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Ghanaian media takes on fight against open defecation

To the media, reporting on issues is usually the normal drill. But when media professionals decide to stick out their necks on an issue by taking a stand that borders on advocacy, then they are damn serious and mean business.

Toilet facility provided under the Ghana Water and Sanitation Project (GAMA) at the Madina Cluster of Schools in the La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Area

Therefore, to warrant such media attention, the issue must be wrong to a very large extent, obnoxious, injurious to the welfare of the general populace and environment, abnormal and contrary to social norm practices or must just be a menace, period.

Additionally, the issue must have been attracting attention from concerned institutions and organisations including public entities, civil society and development partners. Somehow, they are gurus in prompting, if not directly setting and influencing the agenda for national development. So, when the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate, then under the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development with support from UNICEF started tackling open defecation as a major issue, the Ghanaian media noted it.

Again, when the World Bank, SNV and World Vision International Ghana, among other development partners, got involved in the fight against open defecation by initiating and supporting diverse projects, their move got media attention.

In line with this, and with the support of World Vision International Ghana and the Coalition of NGOS in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS), the Media Coalition against Open Defecation (M-CODe) was formed and launched in September 2018.

The Coalition aims to mainly intensify public sensitisation on the menace of open defecation. It is a practice whereby people defecate free range in any available space, bush, uncompleted buildings, gutters and drains, along river banks and beaches or indiscriminately throw away wrapped-up faeces and leaving the faeces in the open, exposed to the elements.

Against this background, members of the Coalition were acting based on an appreciation that open defecation “is the riskiest of all sanitation practices, posing the greatest danger to human health and is the biggest sanitation challenge in Ghana,” evidenced by statistics that paints a gloomy picture of the nation’s open defecation status.

One out of every five Ghanaians defecates outside a toilet each day. This represents close to six million people who defecate without using a toilet. Open defecation is the cause of many preventable illnesses including diarrhea and Cholera, which is killing about 19,000 Ghanaians annually. Other health related problems perpetuated by open defecation are typhoid fever, Intestinal worms, malnutrition and stunting among children.

Besides, open defecation costs Ghana more than $79 million annually and this excludes the cost of funerals, tourism losses, single parenthood, widows, orphans, and water pollution among a host of other open defecation associated costs elements. What is more, open defecation shames Ghana to the outside world and affects tourism potentials. Meanwhile, financial analysts have estimated that the amount required to eliminate the practice is far less than what it is costing the nation.

Again, M-CODe members understand the underlying factors that appear to be reinforcing the practice of open defecation in Ghana. Statistics indicate that about 35% of public and 18% of private basic schools do not have toilets and pupils are compelled to resort to unorthodox places to defecate. Many healthcare facilities lack access to clean toilets, while, many public institutions including some Metropolitan Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) lack clean toilet facilities. Also, many public places such as markets and lorry parks lack access to clean and hygienic toilets.

The situation of peri-urban, rural and local communities is even more disturbing as majority of houses do not have toilet facilities. People still use communal latrines, an olden days’ practice that is being held unto in a technologically modernized age. Therefore, many communities still demand communal toilets from government instead of constructing household toilets.

And the bottom-line of the matter is that Government has no publicised national roadmap for eradication of open defecation. M-CODe members recognized government’s effort in tackling open defecation as part of the general sanitation agenda under the country’s socio-economic development plan and in line of Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

But they have not lost sight of the fact that there is currently no agenda in place that binds the government towards attaining an open defecation free Ghana by a nationally determined set date.

So, what do members of M-CODe want to see? Firstly, they want the President to declare a target date to end open defecation in Ghana. In addition to that, they want President Akufo-Addo to direct all Regional Coordinating Councils (RCCs) and MMDAs to develop and publicise a roadmap for eradication of open defecation to meet the national deadline.

M-CODe also wants the President to direct RCCs and MMDAs to ensure that every school and health centre in Ghana, whether public and private, has access to clean and hygienic toilets by the end of 2020. In line with this particular demand, members of M-CODe are happy with the work of the World Bank funded Ghana Sanitation Water Project (GSWP) for the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area.

As part of its mandate, GSWP is providing toilet facilities for some schools and health institutions in the current 11 Metropolitan and Municipal Assemblies that the project works in. The project has so far completed toilet facilities for 19 schools and the Kekele Polyclinic in the La Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly. While, in the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly area, 18 schools have been provided with improved toilet facilities.

The Project has a target of building 406 toilet facilities for schools and selected institutions within the area. This was made known to members of M-CODe, when they interacted with the GSWP team on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. The purpose was to introduce the Coalition to the Project and ascertain its status.

The Project Coordinator of GSWP, George Asiedu, noted that the need for improved school toilet facilities is huge in the Accra Metropolitan area as well as nationwide. He said the situation has become complicated because of other factors including community encroachment on schools’ facilities, water access and maintenance issues.

Asiedu, an engineer, proposed that management of schools toilet facilities should be privatised to ensure they are properly cleaned, maintained and sustained. He commended the media for the initiative and said the Project sees members as partners in the fight to end open defecation in Ghana.

The Patron of the Coalition, Dr. Doris Yartey, said since M-CODe and the Project have the same objective of fighting open defecation, the two could form a strong alliance that will result in the project becoming stronger, bigger and more impactful.

She stressed: “M-CODe considers open defecation as a major national disgrace and that is why we have come together to champion the advocacy cause to bring about change in the way Ghana handles toilet, which is against our image. When we succeed, the disgrace of Ghana will be taken away for the country to focus on more important things like education and industry.”

In a related developed, the group, on Wednesday, November 28, 2018, called on the Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources, Madam Cecilia Dapaah, to formerly welcome her to the ministry and update their knowledge on developments within the sector.

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang

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