As I walked through the Tulaku Community – May 22, 2017, a suburb of the Ashaiman Municipality in the Greater Accra Region, one early morning I realized most households lacked access to toilet facilities.
Children and adults squatted around the fields to attend to nature’s call. With my curiosity to find out whether it was the same thing in other communities in the Ashaiman Municipality, I decided to visit Valco Flat, Christian Village and some part of Lebanon and Zenu, and it was worse.
In fact at Lebanon Zone 2, I saw a young woman in her mid-30s squatting and easing herself in a field near the dam.
Open defecation refers to the practice whereby people resort to defecating in fields, bushes, forests, open bodies of water, or other open spaces rather than using the toilet.
Effort to assuage poverty cannot be fully accomplished if access to a good sanitation system is left out. In spite of decades of efforts of government and donor – supported investments in sanitation, public utilities in many communities in Ghana have been unable to meet the demand for sanitation services.
Ghana’s sanitation status is not encouraging in meeting the MDG 7, with an average national coverage of about 55% as at 2010, with very low numbers for some regions – Western Region: 50%, Central Region: 55%. Greater Accra Region: 80%, Volta Region: 35%, Eastern Region: 60%, Ashanti Region: 65%, Brong Ahafo Region: 45%, Northern Region: 20%, Upper East Region: 10%, and Upper West Region: 20%.
Ghana loses GHS1.13 billion every year in addressing the issue of open defecation whilst 3,600 children under five die annually from diarrhoea, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Health Observatory data repository – Ghana. The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2014 report indicates that over 5 million Ghanaians defecate in the open.
Ashaiman, a historical satellite town of Tema, is still struggling with the availability of basic toilet facilities in most households and strategic points such as market centers, lorry stations, car parking points, among others.
The acute and chronic nature of sanitation problem at the four corners of the Ashaiman community reflected in the high level of open defecation, raises an eyebrow and as such has attracted much public concern in recent times.
Most landlords and landladies, do not treat the availability of toilet facilities in their homes as a necessity that contribute to human development, hence the absence of toilet facilities in most households in the community. People are therefore, left with no other alternative than to defecate in polythene bags, gutters, bathrooms, behind buildings, and so on.
For some, open defecation is just a normal practice where most tenants in compound houses, go to a nearby field or bush to defecate. There is therefore, a need for a radical change for people to move from some of the things they consider normal, to actually building a toilet and using a toilet.
Lack of adequate toilet (latrine) facilities in certain areas within the municipality such as Tulaku, ‘Taabo’ line, some part of Valco Flat area, Lebanon, Zenu, New town, among others, contribute to the low sanitary coverage. Residents do not have toilet facility in their homes and for that matter, the only means of responding comfortably to ‘nature’s call’ is via “open defecation” and defecating in black polythene bags.
Such practices have become the culture of the area, forgetting that this excreta undoubtedly, may find its way into available water source, leading to sanitation-related diseases such as typhoid, cholera, diarrhea and dysentery. If by any means one picks up a black polythene bag anywhere in the Ashaiman community, hoping to have find a fortune, is likely to find a misfortune.
In Ashaiman, people are more willing to pay for water, and food than they are for sanitation services (toilet facilities) and for the promotion of hygiene. However, the health of water and food supply can be properly maximized if the neglected service (sanitation) is effectively provided. While the issue of open defecation is usually overlooked during reform processes, they must be given higher priority to achieve the greatest possible improvement in health and wellbeing from the appropriate sector reform.
It is not a hidden fact that the practice of open defecation in Ashaiman is still very alarming, with current data suggesting that almost a quarter of the Ashaiman population lack access to adequate improved latrine facilities.
The sad aspect is that some basic schools in the municipality also lack sanitation facilities such as improved toilets and urinal facilities compelling students and teachers to resort to nearby bush for open defecation. This also exposes them to dangers such as snake and bee bites.
There are few public toilet facilities, which is highly outweighed by the number of people within the community. Due to this inadequacy, some of its people have resorted to open defecation in drainage systems, behind buildings, bushes and so on.
This phenomenon is not limited to Ashaiman alone. Area such as Tema, Ada, Dawhenya, etc, are victims as well.
Impact of Open Defecation
It is very pertinent to note that the impact of open defecation on the socio-economic development in the municipality is underestimated.
Health experts have confirmed there is a strong direct correlation between open defecation and diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid, among others. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the wake of cholera outbreak most people were affected in communities where open defecation is practised. The outbreak of the diseases has led to many deaths as witnessed in the 2014 outbreak when cholera claimed lives. Some breadwinners lost their lives leaving their dependants to suffer.
Also, the productivity sectors such as agriculture, industries, trade and the economy of the municipality are affected as majority of the labour force are affected by the outbreak of sanitation related diseases like cholera.
Most importantly, open defecation can lead to increased poverty. People tend to spend greater percentage of their salaries and wages on medical bills, the purchase of orthodox medicine, herbal medicine and so on, when their relatives and/or themselves are affected by sanitation related diseases. This has a great impact on their economic status with the low income earning individual becoming poor and the poverty gap widening.
The way forward
• Change in human behavior
To achieve a successful battle against open defecation in Ashaiman, the people must endeavour to change their behaviours by adopting behaviours that seeks to protect the environment, as well as the health of people. People must begin to see sanitation as a shared responsibility rather than a solely government responsibility. There should be constant public education, if possible, door-to-door education to sensitize the public on the need to avoid or eschew open defecation.
• Adoption of strict effective sanitation legislation
The Ashaiman Municipal Assembly (AshMA) and the member of parliament for the Ashaiman constituency, Hon. Ernest Norgbe, should adopt draconian measures in the form of by-laws, underlining broad principles such as environmental sanitation service as a public good, an economic good, and the polluter-pays-principle to caution the public in order to mitigate the practice of open defecation in the municipality.
• Increased budgetary allocation for investment in sanitation, operation and maintenance plan
The Municipal Assembly must increase its annual budgetary allocation to improve investment in sanitation infrastructure via the passing and approval of a resolution to set aside a certain percentage of the Municipal Assembly Common Fund, solely for investment in sanitation infrastructure. This fund should be used in the construction of adequate improved public toilets in certain areas and strategic points such as market centers, lorry stations, and so on. This would go a long way to reduce the percentage of people practicing open defection in the community.