Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services are fundamental to economic development.

The availability of safe WASH can facilitate business development, especially the informal sector, which contributes significantly to economic growth and development in many developing countries including Ghana.

From farmers, traders, and artisans; many economic activities are carried out in public places particularly, local markets and lorry stations.

However, with the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic, transport stations and marketplaces continue to lack adequate handwashing facilities and other essential Personal Protection Equipment’s/Materials to ensure strict adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols, including social distancing to support continuous economic activities in our local markets and transport stations.

Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2019 as reported by the World Bank is sixty-seven billion dollars. The informal sector is a significant contributor to Ghana’s GDP.

This is from the backdrop of the sector contributing 30 percent of Ghana’s GDP in  2016, 28.6 percent in 2017 and 27 percent in 2018 as reported by Ghana Statistical service in the rebased 2013-2018 Annual Gross Domestic Product.

Ghana’s informal sector is made of over 33 informal professions and artisans, and most of them converge in various local markets in the country to carry out their business activities.

The powers to construct and manage these local markets are under the authority of the Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies (MMDAs) as part of their functions of promoting local economic development, as detailed in the Local Government Act 936 (2016). The act further identifies three (3) sources of revenue for MMDAs under section 124 subsection 1 as decentralized transfers; internally generated funds; and donations and grants.

The section further explains internally generated funds of the MMDAs under subsection 3 as licenses; fees and miscellaneous charges; taxes; investment income; and rates. These internally generated funds are mostly collected from market operators and transport stations

The Government of Ghana, following the country recording its first Covid-19 case in March 2020, set out five key objectives to combat the pandemic;

1) Limit and stop the importation of the virus;

2) Contain its spread;

3) Provide adequate care for the sick;

4) Limit the impact of the virus on social and economic life and;

5) Inspire the expansion of; our domestic capability and deepen our self-reliance.

This led to the government introducing partial lockdown in Greater Accra, Kasoa and Greater Kumasi where citizens’ movements were restricted to essential services.

Public places like the local markets, health centers and the lorry stations were the few areas that operated during the partial lockdown.

In ensuring citizens continued adherence to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) and Ghana Health Service safety protocols, the MMDA’s who have been mandated to implement the Covid-19 management strategy in their respective assemblies set up various searchlight markets in and around their cities to avoid citizens traveling long distances to markets.

Again, thousands of “veronica buckets” were distributed to these markets to support the practice of hand hygiene at all critical times. These, among other measures introduced by the government, and supported by various institutions and Civil Society organizations helped in the management of the virus and containing it to date.

Provision of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene services (WASH) have not been prioritized in various public places in the country particularly, markets and lorry stations, where the informal sector operates their economic activities.

This was one key reason, the government through the MMDAs supplied “veronica buckets” to support the practice of hand hygiene.

In a presidential address to the nation, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo advocated for the need for citizens to continuously practice hand hygiene, not only to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but rather as a new normal. Handwashing with soap as reported by Global Handwashing Partnership is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent these diseases.

This simple behaviour can save lives, cutting diarrhea by almost one-half and acute respiratory infections by nearly one-quarter. Handwashing with soap impacts not just health and nutrition, but also education, economics, and equity.

Yet WHO/UNICEF JMP 2019 reports that, globally, three billion people are unable to practice basic handwashing and in Ghana, and 59 percent of the population are unable to practice hand hygiene at all critical times.

WaterAid Ghana, in support of government-led initiatives to fight the spread of Covid-19 has rolled out a project in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation dubbed Safety of Markets and Pre-Empting Stigmatization of Covid-19 Survivors: An Integrated Hygiene Behaviour Change Campaign.

The project is being implemented in three regions of the country with one of its objectives to promote the WHO five core behaviours particularly, hand hygiene in fifteen markets in three regions of the country.

As part of the project implementation, WaterAid Ghana has completed a survey to understand the various gaps, particularly on WASH that will prevent market operators (traders, drivers, head porters, bus conductors) and customers to not practice hand hygiene at all critical times in support of the project implementation strategy.

The survey results suggest that the government, through the MMDAs, has done a good job in promoting hand hygiene in the various local markets in the country.

This included the distribution of veronica buckets to the markets, identifying people to be responsible for filling the buckets with water, as well as supporting the markets with soap.

Again, MMDAs have been broadcasting in the various markets on the need to wash the hands at all critical times among other protocols through information systems in various public places like markets and lorry stations.

The survey, however, identifies gaps in the WASH status of our markets, impacting on the practice of handwashing in local markets and lorry stations, which policy and decision-makers at all levels need to quickly work on to help make public places, particularly markets and lorry stations safe for business operators and customers.

This is critical now that various restrictions are being eased by the government. Various local markets, unlike the malls have several entry points, thereby calling for more handwashing facilities to be placed at all points of entry for market operators and customers to easily access them and wash their hands.

Veronica buckets are not durable and unable to function as expected. This breaks the president’s call for citizens to continuously practice hand hygiene at all critical times, particularly when in public place like markets and lorry stations.

The buckets supplied are not disability friendly, which is injurious to the 1992 constitution of the country, and more specifically, Persons With Disability Act, 2006 Act 715.

The act states among other things under the section for rights of persons with disability that a person with disability shall not be deprived of the right to live with that person’s family or the right to participate in social, political, economic, creative or recreational activities.

The buckets provided were not connected to water systems, requiring human efforts to monitor and fill the bucket when they are empty. This has led to several instances where people willing to wash their hands have not been able to do so due to lack of water in the handwashing facility.

Several markets in the country including those visited during the survey do not have water systems, resulting in the market operators having to walk distances to fetch water for the buckets.

In conclusion, saving our markets through the provision of adequate WASH facilities would go a long way in strengthening and improving the informal sector, which contributes significantly to the economy in terms of productivity and job creation opportunities for the country’s workforce.

As such, it is imperative that the government, through the MMDAs as a matter of urgency addresses the WASH inadequacies and gaps in public places by providing more permanent handwashing facilities, providing/rehabilitating water systems as well as intensifying hygiene campaigns at public places.

This will go a long way to make our markets and lorry station very safe, during and after the pandemic.

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The writer, David Aidoo is the Grants Manager for WaterAid Ghana and currently covering the Programme funding and partnerships portfolio for the Country Programme.