Open defecation: A threat to making Accra ‘Africa’s cleanest city’

One of the promises made by President Nana Akufo-Addo since coming into power in 2017 was to make the capital – Accra – the cleanest city in Africa.

Today, one of the biggest challenges facing the capital city is open defecation: the practice of defecating outside (in an open environment) rather than in a toilet facility.

For many residents of Accra, open defecation is not option. Most houses in the city are without places of convenience, while the few publicly-run facilities are poorly kept – to say the least.

For Akwesi Lamptey, a truck-pusher who stays in a compound house which is without a toilet facility in Mamobi – an Accra suburb, spending GH¢1.20p a day on toilet is expensive. “I know open defecation is very bad, but I can’t afford to spend GHC1.20p a day on toilet.”

Lamptey, who normally earns GH¢10, says he spends GH¢6 on food and saves the remaining GH¢4. So, for him, “the best thing is to jump into a gutter and ease myself”.

Evans Asare, a carpenter from Adenta, said he lives in a compound house without a toilet. “So, when I am not lucky and get stomach upset during the night, then I have to enter into the bush because I can’t walk for a long distance because I can’t keep it.”

Similarly, Ekua Aboagyewaa, a head-porter from Odumasi in Ashanti Region who stays at Abeka with her three kids said: “I feel shy when my children defecate in an open place, but I can’t pay for myself and the kids.”

According to Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) statistics from 2011, ninety-one percent of all dwellings in the national capital, Accra, are without private places of convenience.

According to the Public Health Unit of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), in 2011 over 114,521 residences were without places of convenience.

According to UNICEF, between 2006 and 2011 the data recorded a slight decline in the proportion of people practicing open defecation (24.4%-22.9%) – but it has now increased from 5.1 million to over 5.7 million.

A report by the UNICEF District League Table in November 2017 indicated that only eight of the country’s 216 districts have at least 33 percent of their communities not engaged in open defecation.

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A figure from the sanitation department of KMA shows that only 39% of households in the Metropolis have toilet facilities. This indicates that about 60% of homes are without toilet facilities.    

In the Upper East region, 89% of the population practice open defecation (highest rate in Ghana), and only 3% use unshared improved sanitation facilities.

Ghana has about 85.7 percent of its population without decent toilets; and this equals about 23 million people, according to the report.

 It has been estimated that Ghana loses an average of US$79million annually due to open defecation, and is classified among 34 countries with the highest open defecation rates of 15% and above.

Larbi Gartey, a seller from Abeka, said open defecation is very bad but he has no option than to ease himself in an open place. “I have rented a room without a toilet, I have been asking my landlord about it for the past 1-year, yet nothing has been done about that.”

Alhassan from Akweteman said from his house to where there is a public toilet is far so, going there during the night is a problem. “Naturally, I prefer free-range than being on the toilet.”

This has been so mainly because there’s no toilet in their homes. In many places like Abeka, Mamobi, Labadi, Nima and the Zongo’s, people form a long queues in front of public toilets each morning, and wait long before getting the chance to ease themselves.

Surprisingly, public institutions such as schools and private institutions do not provide access to decent toilets, leading to the growing menace of open defecation.

In the Ashanti Region, out of the 3,754 public basic schools, 1,427 are without toilet facilities; and in the Western Region 1,132 out of the 2,408 schools are without toilets. In the Upper West Region, out of the 1,165 schools 350 are without toilets.

Gilbert Nii Ankrah, Head of Public Affairs at AMA, said in the past nine-months AMA has arrested 145 persons for various offences which include open defecation, dumping and open urination. They have started enforcement in relation to arrests and prosecution, so we have been arresting them.

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Mr. Nii Ankrah said from 3rd May to August, AMA has arrested 145 persons who practiced open defecation and other insanitary practices. AMA is looking at enforcement of the law to be achieved. Those who engage in open defecation have been saying they don’t have toilets in their home, but it is a lie.

Mr. Nii Ankrah added that all the 145 persons were arrested by the AMA Sanitation Taskforce at different locations within the Central Business District (CBD) including the Kwame Nkrumah interchange, Tema station, Tudu, Agbobloshie, Odorna and many others. These are the places we starting with.

He said that out of the 154 persons, 17 were handed different jail terms for failure to pay their fines and were discharged by the Ablekumah Central Sanitation and the Adjabeng Magistrate Court.

Speaking to the B&FT, he said: “The Assembly has identified that there are a lot of schools without a place of convenience, so we have built 23 of the sanitation facilities, and we are commissioning and handing them to the respective schools. Some of these schools are Osu Salem, Independence 1&2 and others,” he added.

“The cost of the facility has reduced, so with a minimum of GH¢600 you will be able to get one. And so, we are ensuring that we will provide logistics and that is what we are doing in relation to construction – aside from education and law enforcing,” Nii Ankrah said.

Gilbert added that a lot of households are responding to the building of toilets and the figure is encouraging. Others have also tried to get their materials, so within a minimum of 2 months everything should be fine. AMA is putting in measures to achieve this mission; also, we are enforcing a law. With the law, we are also taking them through public education.

Mr. Randolf B. Morkeh, Head of Operations at the Metro Public Department of the AMA, said 81% of the offenders were arrested openly defecating in public; 39 were dumping refuse at unauthorised places; while 11 were urinating openly. Also, another 6 were arrested for discharging refuse in public.

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