With our gutters overflowing with rubbish and our rivers awash with much besides water, the need for mass action and mass clean-ups like Saturday's successful event can hardly be disputed and The Statesman welcomes this initiative. Some of the rubbish lining our roads has been rotting there for months or even years, and it is high time something was done to alleviate the stench.
Yet a brief survey of our streets just days after the clean-up, and it is clear that more action is needed: it is impossible to un-do in a day the backlog of years of under-funding and neglect of waste management in Accra, and it is a sad reality that within a few short weeks the gutters will again be overflowing with refuse.
Stanley Nii Adjiri Blankson, the Metropolitan Chief Executive, ought to be commended for the steps he has taken towards his goal of making Ghana a cleaner city, the mass clean-up ought to be heralded as a positive success; but these steps are so far small indeed.
What is needed in Accra, in towns and cities across Ghana, is an effective waste management system: a system that is proactive and not reactive, that does not wait for rubbish to mount up, to rot and reek and fester, before it is dealt with, but prevents the build-up of this rubbish in the first place. Because, as this paper recently reported about the situation in Nima (The Statesman, Monday 23 – Tuesday 24 January 2006) the reason why our streets become so squalid is because the mechanisms supposed to be in place for the collection and management of our rubbish are so inefficient and mal-functional as to be rendered almost non existent in many of the poorer and more poorly serviced areas of the city.
The article highlighted the inefficiency of Accra's waste management system – with mountains of rubbish literally eight feet high right next to people's living and working quarters, growing and festering for weeks at a time before the irregularly-paid contractors are able to collect it. The insufficient number of rubbish containers compounds the problem, with some districts lacking their own and so dumping their refuse onto their already overburdened neighbours.
The amount of waste generated in a single day by a city with a population pushing four million is inconceivable – yet there is no sufficient system in place to ensure these thousands of tones of waste end up anywhere other than rotting by the roadside. The problem is particularly acute in the city's 'slum' areas, such as Nima, and areas on the edge of the city where urbanisation has been rapid and recent, and where infrastructural necessities such as effective water and sanitation still lag behind – but go to any area of the city and the gutters will still be filled with Fan Ice packets, banana skins.
Clearly, something more needs to be done. The Statesman supports suggestions to introduce a monthly clean-up day, in order to at least alleviate the build up of disease-inducing filth and ensure that waste is not allowed to build up too much, to decay for too long, before it is removed.
However, the solution needs to go further than this. We need to avoid the littering of our gutters and streets in the first place, rather than just cleaning them up more often.
Currently, even if people want to keep their environment clean and tidy and above all hygienic, often they are prevented from doing so by the simple lack of facilities. How far do you normally have to walk to find a rubbish bin? It is hardly surprising people often don't bother, when those in existence are so scarce that they are often overflowing with litter anyway.
But in a city where people habitually eat and drink on the streets, regularly-emptied rubbish bins are absolutely imperative if we are to have any chance of maintaining cleaner streets – millions of empty pure water sachets are dropped every single day because there is literally no where else for people to put them.
The problem is not simply one of unattractiveness, although it is true that a cleaner Accra would be a more attractive Accra – not only for us, as a more amenable place to live and work, but also to the foreign visitors and foreign investors so vital to our country's development.
The problem is fundamentally one of basic health and hygiene. The link between unsanitary living conditions and poor health is well documented: it is of course proven that contact with dirt can cause disease, and as the flies swarm around the rotting refuse of Accra, the health of our children who play on our streets and the people who work there is every day in jeopardy – with cholera, malaria, typhoid all more easily contracted by those living in unhygienic surroundings.
So why are we prepared to let our children fight and frolic amongst the filth for months before it is cleared up? Why are we not calling on our authorities to deal with a problem that is so very core to the development of our nation? Speaking at a Meet the Press conference in Accra on December 6, Charles Bintim, the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, promised that by June of this year, “the streets of Ghana will be comparable in cleanliness to the streets of Europe.” Five months away from the minister's supposed 'deadline,' and it is difficult to imagine the streets of London or Paris in quite such a state.
The filth on our streets and in our gutters is putting the health of our nation at risk – it is time we woke up to this reality and started to take more serious action.