A GNA Feature by Albert Futukpor
Murugu (N/R), Jan. 1, GNA - Alhassan Bawa, his wife and three children live in a small house at Murugu, a community in the West Gonja District of the Northern Region. Mr Bawa is a farmer and his wife assists him at the farm. The family relies on a nearby borehole and sometimes supply from a nearby stream to undertake their various activities.
He does not have a toilet in the house neither is there a public toilet or latrine in their neighbourhood. Mr Bawa said “we defecate in the open, sometimes we dig a small hole not far from where we reside and defecate in it”.
Mr Bawa’s situation typifies what most households in communities in the District do. It is common to see faecal matter in most of the communities because many of the households practise open defaecation.
Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities is poor in the District as it cannot even boast of pipe-borne water.
Efforts being made
Poor sanitation practices are a burden on the individual and the state. They lead to the outbreak of diseases requiring resources for treatment. The sick too cannot work thus productivity is affected.
In view of this, various stakeholders including development partners and the Assembly have been working to improve sanitation practices in the area. Amongst the development partners working in the area is the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
These partners through New Energy, a local non-governmental organization, are implementing the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme in the area with the aim to improve WASH practices in the District.
New Energy has held a series of engagement with some residents and duty-bearers of the District to create awareness on the sanitation situation in the area and the need for the Assembly to prioritize WASH through increased budgetary allocation and effective implementation of sanitation policies, as well as for the residents to construct household latrines to promote healthy living.
Alhaji Osman Sumani, immediate past Programme Officer of New Energy, said “through the advocacy for improved sanitation in the area, the Assembly in July developed a by-law on sanitation, which was approved in September”.
He expressed the hope that the by-law would soon be gazetted to provide the legal basis for enforcing improved sanitation practices in the District.
Mr Sulemana Abubakari, West Gonja District Focal Person on Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS), said “we, at the Assembly, have also been promoting CLTS to create awareness amongst residents to take the initiative to construct household latrines to eliminate open defaecation”.
He said the Assembly is determined to improve its WASH indicators in line with the national strategy on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Six by the end of the year 2030 to ensure that every household would have access to improved WASH facilities and eliminate open defaecation.
WASH statistics at West Gonja District
According to the District’s Environmental Health and Sanitation Unit (EHSU), 13 out of the 74 communities in the District are open defaecation free as residents in those areas have household toilets.
This means that majority of residents of the District practise open defaecation, which has consequences for their health and well-being. As at July, this year, out of the 28 districts in the region, West Gonja placed 22nd on the open defaecation free (ODF) league table compiled by the EHSU of the Northern Regional Coordinating Council with support from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
The report said only six per cent of households in the District have toilets whiles the total population in ODF communities in the District stood at one per cent.
The way forward
Poor sanitation practices present a great cost to the individual. Besides getting ill and spending hard-earned income on treatment, it also reduces productivity because sick people cannot work.
Therefore, the cost of treatment as a result of poor sanitation practices may as well surpass that of constructing a household latrine. The District needs to prioritize issues of WASH to aid the country’s objective of eliminating open defaecation thereby attain SDGs Goal Six, which is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The Assembly must take the initiative to gazette its sanitation by-law and strictly enforce it to promote a change in behaviour towards good sanitation practices. The District should learn from the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area Sanitation and Water (GAMA) project and seek support from development partners to help its low income residents have access to affordable toilets.
The Assembly should also invest in the provision of safe drinking water for the people as the lack of pipe-borne water in the District also influences poor sanitation practices. These measures will significantly help to address the sanitation situation of the District and aid the country’s efforts at achieving SDG Goal six by the year 2030.