By Edmund Smith-Asante, ACCRA
|Mr David Duncan|
There has been no improvement in sanitation coverage in the country for three years because neither the government nor the public has given priority to issues of sanitation in the country, the Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at UNICEF, Mr David Duncan, has stated.
Indicating that Ghana’s unenviable tag stemmed from its poor performance of 15 per cent access to improved sanitation as stated in the 2011 Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), he said three years down the line, according to the 2014 Demographic Health Survey (DHS), the situation remained the same.
“The challenge is that as other countries progress, there is a real chance that Ghana may slip even further,” he warned. Mr Duncan said: “The other challenge is that the country has not moved forward in terms of actual access rates.”
In 25 years, Ghana was only able to advance in sanitation access from seven per cent in 1990 at the start of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to 15 per cent in 2015 at the end, and showed a percentage increase of eight.
“Our concern is that coming to the end of the MDGs we seem to have stabilised and are not moving forward further, and this is not based on some external assessment or some international experts coming in. This is Ghana’s own data from the Ghana Statistical Service,” he stated.
He said in the 15 years of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Ghana would have to move up 85 per cent in sanitation coverage, cautioning that “if we don’t move it forward in five years, the challenge will move from very very challenging to almost impossible.”
He indicated that what was of concern to him was that countries in West Africa which had lower GDP than Ghana’s $1,800 as of 2013, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Lesotho, Mauritania, Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe and Cameroun, all had much higher sanitation coverage.
Mr Duncan said the experience in other countries such as Ethiopia showed that it was possible to accelerate sanitation coverage. “At the start of the MDGs in 1990, Ethiopia had three per cent coverage but they moved to 28 in the period of 10 years,” he noted.
It’s not about money
Expressing his worry at the trend, Mr Duncan said it had not arisen because of the lack of money, since much was being invested by the development partners such as UNICEF, to aid Ghana to come out of the woods in sanitation coverage. “It’s about how countries are choosing to use it”, he said.
UNICEF, which is the development partner with the greatest investment in sanitation, has invested about $6 million annually towards sanitation and plans to invest $8 million next year.
However, this is counting for nothing due to the lack of prioritisation of sanitation and the lack of willingness by the Government of Ghana to invest in behaviour change programmes, according to UNICEF.
“I am frustrated that the progress is not fast enough. My frustration is that most of us in the sector recognise that very simple things can make very large differences – simple things like the toilet usage, simple things like washing the hands and about 4,500 Ghanaian children die every year from simple diarrhoea.
“If Ghanaians are demanding more sanitation and better sanitation I think this will receive a great response from politicians,” he stated.
Mr Duncan, however, acknowledged that there had been some small improvements, for instance, in open defaecation, where the number of people practising it had reduced from 23 out of every 100 Ghanaians to 21 out of 100 Ghanaians – an improvement of two per cent, which translates to about 500,000 Ghanaians who have stopped open defaecation.
He nonetheless, stated that the change was not significant because of the “broad acceptance of open defaecation as normal,” citing especially the northern part of the country where he said open defaecation had been accepted because many households lacked any form of toilets.
He said the biggest change was in the rural areas, where there had been an increase of 10 per cent in access to shared improved toilets. There have also been some good initiatives in terms of broad sanitation issues and awareness in terms of the National Sanitation Day, he added.
Mr Duncan suggested an investment of at least GH¢5 million each year in sanitation as a starting point at the local level, to support behaviour change in the communities by providing fuel and other logistics for field staff to complement an already existing Rural Sanitation Management Strategy which relies on cheap and effective methods of behaviour change.
“The emphasis is not on government finding money for the capital. The strategy is about empowering individual households and helping them understand why sanitation is important and helping them make decisions about what they want to do about it,” he stressed.
He also asked for true commitment from the government and “not the words that ‘I am committed to’, but actually falling through delivery, providing the limited funds that are required to support it and ensuring that there is accountability from the top to the bottom, holding district assemblies which also have some responsibility accountable for delivering on it.” Mr Duncan said it would be very difficult to make progress if politicians and district assemblies were not held accountable.
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This story was first published by the Daily Graphic on November 23, 2015