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Opinions of Friday, 7 February 2014

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Waste Management is not Rocket Science!!

My fellow Ghanaians, you sashay into the office on a bright Monday morning. Your tummy is crowded with a compact bowl of tom brown and cautiously, you nurse very high spirits. Without warning or provocation, your co-worker confronts you with a picture as gross as the one above. Prior to this unexpected confrontation, you’ve been pulling rank about your country and city of birth. All of a sudden, the cat is out of the bag and you’ve lost credibility. Your co-workers are giggling and murmuring as they wonder how your people live with such teeming filth. And yes, there are much more inspiring aspects of Accra but can we ignore the metastasizing and festering filth? Evidently, every country has its own filthy spots but is that a good enough excuse to tolerate this deadly stew of bilge? How long can we tolerate this? Is Ghana ready for the impending epidemic that lurks around the corner? Should we think about prevention instead of cure?

First let me ask this question: Does the president live in Accra? Is our parliament operating live in Accra? Is the AMA (Accra Metropolitan Authority) still in existence? Who really is minding the store called Ghana? Is Accra still the capital? If this is not disgraceful, I don’t know what is. This is one more crystal clear example of the lack of leadership in Ghana in general but surely Accra in particular. How can we make the case that 70% of our national budget goes to pay wages, perks and benefits of government officials when this bull continues? How really do we expect to attract investments, live healthily and bequeath a prosperous country to posterity if we continue to live like pigs? There are million dollar mansions sprouting all over Accra but right next to these mansions lay inescapable disease causing filth, created by human indifference and abject ignorance. Is this our golden age and Ghana 2020 mantra? Why have we dulled our conscience to this menace?

What fascinates me the most is that waste management is not rocket science. If people like me do get it, why not our all knowing leaders? Why can’t our leaders see this mess and deal with it permanently? Yes, I mean permanently!! Trust me on this, the mess that we frolic in is not new. I blame our past and current leadership for lack of vision on this issue. It is rather obvious that as our population expands, so will our waste. The past colonial systems, designed to deal with waste, are no longer adequate and sustainable. In comes the glorious opportunity to think out of the box and put permanent solutions in place. Instead of embracing this challenge and taking it head on, our leaders continue to dither. Please let’s raise this waste management issue in any forthcoming election.

There are three key stakeholders in this dance. The government, citizens and all others. All the aforementioned stakeholders have responsibilities as they do rights and privileges. Let me start first with our government. Government operates at all levels and must be held responsible. I am talking about the president right on down to your village chief. The government has a responsibility to make sure that we live in a clean environment. It must provide plans, resources, knowhow, rules, education and enforcement on the issue of waste management. So far, the government has failed eerily, if not miserably, to do its job. This is really true in the area of planning, resources and enforcement. Who is in charge and how can you hold them accountable? Figure it out!

Our citizens have not played their part in dealing with this waste management challenge. We are not disciplined in our waste disposal habits. We seem to operate as if our waste will vanish into thin air as long as we put it outside our immediate area of abode. So, we cast both solid and liquid waste into the atmosphere and worry not what happens after it leaves our sweaty palms. We’ve not demanded that waste management be part of any development effort. We refuse to recognize that waste management is a service that must be paid for. Besides, we fail to acknowledge that the lack of proper disposal habits could cause severe health and environment problems leading to catastrophic economic loses. This is how close this problem is to our very survival. Wake up Ghanaians!!

As a result of our inability to maintain a rigorous waste disposal regime, our visitors either find unique ways to deal with their waste or just plain stay away. They either add to the decadence or shun us. Yet, we are all over the place begging for foreign investors to come in. Lack of proper waste management is impacting tourism negatively. Even those of us born in Ghana worry about our visits. The current status is simply unacceptable and must be corrected immediately!

I believe that we must demand, fist on wood, that, our leaders come up with a game plan to cure our waste disposal woes. We need a national plan that is segmented to cover all regions, districts and localities. The first step is to bring back the hygiene classes in our schools. Secondly, we should establish waste management units in all our institutions of learning starting from grade one to university level. We need awareness and technical skills to deal with this urgent matter. Our government must not only fund the latter, but make it a burning issue. Thirdly, the government must provide resources to sustain the clean up regime. This means specific consumption taxes that helps create employment and provide the tools in the waste management arena. In addition, this revenue steam must pay for enforcement and severe punishment for those who violate the rules and regulations around waste management. We need stiff fines! Bring back the “town council” folks!

While I make the case for our leaders to make the effort to drum up a public plan for waste disposal, I don’t want to give the impression that I am leaving the citizenry off the hook. We are just as responsible as the government, in making sure that we properly dispose of our waste. We need citizen advocacy and leadership. We have the responsibility to make sure that our neighborhoods do not become refuse dumps and bastions of toxic waste. Sometimes it may take a little bit of volunteer work on the weekend to help clean up. Public education and seminars are a must in this effort. The most important thing is to create awareness, develop a system of clean up and stay engaged.

All the above will not materialize if the leaders, starting with the president, cannot acknowledge the waste management problem and create a sustainable plan to solve it. We need SMART waste management goals. We can no longer get by with a waste management system that does not separate storm water from a waste water system. We can no longer pump feces into the sea and live with mosquito breeding gutters even as we import ineffective malaria medicine into the country. We cannot build markets and not worry about where the market women (human beings) and their customers will ease themselves. We need public facilities as well as mandate private facilities to ensure that everyone lives in a healthy sustainable environment. Given the level of unemployment, why can’t we deal with this waste management problem once and for all? Why?

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the double edge sword but mobbed fervently as Santrofi Anumaa)

I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think its hell---Harry Truman