Let’s have commercial toilets at all fuel stations – Sanitation expert

Dr. Albert M. Wright

Ghanaian engineer and technologist, Dr. Albert M. Wright, who introduced the Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit (KVIP), has prescribed the mandatory construction of toilets at the country’s many fuel stations, to help curb the high incidence of open defecation in the country.

He said such a move would in the short term make improved sanitation facilities available, not only to motorists, but many more Ghanaians who do not have access and thus make them refrain from defecating in open spaces.

A cursory survey at fuel stations dotted across the country, shows that averagely they have two toilets – one for males and one for females (mostly for staff), while some only have make shift urinals for motorists who may want to empty their bladder.

Speaking to ghanabusinessnews.com in an exclusive interview at the just-ended Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene held in Mumbai, India, Dr. Wright said “the incidence of open defecation in urban areas is because we do not have sanitation systems at the household level or in the public places.”

“If you want to stop open defecation, then we must provide an alternative place for people to do it and I think the short term approach is, one, to have a public toilet which works well, which means they must be managed by private people who make money from this – They must be at affordable rates.”

“The second alternative – we have many petrol stations. Government should encourage petrol stations to build toilets and charge moderate rates – Maybe four or five per petrol station and charge for their use – because there are so many of them, it will go very far in solving the problem,” he proffered.

According to him, as things stand now in Ghana, when people are in town and have to respond to the call of nature, they have nowhere to go other than the open spaces.

Available statistics show that as much as 20% of Ghanaians in all the 10 regions of Ghana still practice open defecation, due to the lack of toilet facilities.

Leading the table in open defecation is the Upper East Region with 81.9%, followed by Upper West, 78.7%, Northern, 72.9%; Central, 18.1% and Volta Region, 13.8%.

The others are Western, 12.8%; Greater Accra, 8.1%; Brong Ahafo, 6.4%; Eastern Region with 5.5%, and Ashanti Region, 3.4%.

This notwithstanding, Ghana’s revised Environmental Sanitation Policy (September 2010) in section 3.1.2. (e) says “Every individual, establishment or institution shall be responsible for ‘Hygienically disposing of all wastes they generate in public areas by use of an authorised public toilet or solid waste container as appropriate.”

It adds that “Where individuals, establishments or institutions fail to discharge these responsibilities, the competent authorities shall take any necessary remedial action at the expense of those in default. The competent authorities shall also assume responsibility for the maintenance of specified public areas in a sanitary condition and charge fees for the use of such areas.”

Again in section 3.1.3 (g), the Sanitation Policy states, “Every community shall: Take the necessary steps to develop appropriate environmental sanitation infrastructure such as domestic and public toilets and waste disposal sites.”

The policy also states in section 3.2.1 that the functions of the lead sector agency, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) shall include “Promulgation of national legislation and model bye-laws.”

Dr. Albert Wright however believes that all is not lost for Ghana, as the country has made some progress in sanitation since starting with technology without a process.

Dr. Albert Wright (left) speaking to Edmund Smith-Asante at the just-ended Global Forum on Sanitation in India

“I see the CLTS as a process which does not necessarily involve any one technology. It can involve a number of technologies which the communities can afford – The focus should be on what the community can afford ,” he said, referring to the Community-Led Total Sanitation model that has been adapted by Ghana to deal with sanitation issues.

Divulging that hitherto Ghana was focusing on Community Based Sanitation Systems, he said with CLTS, the focus shifted to the household phase or home-based sanitation system.

“This is big progress, because when you are suffering from diarrhoea or cholera, in the night when it is raining, you have a call of nature, you can’t go to the public place, you need to go to a place within the house. So having sanitation system within the house is a major progress, which we hope the CLTS approach will bring,” Dr, Wright opined.

He said what the country needs to understand is that CLTS is an approach and there could be other approaches, cautioning however, “It is new and Ghana has absorbed it, which is good but we have to monitor it to make sure that any inherent problems are caught early and corrected.”

Explaining that the reason Ghana is off track in meeting the sanitation MDG is the cost of sanitation, the Engineer expressed optimism thus: “With the CLTS which is not based on subsidy, it means the institutions are going to have a means of keeping it going. It also means that when people are to pay things for themselves, they are more realistic in what they choose – they will choose what they can afford. But when others are paying for them they will like to choose the Rolls Royces.”

To Dr. Albert Wright, the change from subsidy to no subsidy approach augurs very well for the future, stating his belief that by 2015, as far as rural sanitation is concerned, Ghana should be very close to meeting the deadline or target for the MDGs.

“It is a different story in the urban areas – we have to work harder in the urban areas and develop a parallel approach similar to the CLTS approach, which is applicable to urban areas rather than the rural areas for which the CLTS is most suitable and applicable,” he however warned.

Dr. Wright, who is currently serving as a member of the Advisory Committee on the Global Sanitation Fund for WSSCC and was at Global Forum in that capacity, elucidated that the approach that has been used for the urban areas in the past is the Strategic Sanitation Approach, but has unfortunately not been well understood and implemented.

“We need to re-examine it again and see it in the light of the CLTS where we can have a parallel approach similar to the CLTS, which we can apply, particularly in the small towns, and then from there move to the urban slum areas and finally to the rest of the urban areas,” he recommended.

A man donning many hats, Dr. Albert M. Wright worked on the KVIP technology from 1977 – 1984 in Ghana and other West African countries whilst at KNUST and in 1984 worked with the World Bank to carry it to other African countries, working in both rural and urban areas. He also developed the Strategic Sanitation Approach for urban areas and retired from the World Bank about 15 years ago (1996).

This is after he had worked for over eleven years with the Bretton Woods institution, most recently as senior sanitary engineer, and was a member of the Technology Advisory Group at the World Bank that conducted a two-year study on low-cost technologies for excreta disposal.

He also worked on former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s MDG programme as co-Chair for the taskforce on Water Supply and Sanitation, is member of the Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership, and consults for several developing countries on urban sanitation policy.

Dr. Wright has served for twenty years on the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Environmental Health, in that capacity serving on various Expert Committees of the WHO, including the Expert Committees on Filariasis and Solid Waste Disposal.

He also served as the Joint Rapporteur in 1982 for the Final Task Group on the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. During his time at the WHO he taught at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology at Kumasi, Ghana, where he served as Head of Civil Engineering and set up the Institute of Mining and Mineral Engineering.

In addition, Dr. Wright was Chairman of the International Management Board of the International Reference Centre (IRC) for Community Water Supply at Rijkwik, the Netherlands and received a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkely.

By Edmund Smith-Asante, back from Mumbai, India

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