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18.12.2006 Feature Article

Your filth, our garbage and attitude

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It's kind of funny the way we try to tackle certain situations. Aren't you amazed, or were you not surprised to see the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) finally taking some actions as far waste is concerned.

I am referring to the recent cleanup exercises that have been dramatically organized in the past couple of months. Why should other people be cleaning up our waste anyway when we are the cause of it?

First of all, I must say that it was a good initiative on the part of the various assemblies to organize clean up exercises which as it was expected, did not last. But I guess as we approach the third month of next year, for obvious reasons they will be resumed again.

Initially, most Ghanaians speculated as to whether, these activities were going to be successful and of course typical of any human group, there were grumblings, murmurs and mixed feelings especially when one could not have access to certain roads at particular times. Though it was surprising to see people take part in cleaning the filth in their neighborhoods, these did not last for reasons I will explain later.

However, isn't it amazing that we drag out 'reluctant' rubbish out of gutters, only to leave them in beautiful piles alongside these same gutters? Obviously, these refuse heaps 'feel too much at home' so we find them back in the same gutters. The tragedy of the story is that, people are paid to do this roundabout job and guess what reader, it's your money that pays for these incomplete cleaning!

Exactly how can Ghana solve the menace of WASTE? Certainly the assemblies could not sustain these exercises because the root of the problem is human attitude to cleanliness. For how long can you fight someone's battle if the person refuses to fight himself? For how long will the assemblies clean up after us? Not for long I dare say and I will give the grim reasons why not.

Reason number one: Put this paper down for a minute and look outside your window or walk out of your office or house and you will see a fully matured adult throwing a pure-water rubber in the middle of that road. Attempt taking your eyes off and you will chance upon someone throwing dirty water on the same road with fish residue or something like that. Now, you may be tempted to say that these people are illiterate people who don't know the essence of a dustbin; sorry to say that you are wrong.
Now look at these incidents:
One morning, I was dragging myself to an anticipated boring lecture and considering the heat that day, I mulled over the possibility of the sun's migration to earth; passing through the Home Science department, there was a rather neatly dressed guy in front of me and I was smug with satisfaction because the expression on his face showed that I wasn't the only one suffering from the heat. The file he was clutching under one arm showed he was a student. In the other hand, he was squeezing out the last drop of 'pure water' and guess what, he dumped the rubber on the pavement! Goodness me!
Unfortunately for the young man and fortunately for Ghana, an astute lecturer who came out of the Home Science building saw his action and stopped the guy.
Young man, are you a student of this university? She asked.
Yes please
So you, a university student, do you know anything about the hazards of littering? She asked sternly.
I am sorry
Better pick that up and dispose it off properly!

Well, shamefully he took it back and walked hurriedly away. I could have hugged the woman for that but hey like I said she was a rather stern looking-woman. Besides I wouldn't want to spoil the hibiscus flower in her hair.

In another incident, a man who looks like he should have his first grandchild just finished eating a pile of bananas and decided to throw them out the window of a moving car. I turned and gave him a stern and disdainful stare. I suppose that was enough to deter him from doing that because he quickly refrained from that action and instead left the rubbish in the car.

Another time, a friend of mine decided that she was feeling too lazy to walk to the dustbin, so from the second floor of the Hall, she threw down 'kenkey' peals when no one was looking. Of course, I chastised her for that but it got me thinking because all the people I am talking about are educated people who should know better.

If we say that 30% of Ghanaians are educated and out of that thirty, about half of them are guilty as such of improper disposal of waste, then what about the 70% semi and illiterates?

It is really a puzzle to try to figure out Ghanaians; most often than not, you see people dumping rubbish beside dustbins and we do this without any sense of shame.

Some people are never able to dump anything on the ground not even when no-one is watching. They always end up with rubbish in their bags, cars which they take home or to the nearest dustbin. This is something everybody should learn to do.

Let me touch briefly on the Korle-Lagoon, Chorkor, James Town environmental problems. We all know that the stench is as a result of the dumping of human excreta into the sea and the use of the lagoon as toilet facility by residents.
At fifty years old, Ghana cannot boast of proper processing of waste; instead, we find tanker vehicles pumping tons of excreta into the sea. This is certainly humiliating for a country that is almost 50years! The British will say “God save the queen” but I say “God save Ghana!”

A couple of weeks ago, there was a news item about a community that have all the public toilets but still go out and defecate on any available spot they think is convenient. Their reason is that, the toilets are not clean. Who makes them dirty and who is supposed to make them clean? It is really appalling driving through these communities where you see people squatting in strategic locations doing their own thing.

The reason for all these examples is to point out the fact that the problem of filthy environment is the result of our own actions as seen in the incidents above.

We have had governments that have taken actions even to the point of the police arresting citizens who litter the environment. This was good but as usual we were not able to sustain them.

Recently, there were reports that the government is planning to 'resurrect' the Town Council' department. In those days, people called them 'TANKASEY'. If you ask me, I think it is a great idea, but my Managing Editor thinks otherwise and he has some strong reasons to support his position.

After all, the idea of health officials constantly moving from house to house to ensure that people are practicing good environmental culture will certainly help the situation. But the fear is always about corrupt officials making the practice of 'Tankasey' unfruitful.
Personally, I think the 'Abaye' (AMA taskforce) that ensures that street peddlers and sellers stay off the street, were doing a great but almost impossible job. Sellers add to the filth on our roads. As much as they need to make a living, the reality on the ground is that they create not only congestion but lots of filth as well. But of course chasing sellers with canes wielded by horsemen seems like a typical cowboy movie that is not funny at all.

I suppose that one of the major problems of our organization is sustainability and maintenance of projects. If these street invaders get used to the idea that they cannot sell at certain places, with time, the resistance from them becomes less and with time they will get used to it. Trust me, Ghanaians are good in inventing new ways to make money; they will surely find other means of selling their wares. Sometimes, coercion is good for every society and thus sometimes it is very okay to use 'abaye'.

Isn't it about time that refuse collectors stop overloading trucks with refuse? This is because as they drive, they 'spray' (and I use the word 'spray' because that is exactly what they do) the streets with refuse; making the whole process fruitless.

All said and written, the basic problem is ATTITUDE; and the simplest solution is DISCIPLNE. For adults, our attitudes must change…geee! There are people who feel lazy flashing toilets, can you believe that? If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then we must start doing something about that.

Starting with the kids is most often the best solution so that as they grow they develop that culture of good hygiene. Thus here, parents, guardians and teachers have a role to play.

For individuals, good personal hygiene is the beginning of social wisdom (there are people who do not know the essence of deodorant or even lime), after that, we can move on to eliminating littering the environment and perhaps if the assemblies will empty refuse containers on schedule, the motivation will be there.

Mass education, is the government's role in all of this and though this is being done, it should be more effective.

Esenam Dumenu
Esenam Dumenu, © 2006

The author has 18 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EsenamDumenu

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