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Opinions of Sunday, 21 November 2010

Columnist: Acheampong, Elvis Akwasi

The Import Of World’s Toilet Day To The Ordinary Ghanaian

19th November every year is a very important day on the world’s sanitation calendar. It is the day set aside to mark the world’s toilet day. For those who were born in to homes with three or four toilets, this day is another waste of United Nation’s resources. But on a flip side, it is estimated that about 2.6 billion people who forms nearly half of the world’s population do not have access to a toilet facility and proper sanitation. Unfortunately, Ghana is of no exception. According to statistics from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, about seventy percent of inhabitants of Accra, the capital city of Ghana do not have access to a toilet facility. The situation is even worse in the small towns and villages.
The purpose of the world’s toilet day is therefore something that all stakeholders of sanitation should embrace. It is therefore imperative for Ghana to take advantage of such an important day to educate people about the need to promote good sanitation. It should also be used as a platform to receive suggestions from sanitation experts and general public in order to device and implement policies that will promote good sanitation and raise the number of people who have access to toilet in the country.
A random interview conducted on streets of Accra by a local television network revealed that, seven out of ten people interviewed did not even know about the world’s toilet day. The remaining three said they know about it but it does not mean anything to them. This is indeed alarming. The issue of toilet and poor sanitation is a serious problem confronting us as a nation but unfortunately, these pertinent issues is given very little attention by the media and the various stake holders. There are serious health and environmental implications of lack of adequate toilet facilities and poor sanitation even though it is given the least attention in Ghana. Statistics from the World Health Organization reveals that, diarrheal diseases kill five times as many children in the developing world of which Ghana is part as HIV/AIDS, thus about 5,000 children die everyday as a result of poor sanitation.
Owing to the lack of adequate toilet facilities in the city and other part of the country, open defecation is almost a ‘norm’. People defecate anywhere they find convenient. Elsewhere in Europe and other advanced countries, beaches are a major recreational center for many outdoor events like picnic and major sources of revenue for local councils and metropolitan authorities. It is also an area inhabited by the rich and affluent. There is a sharp contradiction to this picture in Ghana; Ghana’s beaches are virtually a place where people attend to nature’s call. An early morning visit to the most beaches in Ghana reveal a very disheartening scene; People from all works of life, age and sex are seen defecating in a very bad and unique fashion. These people are mostly children and their parents, teenagers, old men and women and sometimes criminals. This action has almost become a norm, the culprits mostly illiterates do not see anything wrong with it because the practice has been with them even before the dinosaurs got perished from the face of the earth. An attempt to educate them about the dangers of their actions usually attracts insults and sometimes physical abuse. It is therefore very important for the authorities to educate people on the dangers of some of these primitive ‘custom’ and begin to arrest and prosecute defaulters. As Ghanaians, we all have to play our role in promoting sanitation and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals on sanitation and most importantly promote good life and cleanliness.
Research has also shown that, one gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs. This information is raises a red flag especially when people are defecating into our rivers and lakes which happen to be the major source of drinking waters for majority of people in Ghana. It is also been established that vegetable growers uses of sewages and other infested water to irrigate their farm. Most of these vegetables are also eaten raw, so your guess is as good as mine. The harvest of fish has reduced drastically due to rampant pollution by all manner of wastes. People who live down stream of these water bodies barely know what they drinking. Even if they do, they do not have a choice. Safe disposal of children's feces leads to a reduction of nearly 40% in childhood diarrhea and so the little effort that you make as a patriotic Ghanaian to help promote good sanitation will help save so many lives.
Most of the public toilets (mostly covered pit latrines) that were constructed for people who do not have a toilet facility in their house are in terrible structural physical and unhygienic states.
People will have to join long queues every morning in order to use the public toilet facility. People who do not want to be late for work resort to defecating in nearby bush and anywhere they find convenient. Others defecate in black polythene bags popularly known as ‘take away’ and dump them in the neighborhood when no one is watching. Most of the time, open it gutters where they find themselves. The appalling state the country’s public toilets are a strip on human dignity. These facilities are havens of maggots and houseflies. One can hardly bear the stench that emanates from these toilet facilities and users usually resort to smoking cigarettes while the ease themselves to mitigate the bad scent. The structures are very weak and there have been several reported cases where people have fallen into the toilet pit and died as a result. Ten Ghana pesewas that is charged as access fee is something that many people cannot afford .This and many other reasons deter people from using the facility and resort to other unapproved place to ease themselves. There is the need to take action to halt the situation if we really want to save lives and achieve sustainable economic growth.
Our cemeteries are not even revered anymore. Owing to the woefully inadequate toilet facilities in the country, some people have turned cemeteries into toilet facilities. When the mayor of Accra and his entourage visited the Awudome cemetery on his 50th birthday to help clean up the place, he bemoaned the manner in which the whole cemetery was splashed with human excreta. This is a clear indication that, Ghana is indeed in a sanitation crisis and there is the urgent need to address the issue with celerity and precision and there couldn’t be a better day to stage this campaign than the World’s Toilet Day.
To me, World Toilet Day is not a day to attend executive conferences and enjoy dinner like our policy makers normally do. It is a day to promote good sanitation at the grassroots level. It is the day to for us to come together as one people and device innovative sanitation policies and ensure their effective implementation. The sanitation situation in the country is dehumanizing and is the indirect cause of numerous deaths that are reported in our various hospitals. Arguably, poor sanitation is one of the major causes of Ghana’s poverty and underdevelopment. Though world’s sanitation day is the only day we can promote good sanitation, it is indeed a very good platform. To me, the gate way to Ghana’s economic emancipation is promotion of good sanitation and provision portable water to all.


Elvis Akwasi Acheampong
President of Green Ghana Foundation.