In Ghana today, not a single day passes by without some news of some kind in the media about sanitation. So one may ask, what is sanitation and why is it that important that everybody seem to be talking about it? Well, let’s try somehow to define or explain the word sanitation.
Some people define sanitation as a way of life, and that being a way of life, it must be expressed in a clean home, a clean environment and even a clean far. Others will define sanitation to be the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces so as to prevent illness and diseases. Yet still others say sanitation is measures put in place to protect the health and wellbeing of the people.
The common denominator in all the above explanations of what sanitation means is health and the prevention of diseases. This means that in many ways the health of a people is related and mostly determined by how serious or otherwise they take sanitation. It is therefore not a surprise that in the western world or for that matter the advance countries, sanitation is a priority in every facet of their developmental agenda. Sanitation is one of the major considerations in addition to water and electrical power in the developmental planning of any settlements in the western world. Can same be said of Ghana? Definitely not!
Over the years, many governments have come with their own sanitation plans, cancelling the plans of the previous government. I remember the national Sanitation Policy of the first NDC government. The first NPP government came and abolished it and formulated their policy. Then we had the National sanitation week celebrations. And yet again the next NDC government came with the monthly National clean up concept. One may then ask why is it that every government talk about the poor sanitation in the country and every Ghanaian complain about poor sanitation and yet nothing seems to change. What is the missing link here? The same people who talk and complain about the poor sanitation in the country are the same people who contribute to this development.
There are a number of factors that are contributing to this problem and I want to share some with my fellow Ghanaians.
- INDICIPLINE. Ghanaians are one of the most indiscipline group of people one can find anywhere in the world when it come s to the abuse of the environment. People just don’t care about the environment in which they live. Many people throw garbage into public drains blocking the free flow of waste water. Others throw their garbage in any open space they can find causing foul smell everywhere. Others use the drains as their toilets and defecate in them. Every street in the major towns and cities are littered by the same people who complain about the insanitary conditions. Funny enough, sanitation in the villages are far better than in the towns and cities.
Those living in the coastal belt have turned our beautiful beaches into toilets. All these practices lead to the spread of diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, and many other fecal oral diseases. The economic impact of this cannot be over emphasized. The medical cost, the time spent in hospitals which cannot be retrieved, the countless days away from work and many more. No one needs tell policy makers that sanitation is worth putting resources in to create the desired effect which is a healthy people. This must be the goal of every government.
- POLITICAL COMMITMENT. Even though every government talk about sanitation and its impact on their developmental agenda, very little attention if any is given to this cause. All we hear from the governments are slogans and catch phrases as if this alone can solve our ever increasing poor sanitation problems. If they want to seriously tackle this sanitation menace and be successful, then they must commit enough human and financial resources for this course. Government should seriously consider the involvement of the private sector in this area. As a matter of fact if government is serious about creating employment for the youth, this is one of the lucrative areas the government can engage and facilitate the private sector to take up the challenge. In this way the government will be killing two beds with one stone; creating employment for the people and solving the sanitation problems of the country.
- HUMAN RESOURCES. When it comes to adequate and trained human resource for tackling environmental sanitation, I think there is more than enough human resource in the country. The three Schools of Hygiene in Accra, Ho and Tamale have trained and continue to train Environmental Health Officers every year. Many of the products of these institutions have gone further to specialise in many other areas in environmental health and sanitation. Unfortunately many have moved to other more lucrative areas where their expertise are valued and appreciated. Many of those who have studied hard and completed their studies are still waiting for them to be employed even as at now. And yet their services are needed in the various Assemblies to help solve this problem. When will government wake up and employ these guys to solve the Assemblies man power shortages in their Environmental Health departments. Recently this government also coined out another catch phrase. They said they are going to form a sanitation brigade whatever that mean. I asked myself, what about the Environmental Health Department of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development? This is a department that is short of manpower and yet there are many graduates of the three schools of Hygiene waiting to be employed. Is this so call sanitation brigade going to employ these graduates or this is another way of creating jobs for the boys. If the government is unwilling to hire those trained with the tax payers money and adequately resourced to help fight this sanitation problem, then creating another body by way of sanitation brigade is not the solution to the problem
- OUT DATED SANITATION BY-LAWS. Many of the sanitation bye-laws in the various Assemblies are so out dated; they cannot impose any serious penalties on sanitation related offenders. The Government and District Assemblies must revise their bye-laws to be abreast with the times. Sanitation related penalties should be so severe so as to serve as deterrent to offenders. Even if it means jail time, this should be enforced to the later.
- BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION. This is one problem that exists in the various District, Municipal and Metro Assemblies. Many times, when sanitation offenders are arrested and they are unable to bribe the Environmental Health Officers, they run to politicians and other “BIG” men to intervene on their behalf instead of allowing the laws to deal with them. When they fail to corrupt the prosecuting officers, they run to the courts to find a way to reduce the penalty. When this happen, the officers who are in the field are demoralized and some end up falling into the bribe taking business. Who is the looser in situations like this? It is the people who are to be served. The Politicians and the powers that be must stop influencing the arresting officers and let them do their work. Sanitation offenders must be held responsible for their own actions no matter their status in society or who their friends and relations are.
- The writer is a former Principal Environmental Health Technologist and former Head of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department of the Sunyani Municipal Assembly, B/A, Ghana.We are all responsible for our actions. This small land is all we have. Let us value and appreciate it and keep it as clean as possible for generations yet to come.