OPEN DEFECATION IN ACCRA; HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS
Open defecation is a serious environmental and health issue confronting us as a country and something urgently needs to be done to stop this barbaric act if Ghana is poised to achieving her Millennium Development Goal on sanitation. Statistics show that about 70 percent of inhabitants in the capital city do not have access to their own place of convenience. The situation is even worse in villages and other parts of the country. In some compound houses where majority of the city's inhabitants live, toilets are only accessible to landlords and few privileged tenants. Having access to a decent toilet facility to ease one's elf is therefore a privilege not a right or necessity.
Owing to agony of finding a place to attend to nature's call, many people resort to practicing open defecation anywhere they find convenient and accessible. Elsewhere in the world, beaches are one of main source of foreign exchange and recreation, but in Ghana we are not only underutilizing them, but destroying the ecosystem there by irresponsible behavior on the part of some citizens. A visit to some principal beaches in Accra like, the Accra central beach, chorkor beach, Korle-gono beach, Dansoman beach and the like in the early and late hours of the day reveals a very unpleasant sight of people of different ages and sex on a defecation spree.
One would have loved to see sterling statues, beautiful trees, wonderful architecture, a clean free flowing Odor river and have a feel of wonderful breeze when taking a drive in the morning through the Nkrumah Circle, the heart of Accra; but unfortunately, there is a sharp contradiction to this, one is welcomed with a scene of people lined up along the Odor river, smoking and defecating to the full glare of the public with bravado and comfort. Passengers and passers-by are only not bombarded with houseflies and the stench that emanates from the Odorna River coupled with the discomfort of seeing human excreta in the early hours of the day, but are sometimes assaulted verbally or physically by the perpetrators of this barbaric act. This lawlessness and environmental crime should not be tolerated in a country which is committed to the Millennium Development Goals on sanitation.
Travelling along the Accra-Kumasi high way reveals another disturbing scene which has become almost a norm, because of the lack of adequate and accessible places of convenience along the way; travelers take refuge and defecate openly in the bushes along the road. What is even disheartening is that the culprits of this act are mostly people who should know better. They park their expensive cars with stickers of prestigious universities both in the country and abroad and defecate in the open.
The dead are not even spared the discomforts of open defecation. The cemeteries are other prime areas where people visit to attend to nature's call indiscriminately. It is disheartening to see tombs been covered with human excreta with houseflies everywhere. The bad odor that emanates from the defection spots is something the dead would not even be able to stand or bear.
Many inhabitants in the city do not have access to decent toilets in their homes and therefore are left with the choice of visiting Public Pit latrines to ease themselves or practice open defecation. Many of these Public latrines are in very deplorable states and can be best described as death traps. These facilities are nothing more than a haven of maggots and houseflies. One can hardly bear the stench that emanates from these Pit latrines. Some users are left with the option than to smoke cigarette while easing themselves or cover their nose to escape from the bad odor. After visit to some of these Public Pit latrines one need to take a good shower in order to free his or self from the strong scent that stains both body and dress. These Public latrines do not have hand washing facilities which is the major cause of the rampant diarrhea and cholera outbreak in the metropolis, especially among children. Inhabitants who live close to these facilities suffer from the hazards that it pose and can hardly breath in any fresh air.
As little as the fee that is charged before one can access these public latrines may look, many people cannot afford. Others can not bear the pressure and uneasiness of joining long queues before having their turn to ease themselves and so defecates into polythene bags and throw them on the streets and dust bins. This poses great environmental concerns because; these actions and many others are the main cause of cholera and diarrhea outbreak in Accra and other parts of the country. Many people find it convenient to ease themselves at the beaches, in gutters and refuse damps where they will not pay a dime and also escape from a more or less ,comparatively odor free place of their convenience.
When it rains, these indiscriminate human wastes are washed into our water bodies which are the main source of drinking water for both human and livestock. This inevitably leads to the outbreak of cholera, diarrhea and other perilous diseases which have claimed many precious lives in the past and is still claiming the lives of many poor children and adults who can not afford portable accommodation and hygienic toilet facilities. This will go along way to retard economic development since; a lot of money is wasted by the government in treating the diarrhea and cholera yearly. Many children are made orphans, and parents tend to have more kids to compensate for those who will be lost to preventable sanitation diseases. Many of the country's work force, the youth, are also lost to these preventable and treatable disease.
Most of our beaches have become unattractive due to open defecation and therefore hardly attract any tourist to such sites. Children who plays there are at the peril of contracting sanitation related disease. Fishermen who live along some of these beaches frequently suffer from strange skin disease which may be as a result of contaminated water.
SUGGESTED REMEDIES TO CURB THE MENACE
If Ghana really wants to achieve the millennium Development goal on sanitation and step foot on the ladder of sustainable economic development, urgent steps must be taken to nib open defecation in the bud. The fist and most important thing is to enforce existing sanitation laws. It should be made mandatory that all compound houses and other abode in the city must have decent toilet facilities which are accessible not only to the landlords and family but to all tenants and occupants of the house. Secondly, there should be a strong political will by the government to improving sanitation in the city and the other parts of the country in order to improve upon the lives of many Ghanaians. There should be a major national public campaign against open defecation and promotion of good sanitation. Existing public toilet facilities in deplorable states should be renovated and put into good shape in order to attract users. New and modern public toilet facilities should also be constructed to consolidate the older ones. Efforts must me taken to making public latrine free of charge and accessible at all times to all who need to use the facility. Most importantly, the government should help and encourage environmental NGOs in their campaign for to promote good sanitation.
BY; Elvis Akwasi Acheampong
Freelance writer and president of Green Ghana Foundation.