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Opinions of Saturday, 5 August 2017


Time to tackle sanitation seriously

Former President J.J. Rawlings Former President J.J. Rawlings

I certainly will (be the ambassador) and keep up the pressure. Don’t ease up at all. There is a lot of fight ahead of us. When you can’t change people’s habit, change the environment and make them respond to it. It brings about a social sense of responsibility. That is what we need to restore the discipline that we used to be associated with’ (Ex-President J.J. Rawlings)

He made this profound statement when he was made the Sanitation Ambassador to lead the campaign in the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). The problem of insanitary conditions afflicting this nation is not limited to the AMA or the other Metropolis in the country. Today, it is an undeniable fact that even the villages which used to see communalism as a vehicle in keeping the communities clean, are becoming filthy. It is sad to observe that mountains of refuse are what welcome most visitors to most of our communities at the outskirts of the towns.

What went wrong is the question we have to ask ourselves. Sanitation issues are primarily the responsibilities of the Local and Town Councils, which broadly, are now Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies and their respective sub-Metropolitan, Area and Urban and Town Councils. The then dreaded ‘Papa Tankas’ or ‘Samansaman’ were derived from the activities of sanitary inspectors of old coming from the Town Councils to inspect the homes and the communities to check poor insanitary conditions.

‘Samansaman’ is derived from the word summons because the sanitary inspectors issued summons to homes and occupants of households which did not meet the basic sanitary and environmental conditions as required by the officials of the Local and Town Councils to appear before the local courts.

Those were the days, when as a child, the biggest offence one could commit was not to have disposed of the toilet of a younger sibling in the absence of your mother or father at the public place of convenience. Parents were so conscious of the ubiquitous presence of Papa Tankas and the subsequent issuance of court summons. For a parent to come to hear that he or she has been summoned (saman) to appear in court on a stated date was a hell.

People were very environmentally conscious and managed their wastes and refuse better and in the process maintained a cleaner environment than we have today. These are the people subsequent generations described as ‘colo’ people. I am happy to be part of the ‘colo’ people even though I was born after the exit of the colonial masters from power.

Our consumption in this ‘civilized’ times have increased so much but we do not seem to know what to do and how to manage the end products of our voracious ways of consumption. The nation is today overwhelmed by mountainous heaps of refuse in almost every community we live. Our drains are choked with filth, water bodies are dead because of what we dump into them. Instead of the free flowing rivers, the cheapest and most convenient means of disposing of refuse is to drop them in drains.

Efforts by various governments in the past to deal with these challenges have not achieved the desired results. The factors are hydra headed, ranging from population explosion particularly in the urban and peri-urban centres, poor and myopic planning by our development planning agencies, non-enforcement of laws and bye-laws to deal with the citizenry, inadequate funding to deal with sanitation related issues, the absence of or the inability to employ modern technology and best practices elsewhere, among others to address the problem.

The worst among the insanitary conditions in our country has got to do with liquid waste management. It is amazing to know that a huge settlement and households in many of our towns and cities do not have places of conveniences in the twenty first century. They resort to the use of public places of conveniences which were originally put up for people in transit. Instead of tenants and the citizenry demanding the construction of places of convenience in their various homes, they call on the government to build public toilets for them.

The management of such public toilets, where they exist, have become political,-yes, a major source of livelihood for party soldiers, swinging between the NDC and the NPP. The followers of CPP, PPP, APC and their allies can never be managers of public toilets in this country, walahi!

Yes, as I was saying, past governments have put in place various measures intended to deal with this sordid sight of national dimensions. Today, we have the Ministry for Sanitation and Water Resources. Sanitation management of whatever form, solid or liquid has shifted from the Ministry for Local Government and Rural Development. The Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources recently acknowledged the very high levels of open defeacation throughout the country. Unsightly scene of adults openly easing themselves is very appalling to say the least.

However, effective implementation of any policies aimed at sanitizing the insanitary conditions in this country will require the collaborative efforts of the above two Ministries and the Office of the Head of Local Government Service. Indeed the direct involvement of the Ministry of Environment is required since a bad environment can be the product of insanitary practices and conditions.

No one thought that a day would come so soon when committed efforts by a leader, would inflict such deadly but legitimate attack on illegal miners who have made it a point to build their wealth by destroying our collective resources, our heritage and future. The success of the fight against galamsey and other illegal and uncontrolled desecration of the land and water bodies have become possible because of the commitment of the President of the Republic, but more importantly, his ability to carry the whole nation along to appreciate the need to halt the immense damage being done to ourselves.

This is the time to prick the nation’s conscience and let all of us come to the understanding that we cannot continue to create such filthy environment, live in it and expect to be healthy. In the not too distant past, cholera has taken so many lives needlessly. Other diseases like malaria are products of unhygienic conditions we create. In many markets throughout the country, food items are sold in visibly filthy environments. The damage we are inflicting on our health.

Just as the Minister for Land and Natural Resources with the collaboration of other Ministries launched the fight against galamsey, the three Ministries I have alluded to above, need to engage the media and solicit the support of the media in their quest to deal with people’s attitudes to the environment.

The relevant Ministries should develop jingles and messages in all known languages spoken in the country and must educate the public on the benefits of a healthy and sane sanitary practices. Messages that also bring to the fore, the problems we go through as individuals and as a nation should be developed as well and played 24 hours a day. One may ask whether we will be in a position to pay for such advertisements.

My answer is if we properly engage the media operators, particularly the electronic media, we can ask them to give us a minimum of 15 minutes air time where the jingles and the messages would be aired as part of their contributions towards ensuring a sane and clean environment. We are only asking the media to slot a minute of a jingle as they engage in their programmes for fifteen times a day. If this is employed throughout the country from 6am-6pm each day, we shall wake up.

Various activities of citizens that create filthy conditions, from dumping of refuse into drains, throwing of waste from moving vehicles, disposing of plastic waste with careless abandon among many others should be tackled. While tackling these, the MMDAs must also provide the facilities for waste disposal and cleaning.

I would want to see a major launch of this fight by the President, Nana Akufo Addo with ex -Presidents Rawlings, J.A.Kufuor and John Mahama as part of the launch. We shall overcome. Daavi, give me three tots of the bitters.