Environmental cleanliness provides the cheapest means of healthcare, however, the attitude of some members of the public towards the environment leaves much to be desired. It is as if to say maintaining good hygiene and sanitation is the most difficult task.
The environment, to a very large extent, affects the lives and activities of human beings as well as all other living organisms, while good sanitation practices and maintenance of proper hygiene go a long way to strengthen the capacity of the environment to perform its natural functions.
Failure to free the environment from filth can bring about diseases such as malaria, cholera, typhoid, cryptosporidiosis (diarrheal disease), ascariasis (roundworm infection) and bilharzias.
According to the Environmental Sanitation Policy (Revised 2012) by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, environmental sanitation is among the powerful drivers of human development as it affects quality of life and improvement in health and wealth.
Health and environmental experts on daily basis speak against activities that contribute to poor sanitation including deliberate littering by the public.
Many people could be held liable for the menace, sometimes the educated are no exception. Ghana is making strides in her developmental process and the gains made should not be dissipated by such attitudinal backwardness. It is embarrassing to see some streets and road medians in Accra, Ghana’s capital, looking so untidy, sometimes with sacks containing garbage left on the shoulders of the road.
Taking into account the huge resources the Government is putting into maintaining cleaner cities and environments, even to the extent of borrowing for such projects, how willing are the citizens to complement such efforts to ensure a safe environment devoid of diseases.
According to the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources’ Guidelines for Targeting the Poor and Vulnerable for Basic Sanitation Services in Ghana (2018), Ghana is one of the lowest ranked countries in terms of access to basic sanitation worldwide.
It said nationally, on the average, 19 per cent of the population do not have access to any sanitation facility and, therefore, practise open defaecation.
One in five Ghanaians have no access to a toilet facility and defaecate openly, while only 15 per cent use improved sanitation facilities (WHO/UNCEF 2015).
The Guidelines noted that the disparities observed in the low sanitation access statistics is also a source of national worry.
In the Upper East Region, 89 per cent of the population practise open defaecation, which is the highest rate in Ghana and only three per cent use unshared improved sanitation facilities.
The Guidelines said though funding towards maintaining proper hygiene was inadequate, the absence of clear political leadership and commitment, as well as the low prioritisation of santitation issues were some major challenges worth mentioning.
It noted that approximately 19,000 Ghanaians, including 3,559 children under-five years, die each year from diarrhoea – nearly 90 per cent of which is attributed to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.
It is distressing to note that Ghana ranks the lowest in terms of sanitation among all lower middle-income countries, although richer than many. The cost of poor sanitation was inequitably distributed with the highest economic burden falling disproportionately on the poor.
According to the Guidelines, 4.8 million people had no latrines at all and defaecate in the open and the poorest quintile is 22 times more likely to practise open defaecation than the richest.
It said open defaecation alone costs Ghana US$79 million per year, yet eliminating the practice would require less than one million latrines to be built and used.
Improved water supply and sanitation can reduce deaths while proper hand-washing can reduce diarrhea and pneumonia by up to 50 per cent, yet less than 15 per cent of Ghanaian households have hand-washing facilities.
With these facts available to the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources, one may then want to find out what it is doing to curb the menace.
To say the problem is more associated with people’s unsavory attitudes towards the environment than the unavailability of funds for its control may not be far from the truth.
No one can say that he or she does not know that indiscriminate littering of the environment, selling and eating unhealthy foods, open defaecation and non-adherence to good hygiene has health implications.
These issues have escalated, even in this 21st century surprisingly, where educational levels are supposed to have gone higher.
Mrs Cecilia Abena Dapaah, the Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, has described as completely unacceptable the situation where indiscriminate littering, open defaecation and urination have become a norm in Ghana.
She said the poor sanitation attitude needed to radically change, since it impacted on so many segments of the economy and cost the nation huge sums of money, time and pain.
“It is surprising when one recalls how overnight the once law-abiding Ghanaian had become recalcitrant and developed poor attitude towards the environment.”
“This attitude has led to numerous diseases and conditions with attendant traumatic consequences and women and children having to bear most of this burden,” Mrs Dapaah said in a speech read on her behalf during the grand finale of the 2018 Clean Ghana Concert Award in Accra, organised by the Clean Ghana Action Ambassadors, a Non-Governmental Organisation.
She said the only way to reverse the gloomy situation was to improve on the attitude of the citizenry as everyone has a role to play in making the country a clean one.
“Maintaining good sanitation are efforts to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We will always use the opportunity and platform to appeal to all of us to make sure we desist from unsavory practices and leave a good legacy for generations to come,” Mrs Dapaah said.
The introduction of the National Sanitation Day, observed every first Saturday of the month, is commendable. However, that alone cannot solve the myriad of problems generated through unhealthy environmental attitudes.
Suffice it to say that the introduction of the sanitation courts to deal with perpetrators of “sanitary crime” is in the right direction.
The government, therefore, needs to re-enforce and amend laws governing sanitation and indiscriminate disposal of refuse to punish offenders to serve as a deterrent.
There must also be a rewarding systems to encourage citizens to report individuals or companies whose activities negatively affect the environment.