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A major challenge facing sub-Saharan Africa is rapid urbanization, which experts say is offsetting huge investments and gains made in the provision of potable drinking water and environmental sanitation and hygiene.
Professor Yaw Oheneba-Sakyi of the Institute of Continuing and Distance Education, Legon said rapid urbanization, coupled with institutional weaknesses in physical planning policies had led to the growth of slums at the urban centres, which often did not have access to safe drinking water and good sanitary practices.
This was contained in a statement issued as part of the 64th New Year School and Conference scheduled to open on Monday, January 14, 2013 and copied the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in Accra.
The one-week programme is on the theme: “The Key to Future Health of Our Nation: Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene” and comes off at the University of Ghana, Legon.
The 2013 New Year School will create the platform for a dispassionate discussion of how the nation can deal with the challenges of inadequate safe drinking water, poor sanitary condition and poor sanitation behaviour, inadequate hygiene education and poor physical planning strategies.
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi said consistent with trends in Africa, Ghana’s population was becoming increasingly urbanized, having witnessed rapid urbanization over the past four decades.
According to Professor Oheneba-Sakyi the development had placed more pressure on government to deal with the challenges of access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
“While governments have tried to deal with the challenges of improving access to water, and sanitation, much more remains to be done”, he said.
He noted that although some positive results had been achieved in water coverage since 2009, this was marked by inequalities between urban and rural areas.
In the rural areas, he said, the proportion of people with access to safe drinking water ranged from a low of 44.20 per cent in the Western Region to a high of 76.34 per cent in the Upper West Region.
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi noted that in the urban areas, the proportion ranged from 10 per cent in Upper West to 69 per cent in the Grater Accra Region.
Central Region and Western Region are the regions with less than half of both their rural and urban populations having access to safe water, according to the 2009 National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) report.
The percentage of the population with access to safe water in urban areas had been estimated at 58 per cent, while that for the rural areas is 60.8 per cent, 2011 NDPC has reported.
The 2010 report has said sanitation remained a major challenge, saying that as at 2008, only 13 per cent of the population of Ghana was using improved toilet facilities.
Almost 54 per cent (about three million) of the population shared their household toilet facilities with other households; whiles 23 per cent (more than five million) people practiced open defecation, the reported added.
The 2010 Population and Housing Census also revealed that proportion of household using public toilet facility had increased from 31.4 per cent in 2000 to 34.6 percent in 2010.
On the other hand, the proportion of households that used pit latrine reduced from 22.0 per cent in 2000 to 19.0 per cent in 2010. Similarly the proportion of households without toilet facilities decreased from 20 per cent to 19 per cent in 2010, the report added.
It said that the proportion of household’s using water closet had increased from 8.5 per cent in 2000 to 15.4 per cent.
Professor Oheneba-Sakyi said, “three years to 2015 Ghana was off-track for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on sanitation and has to raise coverage from 18 per cent to 61.5 per cent for urban areas and from seven per cent to 55 per cent in rural areas”.
Based on the average cost of a latrine and water supply, it is estimated that a total GHc 2.4b (US$1.6b) was required to meet the MDG sanitation for water of which US$1.5b is for sanitation, 2010 Government of Ghana has reported.
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi said in most of the cities and towns insanitary conditions had grown worst. Apart from the heaps of rubbish found everywhere, the major cities and towns were confronted with lack of waste disposal site and effective waste management policies.
He noted that sanitation and hygiene were closely linked; explaining that hygiene was a condition for promoting sanitary practice.
He said records had shown that because of poor sanitation and absence of an effective hygiene education, outbreak of cholera was becoming a regular feature of city life.
“The most vulnerable group that suffers from unhygienic conditions is children”, he said.
He explained that diarrhoea diseases were common among children because of unhygienic conditions in several schools. ”Many children do not wash their hands regularly due to absence of decent toilets and convenient access to water”.
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi observed that though efforts had been made to provide schools with decent toilets and urinals, several schools were still without those facilities and said despite a Hand washing with Soap Programme with an overall objective of improving the health of ordinary Ghanaian, the programme was yet to achieve the desired outcomes.
“Several adults do not wash their hands after attending to nature’s call”, he noted.
He told the GNA that a healthy population was not only an asset by itself, but also facilitated sustained poverty reduction and socio-economic growth.
According to Prof Oheneba-Sakyi it was therefore necessary that critical policy interventions were instituted to address the issues associated with urbanization to ensuring access to safe water and sanitation facilities.
He said if Ghana wanted to accelerate the pace of development, much more emphasis needed to be paid to rapid urbanization and the challenges arising from such developments.
He added that there was the need for a community-led approach to improve sanitation and hygiene.