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Let’s make Ghana free of open defecation

Today, November 19, 2012 is World Toilet Day. A day set aside by the international community to draw attention to the fact that a whopping 2.5 billion people in the world, representing 37% of the world’s total population, do not have any known place where they defecate.
Millions of people the world over, struggle everyday just to attend a simple basic nature’s call. In the process, some are bitten by reptiles, have cuts and get maimed.
Millions of innocent girls and women also get raped and live with the psychological trauma for the rest of their life.
On World Toilet Day, the world unites to create awareness and make the noise about this global sanitation challenge. It is commemorated across the globe and people from all works of life – the media, private sector, development partners, civil society, government agencies, children and women – join hands to advocate for clean and safe toilets for all.
On this unique day, one cannot forget the commonest spectacle in our small towns, peri-urban and major cities virtually every day: the indiscriminate disposal of human faeces.  Faeces is found everywhere, more especially around our water bodies, beaches,  bushes, open spaces, gutters, refuse dumps, under bridges and channels, uncompleted buildings and backyards.
In 2011, the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank did a study on Ghana. It was revealed that a typical Ghanaian spends two and half days every year to look for an obscure or ‘private’ place to defecate.
This has huge losses in economic terms.  As a nation, we lose close to GH¢ 37million every year due to this practice.  This calls for action. We need to do something about it as a nation.
The main reason why people do it openly is the lack of or inadequate toilet facilities in our homes, schools, public places, communities and workplaces. Where they even exist, they are poorly maintained.
Many toilets have become a source of disease transmission and distribution. The pungent smell that emanates from some of these places of ‘inconvenience’ is intolerable. Some have become death traps and safe homes and breeding grounds for all types of reptiles, rodents, etc.
This situation de-motivates people and puts them off from using these facilities. Is it any wonder then that such people resort to open defecation?
Besides, a number of people also like to defecate outside for the pleasure of it.  Squatting in open places to defecate comes with  what such people term the fringe benefits of ‘free air-condition’, and such satisfied ‘users’ find it extremely difficult to let this behaviour  go.
I read a story about a rich family in Asia. This family packs themselves every morning into a Benz Saloon Car and go to the outskirts of the city, into bushes, to defecate. This family has three toilets in their house and the question is why they are not using them. It is simply an issue of old habits die hard.
This year’s World Toilet Day theme adopted by Ghana is simply: “ACHIEVING OPEN DEFECATION FREE GHANA’’. Yes, we need to achieve an Open-Defecation-Free status sooner than later. As a country we cannot bear the social and economic cost of open defecation any more.
The most current statistics on Ghana (WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2010) shows that  as high as 19% of Ghanaians do not have a ‘fixed defecation address’ and as such defecate in the open every morning. This translates into 4.6 million.
When one does a 20 year trend analysis, that is from 1990 to 2010, we have merely reduced the percentage of Ghanaians who defecate in the open from 22% in 1990 to 19% in 2010. Just a marginal three percentage point reduction over two decades. What a snail pace reduction.
Sadly enough, the 4.6 million Ghanaians who defecate in the open every morning knowingly or unknowingly contaminate our water sources and the general environment and as well spread diseases like diarrhoea, which according to a study by the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank study, kills about 5,100 precious Ghanaian children under five years every year. This is disturbing. We do not have to allow our innocent children to die.
Can you imagine that just one gram of human faeces dropped in an open place, contains 10 million viruses and 1 million bacteria? These pathogens spread diseases of all kinds, leading to deaths and maiming of our citizens. It also causes intestinal worm infestation, a major contributor to stunting in children and malnutrition, which hold back their physical and mental growth.
Acquisition and use of toilets has moved from the health arena and has now become a human rights issue.  This was declared by the UN. There are even emerging sound economic arguments for sanitation.
Many brilliant girls have stopped schooling because their schools do not have toilets and the accompanying handwashing and hygiene facilities. These girls have missed out on this important and crucial life ‘support system’ called schooling. Can we imagine the socio-economic consequences and pressure these girls will later on in life, put on society?
The challenges in sanitation are numerous and complex but the consequences for not tackling them are even more expensive and complex.
There is therefore the urgent need for government and all and sundry to prioritise sanitation as a social service. As a country, we need to target the sanitation sub-sector for investment. The current investment into sanitation is less than 1% of the GDP.
Meanwhile as a country we are losing almost 1.6% of our GDP as a result of poor sanitation. Investments are required not only for the populace to enjoy maximum health and hygiene benefits but also to reduce the economic losses the country is experiencing.
Our Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies need to enforce the building regulations concerning construction of household latrines. Building regulations are being flouted with impunity. For example some landlords in our cities, convert toilets and other sanitary facilities in their houses into living rooms and rent them out to unsuspecting tenants.
Targeting the sanitation needs of the poor and the vulnerable groups in society. especially women and children, will be a right move. After all sanitation is dignity.
Until the Almighty grants us the grace and health to commemorate yet another world toilet day next year, we should be each other’s keeper and take the pledge of supporting the national effort of eliminating open defecation.
Talk about it, act, own a toilet in your house, use a toilet. It is more dignifying to do so. Your health comes from where you defecate.
Let us all scale up efforts to eliminate open defecation from Ghana. It is achievable.
By Kweku Quansah

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