The Ghanaian media has thrown its weight behind the government, institutions and organisations in the fight to eliminate open defecation from the country in accordance with national sanitation aspirations and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 6 is devoted to universal access to water and sanitation, and its targets include a call on nations to end open defecation. The practice is considered as one of the most dangerous sanitation behaviours affecting the health and socio-economic lives of people.
Open defecation is therefore rightly seen as a health and social menace that can be tackled from several fronts, focusing on specific target groups such as children, for impact. Open defecation is said to have severe consequences on children in particular, as they are the most vulnerable to the side effects. The list includes stunting, which is an impediment of a child’s physical and intellectual development.
Last year, at a press briefing, the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS), drew the attention of government to the issue, saying the lack of toilet facilities in 30% of schools in Ghana required an urgent national attention.
Taking a cue from CONIWAS, the Media Coalition against Open Defecation (M-CODe), was launched in September last year, with a call on government to develop a roadmap to provide all public schools with decent toilets by 2022. The group, made up of media houses and individual journalists, believe that it is possible to achieve this target by the set date, so that school children will not dream of ever again defecating in the bush.
So, for now MCODe is focused on publicising the issue of toilet facilities in Basic and Junior High Schools, as a way of pushing for the provision of decent toilet facilities in the schools, in order to secure the general health, intellectual and socio-economic well-being of the school child.
With support from World Vision Ghana, CONIWAS and the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) Sanitation and Water Project, members of MCODe have been following-up on how the issue is being addressed in schools within the Metropolis.
In the first round of this follow-up, members visited the Madina SDA, Queen of Peace R/C, WASS Experimental Basic Schools and the Abokobi Presby I Basic School in the La Nkwantanang, Adenta and Ga East Municipalities. These are some of the schools that have benefited from the World Bank funded GAMA Project.
Findings of first Tour of Schools Toilet Facilities
At a press briefing in Accra, to announce the findings of this visit, M-CODe said members were impressed with the modern toilet facilities provided to the schools under the Project and which befitted the dignity of the children and teachers as humans. But they were also saddened by the many challenges confronting the efficient operations of the facilities.
Speaking on behalf of MCODe, Cecil Nii Obodai Wentum, said the team, observed to their dismay that barely a year after the facilities were handed over to the school authorities, signs of lack of maintenance were creeping in, which must be addressed immediately to ensure the continual functioning of the facilities.
“… in some schools, toilet seats and hand washing units were broken down, in others, some of the chambers were locked up, while a make-shift portable facility had been placed outside for the children to use…we think the government, notably the Ministry of Education, needs to pay urgent attention to.”
He explained that the situation required the Ministry’s intervention because, “we learned that there is no clear-cut budget allocation by government for operation and maintenance of the facilities.” This clearly indicates that the school authorities “are finding it difficult to raise funds to operate and maintain the toilets.”
The fear is that if this problem is not addressed as a matter of urgency, they will become like public toilets, most of which people can no longer use because of disrepair and lack of maintenance. And when that happens, the school children in these schools will resort to indiscriminate defecation, thereby defeating the purpose for which the facilities were provided and thus revive the vicious cycle of open defecation.
MCODe is genuinely concerned that the implantation model for operating the facilities might not be working. According to the Implementation Model for the Minimum Standards for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools that the Ministry of Education Developed about five years ago, the School Management Committee (SMC) and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) have key roles to play.
The PTAs are expected to facilitate the provision of soap, ensure availability of water from community water supplies and in collaboration with Environmental Health Officers, facilitate dislodging the facilities. While, the head teacher and the teacher responsible for Hygiene Education will have overall responsibility for the day-to-day management of the facilities.
Cecil noted that school toilet and water supply facilities can only be maintained and operated effectively, when there is adequate budgetary allocation for that purpose. “To operate and maintain any school or institutional toilet, there is need for constant supply of toilet papers, soap, and water,” he said.
He further asked for the engagement of janitors to keep facilities clean and hygienic through regular cleaning and monitoring of the facility as well as the usage behaviour of the children, adding, “in some cases, there is need for electricity supply to provide lighting and security. In other instances, those with power have their lines disconnected because they were unable to pay their bills.”
Cecil said MCODe was of the view that the strict government directive prohibiting SMCs in public schools from collecting fees from parents makes it difficult for them to play an effective role in maintaining the toilets. Additionally, the capitation grant of Nine Ghana Cedis (GHS 9.00) per pupil per year is woefully in adequate.
He pointed out that per estimates made by GAMA Project, “It will take an amount of Forty-Five Ghana Cedis (GHS45.00) per pupil per year to operate and maintain a six-seater Water Closet toilet used by between 300 and 350 pupils.”
Proposals for way forward
As a way forward to address the situation, Cecil outlined several propositions by M-CODe and CONIWAS, such as a clear state strategy to absorb the cost of water and electricity supply to public schools. “Government should develop a strategy to absorb the cost of water and electricity supply to every public basic school as a component of the free education policy.”
They called for an adequate budgetary allocation for the sustainable operation and maintenance of water and sanitation facilities in schools, and asked government to come out with clear communication on how parents should support the maintenance of school water and sanitation facilities. Moreover, they urged government to develop a clear road map for closing the 30% access gap in the provision of nationwide school toilet facilities latest by 2022, three years from now.
World Vision Ghana’s WASH Technical Coordinator and Vice Chairman of CONIWAS, Atta Arhin, proposed the setting up of an initiative to force Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to resolve sanitation problems in their areas.
He urged the government to set up the proposed National Sanitation Authority, as it can enhance efforts in addressing national sanitation problems.
The patron of MCODe Dr. Doris Yaa Dartey, said the incidence of open defecation was scarier that what the statistics state, saying “it is a national disaster and disgrace that must be addressed with speed.”
She stated: “To lay claim to civilization as a country, we must fix this disgusting matter of open defecation and respond to nature’s call in dignity.”
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang