The National Sanitation Policy is one innovative and yet a ridiculous program initiated by government. Innovative because it has resuscitated the dying patriotism and brought back communal labour among the citizenry; and ridiculous because it spells to us the extent to which we feel comfortable in filth.
The policy which was declared by the then Local Government Minister,Hon. Julius Debrah, was praised by many Ghanaians and saw political bigwigs such as the President and his vice, Ministers of state, Members of Parliament, and sometimes chiefs and musicians participating in the national clean-up exercise.
The program which was launched a year ago was in response to a cholera outbreak in 2014 in an effort to reduce insanitary conditions that harm many.
Proper sanitation is critical for the well-being of everyone as it protects us from perennial and recurrent diseases such as malaria, typhoid, viral hepatitis and also boosts the economy.
Unfortunately, the sanitation situation seems not to be improving despite a year of sensitizations to conscientize the citizens to keep their environments clean.
In the cities, open drains and public places like bus terminals and markets remain the most insanitary locations. Indiscriminate dumping of refuse and open defecation are still major threats to sanitation in rural areas.
The situation has so degenerated that it is common to find both elders and young people, educated and uneducated relieving themselves side by side in the open—polluting the environment. Even churches and universities are struggling to keep clean.
It is therefore no wonder, that Ghana continues to slip further on its sanitation performance. According to a World Health Organization(WHO) report, Ghana is currently the 7th dirtiest country globally.
Similar reports have it that about 7500 children die annually from diarrheal diseases, which is linked to poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. It is also reported by the World Bank in its sanitation and water program that Ghana loses GH870 million annually to poor sanitation and hygiene.
Certainly, one would expect these distressing statistics to awaken Ghanaians to take environmental sanitation more seriously. But it appears rather that, as a people, we have not fully grasped the far-reaching consequences of poor sanitation to make us confront the menace head–on, hence the lackadaisical attitude.
Not only is Ghana the 7th dirtiest country, it is also the freest country in sub Saharan Africa: we are so free that Sanitation bylaws are not enforced either by dereliction or by weariness of incessant insults from culprits who break sanitation laws; so free that a citizen who challenges another to stop littering is rather seen as a talkative or worst still, too knowing( say too know); and in fact, so free to ease oneself or litter anywhere like animals do.
As a result, the enthusiasm which characterized the National Sanitation exercise in its beginning is waning because there is no law enforcement. This decreasing interest in the exercise does not bode well for progress on sanitation and could be as a result of lack of support from influential institutions like religious bodies and traditional authorities.
Excessive criticisms of the excesses of the regional clean-up exercise, from sections of the media may also be another reason for the dwindling interest in the exercise.
Our religious leaders who have been voicing their opinions actively on politics and governance should in the same manner help governments build an orderly society. These leaders should help when governments need their support in pushing policies of national interest. Many of these leaders who wield so much influence on their members than bosses at work and even parents, can inspire their members to keep Ghana clean and safe.
The sections of the media which criticized the President for his exemplary desilting of drains should refrain from academic arguments and rather focus on the direness of the sanitation crises.
The situation is direr than we think. If our university students and authorities cannot keep their campuses clean today, what then will Tudu, Makola, or Agbogbloshi look like in 10years time?
If we site Kigali as the cleanest city in Africa today, we should not lose sight of the fact that Paul Kagami, the president of Rwanda, took part in cleaning exercises to lead the way for a clean Rwanda.
Influential journalists should participate actively in the sanitation exercise, not just reporting on insanitary conditions but also as exemplary volunteers in the exercise. It is time “development journalism” took on a new meaning.
The Environmental Protection Agency, chiefs and opinion leaders have a huge responsibility to keep our communities clean. If charity really begins at home, then parents are also encouraged to inculcate good sanitation and hygiene habits in their children. Children should be thought not to litter or pass water wherever the urge strikes.
Poor sanitation impacts negatively on a nations dignity ,productivity and by extension, strains health care systems.This is why it is important to get our hands dirty through communal labour in order to keep Ghana clean. Long live National Sanitation Day. Long live Ghana.
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