feature by Doris Amenyo
Accra, July 11, GNA - ‘You’ve made your bed, now lie in it’, I heard a colleague say recently in the newsroom whiles teasing another colleague for his waywardness. But coming to think of our current water and sanitation challenges, a similar expression can also be used to describe our current state.
Health authorities state that 71 per cent of all diseases in Ghana are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. This is why the claim on the need to reorient our health focus from the curative paradigm to a preventive and curative paradigm is vital.
Why not? As the initial steps taken to prevent any health concern is quite often more important than for a malaria or cholera-diagnosed individual to meet the doctor only to return to the environment where preventive diseases and disease vectors abound.
The essence of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6. And there is no need to elaborate further than to add that due to its importance three different days have been set aside globally by the United Nations to create awareness and to reinforce the essence of the message it seeks to portray.
The dates are: World Water Day- 22 March; Global Hand washing Day – 15 October; and World Toilet Day -19 November.
Proper waste water management is the key determinant of an environment’s status. Many of our drains are inefficient and need improvement at various levels. This is besides the unprecedented population growth and increased urbanisation amongst others.
Many more in the country still rely on surface water to meet their daily water needs. Move a little beyond Accra to surrounding towns and you would see children perhaps, drinking contaminated water, collected from a nearby river, and that same water is used for all other purposes, including cooking and washing.
While it is true that there is a challenge for access to water for many, many households still face the challenge to provide the funds needed to invest in the solutions to their problems.
And the poor living in urban areas have been known to pay up to 10 times more per litre for water service from private vendors than their middle-class counterparts connected to piped water services.
These water costs can be reduced through investments in improved household water assets such as rainwater harvesting equipment, wells etc. Unfortunately, this requires up-front investments that many in the society cannot afford.
It is quite known that hand washing with soap at critical times- after defecating, before eating or preparing food can greatly reduce the incidence and spread of diarrhoea and many related diseases in families. Yet many food vendors are seen on a daily basis hawking besides an insanitary environment. So even if you wash your hands and use a clean spoon, the food sold to the individuals could be the source of an infection.
Then we also read quite often in the media of how hygiene related concerns have prevented many adolescent girls from participating fully in their academic affairs. We also read of the efforts by various stakeholders including the Gender Ministry to change prevailing notions on menstruation and related taboos in the society.
Poor sanitation, just like water is also one of the reasons for the high mortality rate in many communities. We keep compounding our sanitation concerns with the indiscriminate manner we discard our rubbish.
Drainage systems are perennially choked with filth and the efforts of the waste collection agencies, with their limited resources, would come to a naught if we can’t aid their efforts with our behavioral change.
The argument of this short piece is that more investment is needed in the awareness creation effort in the WASH sector. Behavioral change information emphasised in schools and sometimes through incentives, for me is the key.
More emphasis should also be placed on media campaigns, hygiene-based courses in schools, and performance-based rewards for children to serve as models in the society.
For some it is important that drinking water, sanitation and hygiene be considered as preventive medicine. It is important we all see it in this vein if we want to chalk any success in our efforts.