Adwoamanu’s Weblog

Just another weblog

Let’s also see to the garbage!

By James Harry Obeng

News of a renewed political clash between followers of the ruling New Patriotic Party [NPP] and the minority National Democratic Congress [NDC], as per a Ghanaian Times report front-paged September 2, 2008, has at least six compatriots killed and many others, notably women and children, sustain various degrees of injuries at Kpatinga in the Gushiegu district of the Northern region, the unimaginable worth of properties and buildings set ablaze into irretrievable obliteration notwithstanding. Families too are said to have been displaced whilst others fled to nearby communities to escape death.

This ill-development, especially occurring three months to general elections, no doubt gives room to the national worry amply evident and corroborated in the way media agenda and attention have been set in the past few weeks towards calming frayed tempers. The situation is undeniably devastating to warrant the media spotlight and government interventions it is currently enjoying, albeit the blame game and over-politicization of the issue seem to prolong putting the situation to rest.

 Last two week, September 4, the Minister of Interior, Hon Kwame Addo Kufuor, also ordered the arrest and immediate prosecution of any individual or party who will be found in connection with disturbances, all in attempts to finding an effective prophylactic to the spillover. 

But just as the government is tirelessly seen to be working out an antidote to arrest the situation embattling our brothers and sisters at Gushiegu, I would also at this juncture wish to alert Ghanaians, especially government and the media, to an ever-abandoned disaster which consequences remain equally devastating, if not overwhelming, than the excesses of political violence.

This phenomenon is not only claiming precious lives by the turn of the clock, especially that of innocent children, but also continue to make a complete phantom of the international goodwill the country and its leadership enjoy globally. In fact, and in straightforward simple language, it paints no other picture of the country than “Ghanaians are dirty people”. I am talking about the status quo of sanitation in the country.

Just as one approaches Makola [immediately after the traffic lights at Rawlings Park] in the Central Business District [CBD] of Accra, the nation’s capiltal and the seat of government, the sideway of that section of the road heading towards the Kwame Nkrumah Circle is always buried in waste composed of plastics, feaces and rotten foodstuffs heaped over there by officials of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly [AMA]. The reek in that part of the city is outrageously inhuman and unbearable to passers-by and passengers, although market women and itinerant sellers who conduct brisk businesses there seem unperturbed by the mind-blowing stench that stair at them daily. They are simply the makers of the mess over there.

In fact, this sordid picture captured here represents only a modicum of the city’s insanitary condition compared to other suburbs like the Kanehie and Agbogbloshie markets, just to mention a few. There are also worse snapshots in other parts of the country with an estimated 3,200 tonnes of solid waste generated daily in the five largest cities in the country [Kumasi, Sekondi Takoradi, Accra, Tamale and Tema], alone.

Addressing journalists at a workshop on sanitation organized by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development [MLGRD] in collaboration with the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations [NGOs] in Water and Sanitation [CONIWAS], last month, the Director of Environmental Health and Sanitation at MLGRD, Mr Naa Lenarson Demedeme, indicated that on estimation, every Ghanaian individual contributes half a kilogram of waste to the sanitation situation per day. The country, he noted, is able to manage only 30 per cent of the waste generated daily, the remaining deficit of 70 per cent accounting for the incremental heaps of rubbish enveloping the country.

Again, a snapshot of sanitation issued by a UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Team in February has ranked Ghana as the 48th country in Africa with the worst progress in sanitation. The report which assessed 51 countries in Africa also ranked the country the 14th out of 15 countries in West Africa with poor sanitation record, only managing to upstage Niger to the last spot. This development, according to Mr Demedeme, means that “the country is off track in achieving the Millenium Development Goals [MDSs] on sanitation,” targeting the reduction by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

By this, I have long wondered the miracle that will eventually set the country to meet the much touted MDGs, especially the Goal Seven, which is central to meeting all the MDGs, but yet remains the one towards which very little progress has been made in our country. The hypocrisy of politicians and the over-concentration on politics by the media in this regard is therefore absolutely unpardonable and detestable.

