Feature Article of Sunday, 7 October 2012

Columnist: Oppong-Ansah, Albert

Turning Waste to Gain-

The Community-led Total Sanitation Initiative

A GNA feature by Albert Oppong-Ansah

Thanks to the Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) intervention, Yong, a predominantly farming community in the Savelugu/Nanton Municipality of the Northern Region, has been transformed into a clean environment.

Since 2009 the community members have strictly observed and embraced the CLTS innovation introduced by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and this has yielded great health and economic dividends to the joy and relief of the people. Incidentally, Yong is among the 80 communities in the Region that accepted to practice the CLT when it was piloted.

Some beneficiaries of the project told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that they were no longer scared about the risk of poor sanitation and related diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid.

The community has innovated ways of safely disposing of faeces of children who used to defecate on refuse dumps and other open places.

They now defecate in holes whilst wood ash is applied on the faeces to suppress the foul odour and prevent it from attracting flies.

Mr Musa Ibrahim, chief of the community, said it never occurred to the people that the excreta, which they considered as waste, but which caused many communicable diseases, could be transformed into gain for the locality.

To help reduce the high rate of open defecation (OD) in the country, UNICEF, as part of its six-year agenda (2006 to 2011) to improve sanitation, introduced the CLTS, which is a methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate OD.

Under the innovation, communities were assisted to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of OD and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation-free).

Mrs Clara Dube, Chief Field Officer of UNICEF, explained that at the heart of CLTS lay the recognition that merely providing toilets did not guarantee their use, nor result in improved sanitation and hygiene.

CLTS therefore focuses on the behavioural change needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements and investing in community mobilisation, thus shifting the focus from toilet construction for individual households to the creation of “open defecation-free” villages.

CLTS triggers the community’s desire for change, propels them into action and encourages innovation, mutual support and appropriate local solutions, thus leading to greater ownership and sustainability.

Gbandu, a community in the Tolon/Kumbungu District, had its first sanitation project in 2004 by the Environmental Health Unit of the District Assembly with financial support from the Carter Centre Trachoma Programme.

Although latrines were provided for every household, open defecation continued until UNICEF initiated CLTS in the area.

Mr Daniel Fuseni, 70, Chairman of the nine-member Gbandu Community Hygiene Volunteer, told GNA that before the intervention 20 children under-five died annually of health related diseases.

Some elders in the community attributed the frequent deaths to spiritual curses until health officials confirmed that they were caused by people living and eating in unhygienic conditions.

Through CLTS the people could now treat the faeces, which is the cause of maternal and infant deaths, to decompose in three months to enable the pathogens to die, after which ash is used to treat it to suppress the odour.

The treated organic manure is then applied for crop production. Fuseini said his maize yield, for instance, had increased significantly from four bags (84 kilograms) per two acres to 16 bags per the same acreage.

He is therefore able to generate enough revenue to fund the education of his children. Madam Memuna Azuma 30, a resident of Yong said the health of she and her family had improved and she was able to sell her husband’s yam and cereals.

Mr Salam Laar, Municipal Environmental Officer, said Yong and other communities which embraced CLTS, had been certified as OD-free communities due to their strict adherence to environmental cleanliness.

“Anytime I visit the community, I find a clean environment and this is very encouraging,” he said. Mrs Dube, in an interview with GNA, said the nation was lagging behind meeting the target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Sanitation and Child and Maternal Health.

The 2008 MDG report indicated that open defecation had declined marginally from 24.4 per cent in 2006 to 23.1 per cent in 2008.

This implies that about 5.4 million people practiced open defecation during the period.

Large proportions of the populations in Northern Region, Upper East Region and Upper West Region are less likely to have access to improved sanitation facilities as an average of four per cent of the population have access to improved sanitation facilities compared to 25 per cent in Greater Accra and 15 per cent in the Eastern Region.

President John Dramani Mahama in a policy statement noted that sanitation posed problems to rural and urban water supplies and Government policy had encouraged the decentralisation of sanitation delivery, but the plan was poorly implemented.

The huge sums of money which government has over the years invested in controlling cholera and managing waste in cities could be channelled into better use if the CLTS innovation is adopted by Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to deal with the challenges.

The MMDAs must enforce their bye-laws on sanitation and ensure that people have toilets in their homes to prevent OD.