Even though Ghana is currently doing very poorly in achieving its sanitation MDG target with an abysmal national coverage figure of just 12.4 % as at 2008 (GDHS), enforcing sanitation laws which exist in the country’s statute books is not one of the options that government is considering in order to overcome the enormous challenge.
Instead, it has put in place a strategy that will enable it appreciate the understanding communities, individuals and households have of sanitation issues and at what level they are in adhering to good sanitation practices.
This, strategy, it is envisaged will better inform government on the right approach to take in handling the country’s overwhelming sanitation challenge, and also enable it make meaningful gains in reaching the country’s MDG target of 53% in improved sanitation by 2015.
Making this known at a press conference organised by the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation with support from WaterAid Ghana on Wednesday in Accra on the Government of Ghana’s renewed commitments on sanitation, water and hygiene, Mr. Othniel Habila, representing development partner UNICEF, said “The overall strategy we will be using, which has been tested in so many sectors, is that we do not want to start with enforcement at the beginning of our change in behaviour. We want as much as possible to spend a bit more time with people. We can work together with them, to make sure that they do understand what the issues are.”
He said the first point of call is to do an assessment of what they know and what their attitudes are, what their behaviour is, and their practice.
Mr. Habila continued that this will enable understanding of how people understand the issue of sanitation, adding that it is a much more challenging issue than dealing with water.
According to Othniel Habila, that informs their decision to start from that point, asserting that “this is what has been happening in the country overall.”
He informed that presently in Ghana, “there is a clear strategy for beginning in communities, individuals and households, to see exactly where they are and then to agree on how to move forward to change behaviour at the household level and at the community level.”
The UNICEF representative added that government and development partners are working together to make sure there is a much more conducive, supportive environment for households, communities and individuals to be able to respond to legislation and bye-laws, in relation to checking behaviour concerning sanitation and hygiene practices .
He said though it is not an easy thing to do, they are making some progress, divulging that a key strategy they are using in Ghana now is Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), to make sure they work towards getting communities to recognise the issue of open defecation and for good practice in respect to waste disposal and to ensure that they begin to see the need to change that behaviour.
Mr. Othniel Habila reiterated that the joint government and development partners team have recorded a level of success in terms of behavioural change and the change of practices in communities, which makes them believe that is the way to go.
He divulged that the national working group on sanitation is taking forward an evaluation that was done recently in 2009 on the different sanitation practices and methods used to improve sanitation practices, in order to develop a strategy to reach more communities within Ghana.
To him, if Ghana goes purely the legislative and enforcement way, much cannot be achieved.
The UNICEF representative serving on the national working group on sanitation was responding to the question of what is being done to enforce sanitation practices in Ghana.
Earlier, he intimated that Ghana’s development partners are working with government to develop a Sector Strategic Development Plan (SSDP), adding “This is one of the chief pillars for implementing government policy and also for implementing commitments such as these;” as have been made in the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Ghana Compact.
Othniel Habila further divulged that early 2011, it is expected that the draft of the SSDP will be ready for the water and sanitation sector. He reminded that already there is in existence the National Environmental Sanitation Strategic Action Plan, which was developed collaboratively between the Ghana Government and other development partners.
He was of the view that these two plans coming into being will really help in some of the matters relating to issues such as the absorption of funds in the sanitation and water sector.
Touching on education on sanitation, he stated that in Ghana, there are a lot of concerted efforts between government, development partners and NGOs in that direction.
Despite this positive assertion, the sanitation situation that existed just four years ago in the country has not experienced any significant improvement.
According to the Water and Sanitation Monitoring Platform (WSMP), Ghana Graphical Presentation 2008 publication, for a period of 15 years, which is between 1990 and 2006, use of improved sanitation facilities in Ghana improved from only six percent to 10%, which makes Ghana far off-track in terms of progress towards achieving MDGs for sanitation.
It states further that “With this growth rate Ghana will achieve only about 14% instead of the expected 53% by 2015.”
Also, the WSMP summary sheet 2009 report on the status of Ghana’s drinking water and sanitation sector, indicates that the country’s national coverage for improved sanitation increased from four percent to 12.4 percent between 1993 and 2008, an increase of just 2.4% from 2006 to 2008.
However, for urban populations, improved sanitation coverage increased by approximately eight percent, appreciating from 10% in 1993 to 17.8% in 2008, whereas for rural populations, it was from one percent to 8.2% for the same period.
The report notes that in view of this, improved sanitation in rural populations went up by 6%, compared to just 3% for urban in the same period. It states further that “The gap between the present national coverage on improved sanitation of 12.4% and the 53% target by 2015 indicates that there must be approximately five times increase in coverage to be able to achieve the set target.”
According to the report, projected coverage for 2015 for improved sanitation will be 15%, if progress made between 1990 and 2008 remains constant, while further analysis of available data indicates that for Ghana to reach its MDG target of 53% for use of improved sanitation by 2015, it will mean that as much as 1.2 million people need to use or have access to improved sanitary facilities every year till 2015, with retrospective effect from 2008.