Another unbearable spectacle in our cities nowadays that, aside its far-reaching health consequences, have rendered the country to global ridicule is the issue of open defecation by some Ghanaians at everywhere imaginable. Prominently engendered by the inadequacy of toilet facilities in households or public latrines due to poor country planning, it is estimated that more than four million people in the country defecate in the bush, water bodies, or fields and more shamelessly at open drains and gutters. The culprits of this shameful practice often cite such implausible reasons that those places are more airy, convenient and economical to back their dastard acts.

There are also Ghanaians who do not want to add their shit to those of others in one pit for several superstitious and cultural reasons. Visitors and tourists who, for the country’s enviable democratic credentials and investment prospects, swamp the country by the passage of the day therefore end up by laughing at the country as they always see so-called ‘peace-loving’ Ghanaians dotted along the drains and gutters defecating.

According to the Ghana Statistical Service Multiple Indicator Survey [MICS] Report for 2006, open defecation is prevalent in all the ten regions of Ghana. While the national average as per the report is 20 per cent [an improvement from 24 per cent recorded in 1990], the practice is most widespread in the Upper East Region with about 82 per cent of the people without any form of latrine, followed by the Upper West Region with 79 percent and the Northern Region with about 73 per cent.

The human excreta left in the open fields, bushes or drains generate millions of viruses, bacteria and parasites. The situation invariably necessitates houseflies which fly between the feaces and the food [including fruits] we eat, and contaminate them in the process. We, thus, inadvertently eat our own or other peoples’ feaces, and open ourselves up for ailments that can lead to disastrous consequences.

Rains also wash away most of these human excreta left in the open into rivers, ponds, open wells, lagoons and beaches. The MICS report again indicates about 19 per cent of the population [nearly 4.2 million people] still rely on untreated water from dams, streams, pond, rivers and open wells for water for drinking and cooking. These people may therefore have been drinking their own or other people’s faeces and unknowingly injecting themselves with germs and diseases. It is therefore no wonder that sanitation-related diseases like malaria, diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis top cases at the out-patient-departments [OPD] of hospitals in the country, accounting for 80 per cent of the cases reported at these facilities. Most children patients often do not make it out of these ailments.

With this, my Nigerian friend Bebe has always had genuine cause to deride the claim often made by our national leadership, that “Ghana is the gateway to Africa”. And she has always told me in the face that “if this is which that makes Ghana the gateway, then Nigeria has long surpassed been the destination”. Bebe could not be far from the reality.

But with the saying that “the only thing that government cannot do is changing a man into a woman” and vice versa, I still sense all is not lost; not at all.  The minutest political will is all it patently entails to ignite a turnaround towards an unprecedented magic. I am therefore patiently waiting for the day that any of the presidential candidates to the December polls will graciously roll out his agenda on salvaging mother Ghana from the grips of stinking filth. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables quips that “the history of men is reflected in the history of sewers…..the sewer is the conscience of a city”. 

I also challenge my colleagues in the media to capitalize on this year which has been declared the International Year of Sanitation by the UN General Assembly to mark a departure from the ever-infectious “he said” or “has said” style of reporting speeches to more comprehensive forms that bring to the fore the necessity for us all to have better sanitation. Nothing can exponentially cause attitudinal change in people and put ‘big men’ on their toes than the might of the media. Let’s not equate our responsibility to society and humankind to dancing to the tunes of “solidarity fees.”

In all our approaches as Ghanaians to ensuring improved sanitation for all, we should always remember Mahatma Ghandi for one thing – “Sanitation is more important than independence”. Please, don’t litter!

But before I bow out, let me entreat my brothers and sisters in the north, especially at Kpatinga, to see themselves one people with common problems to fight against, but definitely not killing themselves because of politics and the influences of disgruntled, self-seeking politicians. A word to the wise is ……….



September 17, 2008 - Posted by | Features

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