equipping and training the sama-sama to make them a vibrant environmental organization.

Setting up of an ‘Afforestation Department’ under the ‘Volta River Authority (VRA)’. This department should act as a watchdog to checkmate the illegal activities of farmers who defy agricultural laws by growing crops on river banks, resulting in—among other things—the pollution of rivers and other water bodies. Also this department should be responsible for planting trees along the banks of rivers and other water bodies to curb the evaporation from these water bodies.

One of the objectives of the ‘Environment Fund’, which was spelt out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Act 1994 is to train human resources for the purpose of environmental protection. It would be fitting if EPA sponsor an education program (such as environmental management system—EMS) in order the boost the technology know-how and skills of sama-sama officers. I am not advocating something that has not been done anywhere in the world because the United States EPA has done a similar thing in the past to boost the technology base of their workers. By doing this, the sama-sama would not only be equipped with the requisite knowledge, but also would go a long way in accomplishing the task of enhanced environmental sanitation in Ghana.

Collectivism on Sanitation

It was popular news when farmers in the northern Ghana took to the streets due to the illegal activities of nomads and herdsmen who in the process of feeding their cattle—leave in their wake—destruction of food crops and farmlands. Now, I ask the question: Can the same society take to the streets to protest irregular removal of refuse heaps on passage roads? Can the same society protest the illegal felling of trees in Accra just to put up a statue or to prevent brown leaves from littering a lawn? Can the same society rise up collectively and question bad environmental practices going on in our society, which are ignored by obnoxious laws of the state?

The National Center for Civic Education (NCCE)—entrusted with the role of public education on matters of national concern—should play an awareness role regarding the essence of environmental education on the need for sanitation in our cities. Recently, Nigeria’s National Orientation Agency (NOA) launched a similar awareness campaign in Nigerian cities to educate people on the need or environmental sanitation. Idi Farouk, the director of NOA launching the “Keep Nigeria Clean” commented, “The fight against such diseases as malaria, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis cannot be won in a filthy environment”. Ghana’s NCCE over to you.

Government can promote this behavior by enacting legislation to back it up. For instance, as a booster to the Ogunleye’s two-theory model (please refer to my article on, ‘Our Sanitation Problems: Can the Sama-sama Reintroduction Provide the Solution?’), government could enact legislation to constrain commercial bus drivers to introduce waste bins into their vehicles to contain the mess-up from passengers who do chop-chop. A popular Akan saying goes thus, “we have heard your advice but we are not bound by it”. By this, I mean that the legislation would enable us accomplish this plan of good environment keeping.

The core of government’s legislation lies in the promulgation of a ‘Polluter-Pays’ Act in the country. Economists and environmentalists should work out the proper pact for this package to come into effect.

Moral Perspective

“The most dangerous object one can meet on earth is not a python, lion or leopard BUT an educated man/woman with no character!!” …Martin Luther king

Let me narrate a story from the Holy Bible, one day after Jesus had finished preaching to a multitude, he was confronted with the challenge of a hungry crowd. After sharing some few bread and fish, there was some left over. Jesus with his supernatural powers—which enabled him to convert the five loaves of bread to the surplus to feed the crowd—could have commanded those left over to disappear and save the labour of gathering them. But he did something altogether different because he wanted to teach his followers a basic principle in life. He humbly requested them to gather the refuse back to avoid being wasted. And that basic principle is the habit of SANITATION. Just like Martin Luther said in the above quote, we face a great danger in having a society with no character. We need to build, as individual citizens of Ghana, a character (of sanitation), which matures to become a habit (of sanitation). We need not all pass through the four walls of the university to acquire this kind of knowledge. We have the requisite Indigenous Knowledge System—a ‘way of knowing’ that places knowledge in a cultural, political and environmental context. Our forefathers had it, let us grab it from them. I want to stress at this point that there is no alternative to the use of indigenous knowledge to solve our local problems. That is what the Chinese have done—they have used their indigenous herbal knowledge to provide solution for their health care industry—which have been accepted internationally. Here in Ghana, we have blindly copied to the extent that we do not know our left from our right in terms of indigenous knowledge. For instance, what happened to the use of leaves in food packaging, which today have replaced by polythene bags, which has created a sanitation menace in the country? We should not always wait on the sama-sama for action. We can do certain things for ourselves. KEEP the environment clean!

About the Author:
Okpara Ikenna Goodyear is an environmental activist and also the administrator of THE INSIGHT FOUNDATION (P.O.BOX 9571, KUMASI, GHANA). Contact Addresses: E-mail: Phone number: +233-24-3463287

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.