Ending open defection amid COVID-19: the role of the assemblies and citizens in Wa Municipality


Ending the practice of defecating in the open, rather than in a toilet, will have “transformational benefits” for some of the world’s most vulnerable people, says the United Nation’s (UN’s) partner sanitation body, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). The UN agencies report that of the 673 million people practicing open defecation, 91 percent live in rural areas.

It is also said to be an affront to the dignity, health and well-being, especially of girls and women. For example, hundreds of millions of girls and women around the world lack privacy when they are menstruating. Open defecation also risks exposing them to increased sexual exploitation and personal safety and is a risk to public health.

According to the UN, open defecation is when people defecate in the open for example, in fields, forests, bushes, lakes and rivers rather than using a toilet. Globally, the practice is said to be decreasing steadily, however it is expected to be eliminated by 2030. One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires a substantial acceleration in toilet use particularly in Central and Southern Asia, Eastern and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

This means the health status and privacy of everyone is very important and a healthy mind and body help to bring out good productive work that result in the improvement of human life as well as the welfare of the economy, but a country with less endowed productive citizenry does not progress and even lead to low productivity that affects the demand and supply.

COVID-19 pandemic

Before the outbreak of the Corona Virus also known as the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign against improper personal hygiene was advocated by government and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) with much investment channel for intensive advocacy and the provision of waste bins, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to some communities known to be practicing open defecation.

Some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been contributing tremendously in ensuring that almost every home has at least a sanitary latrine as a means of curbing open defecation.

They embark on sensitization and also called for the strict implementation of sanitation laws. According to them, by-laws must be strictly enforced and culprits punished in accordance with the law.

An advocacy training workshop to equip some selected participants drawn from the Wa Municipality to provide them with the requisite advocacy skills on sanitation and hygiene related activities was held to enable them serve as ambassadors to help improve sanitation and hygiene as well as provide an enabling environment for participants to learn and raise awareness of stakeholders and duty bearers on the impact of sanitation and hygiene activities on the community members.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The aim of the advocacy is to enable the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Six (6) that is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Goal 6.2 stipulates that by 2030, governments should achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

In the midst of the pandemic, government, in collaboration with the private institutions, has been making frantic efforts to ensure citizens are safe and therefore advocating for the adherence of the COVID-19 protocol.

Due to lack of sanitation facilities in most homes in the Wa Municipalities, the practice of open defecation continues to be a normal practice, making most of the communities smell terribly. Access to portable drinking water in most homes continue to be a problem as many have to travel miles before accessing water for domestic use.

Some of the tourist sites and residential areas have been turned into open defecation areas making the places not conducive for humans. “Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 required access and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and to end Open Defecation (OD), paying attention to women and girls and those in vulnerable situations by 2030”.

A visit to George Ferguson graveyard in the Wa Municipality, adjacent the Jubilee Park observed that both the museum and parts of the park have been turned into an open defecation sites.

It was observed that issues of enforcement of sanitation by-laws at the district and municipality levels have been a challenge, and that, strict enforcement of such by-laws could deter some people from practicing open defecation as well as motivate people to build household latrines.

Littering, non-adherence to COVID-19 protocols

Aside the open defecation, littering has been a major challenge in keeping the environment clean. Some people dump waste materials indiscriminately instead of putting them in an appropriate bin.

The adherence to the wearing of nose mask is very low here as only one third (1/3) of every gathering is seen wearing the nose mask. Due to that the sale of the nose masks and the hand sanitizers are very low with the traders complaining of the patronage except those who want to be entering offices either wear or find the need to purchase it.

Even in well-known shops and offices in the Municipality some staff are not adhering to the protocol. Meanwhile, there is always an update of the virus across the country and as to whether people read or listen to them is another issue. Though government has also banned gathering exceeding over 100 people within a vicinity, it seems some people feel they are not part of the restriction.

The Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) in the Municipality must be commended for the constant supply of water to their customers despite the challenges being encountered. For the past three weeks, there has not been water issues except those who have refused to pay for the water used and had their lines disconnected.

The sanitation guidelines developed by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development required Municipal, Metropolitan and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to draft and Gazette sanitation by-laws to include issues of pro-poor targeted in sanitation service provision at those levels.

In this period of the pandemic, the assemblies need to put aside tribalism and political affiliation to really deal with the issue of open defecation to avoid any calamity in the Municipality.

The inability to enforce the law can affect human welfare and the productivity of the people as government would be compelled to channel most developmental project funds into addressing the issue. SDG goal 6.B therefore calls for the support and participation of local communities for improving water and sanitation management.

Statistics below from the Upper West Regional Environmental Health and Sanitation Department (EHSD) on Open Defecation Free (ODF) homes



ODF performance in the region as at November, 2020

Names of Mun. / Distric # of communities # declared already # declared this year Total
Nandom 88 88 0 88
Nadowli-Kaleo 141 115 13 128
Wa West 227 160 0 160
Lawra Municipal 94 72 3 75
DBI 105 82 2 84
Jirapa Municipal 116 54 25 79
Lambussie 58 48 0 48
Sissala West 55 36 0 36
Sissala East 59 12 3 15
Wa East 138 48 0 48
Wa Municipal 86 15 3 18
 TOTAL 1167 730 49 779

The Municipality in its 2020 monitoring of COVID-19 activities targeted 2,000 homes and reached had 2,234 thereby exceeding the target. It said, 60% of targeted communities were monitored with 60% of the communities have been presented for verification and 66% representing 49 communities passed and declared as Open Defecation Free (ODF).

It was revealed that inadequate support in funding from most of the Metropolitan, Municipal and the District Assemblies (MMDAs) continue to pose a challenge. It therefore said, 2021 shall be a year of effective collaboration for improved sanitation and therefore called for adequate funding by the MMDAs to ensure results are achieved on target set by EHSD.

Essuman Musa, a researcher in his write up on “Addressing Open Defecation Sanitation Problem: The case of Dry Toilet Implementation in the WA Municipality, Ghana” said, lack of toilet facilities in many homes in the municipality is something that cannot be ignored, and as a result, people form long queues early in the morning to have access to the few existing public toilets, whereby putting extreme pressure on these facilities adding that the worst part of the sanitation problem is that some people also prefer the water bodies, bushes, and uncompleted buildings as places of convenience.

He noted that the main cause of sanitation problem after investigation was the open defecation practices due to poverty, illiteracy and lack of public education contributed to the leading of poor sanitation.

He therefore recommended that government, through the municipal authority should construct more decent public toilet facilities in the municipality saying the facility cost of usage should be subsidized and be made free for children and the aged.

The Upper West Regional Manager for the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) Moses Ndebugri, in an interview, also expressed worry about the situation saying it can impede the effort and commitment towards projecting and promoting of tourism and culture of the region.

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