BY EDMUND SMITH-ASANTE
Ghana is seriously off track, as far as improved sanitation coverage is concerned, with a current national figure of 13.4%, and that shows clearly that even in 100 years, the country will not achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on sanitation
The arguments advanced by some proponents of improved sanitation coverage however is that, Ghana currently has a low coverage because the Joint Monitoring Platform (JMP) consisting of the UNICEF and WHO, did not and do not consider shared facilities as improved.
Thus, those who advance such arguments believe if Ghana is able to make a case for the inclusion of shared toilets, that would significantly up the country’s current off track figure, because a lot of its citizens are using shared facilities.
They believe if the country’s own institutions such as the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) and Water and Sanitation Monitoring Platform (WSMP) are made to count the improved latrines (defined as a latrine if when used will not make the user’s buttocks touch the faeces) and include those that are shared, the gloomy picture that has been painted about Ghana would be made bright.
Indeed, that may be right, considering the fact that even those living in the big cities and towns who are supposed to have household toilets, largely depend on the public latrines built for transient populations.
It has been noted too that for even most households that have latrines, the number of families who depend on them are so huge that they cannot pass for improved facilities according to the JMP’s criterion.
But the main thrust of this editorial is not Ghana’s poor showing in sanitation coverage because shared facilities are not considered.
After visits to both rural and urban areas, despite the loud noises being made about Ghana’s low coverage, I observed that no deliberate strategy has been put in place by government, agencies, development partners and sector players, to invest in and assist in the provision of improved latrines for the Ghanaian people.
This however cannot be said about the provision of water, which has received very high investment over the years and still does. Even water and sanitation boards in most communities of the country still have their focus and all attention on potable water provision, often neglecting sanitation.
The reasons always given for these by government agencies are that sanitation is an individual affair, water will serve a lot of people while latrines will serve few, and that development partners do not invest in sanitation and that people always clamour for potable water and not latrines, with the reason being that they can always resort to the bush if they are hard pressed and want to defecate.
No wonder open defecation is still rife in this day and age in Ghana and will not go away anytime soon, simply by wishing it away.
The earlier we face up to the realities as a country and put in long lasting measures to change the trend as it is currently, the better it will be for us all. Otherwise we should forget about meeting our MDG sanitation target of 54% even in the next 100 years.
Some of the steps that can be taken as a country are:
1. a deliberate plan to assist in the provision of individual latrines for those who cannot afford;
2. proper and intensive education by the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) through Water and Sanitation Development Boards and Watsan Committees on the various affordable latrine models and the provision of technical support.
Other steps that can be taken are;
3. criminalising the putting up of houses and even shops for rent and other public places without the inclusion of latrines, which must go with effective monitoring and implementation of appropriate bye-laws by local government authorities and
4. an equal portion of funds from development partners for both water and sanitation and
5. generally an intensive national campaign for every household or house to have an improved latrine.
This national campaign involving all stakeholders, must be embarked on immediately by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, if Ghana is to make any headway in its sanitation coverage.