Open defecation, shared latrines in Ghana, said to be among highest in the world

A Programme Officer of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate (EHSD) of Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Mr. Kweku Quansah, has stated that the rate of open defecation in the country ranks among the highest in the world.

Currently, 19 out of every 100 Ghanaians openly defecate daily, either in the morning or evening or both, bringing the total figure to about five million a day.

Ghana loses $79 million annually as a result of open defecation, according to figures released by the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank in April 2012, making the country the fifth highest among 18 African countries analysed by the bank.

Explaining the genesis of the trend, Mr. Quansah, blamed colonisation for the problem. He said it is one of the colonial legacies bequeathed to Ghana, indicating that it all began when in colonial times owning a toilet was seen as a prestige and something for the affluent in society.

In an exclusive interview with, the programme officer said; “It all started from the pre-colonial era, when the then colonial masters thought latrines was a privilege, it’s for the high class and they rather built communal latrines for people to use instead of encouraging them to have their own latrines.

“It started from there and they started using latrines as something free – I don’t need to waste money on it – rather, somebody must pay for it. Then it came to public latrines where fees were charged for people to access those latrines.

“It got to a time when we privatised it to fully commercial so it became too expensive for people to access – all these put together and the fact that generally Ghanaians are difficult people and behaviour change is a big issue, gives that result we are seeing now – high percentage of people who share latrines, high percentage of people who don’t have latrines at all and high percentage of people who practice open defecation,” he lamented.

That notwithstanding, he said it has been noted that some people generally take delight in openly defecating. “The bottom line is that people take delight in defecating openly – culturally and habitually people feel when they go to open spaces, behind people’s houses, along the beaches, river banks etc to defecate they have free air.”

“The other side is that people genuinely don’t have any place to defecate – it is the only option that they have. Another dimension is the fact that the toilets they are using are so dirty that they cannot use the toilets,” Mr. Quansah added, explaining that these are the three main factors informing the high incidence of open defecation in Ghana.

To help counteract the practise, the EHSD programme officer disclosed that a national award scheme has been instituted by his outfit, to reward communities in the country which obtain open defecation free (ODF) status on November 19 every year, a date designated by the World Toilet Organisation as World Toilet Day.

“And I feel it is another way of encouraging and motivating communities on their own to stop open defecation, because the implication of open defecation is too serious in tourism, on the health of the people, in productivity and economics, to the extent that we cannot afford to, but rather stop people from openly defecating, ” he opined.

To Kweku Quansah, people must be stopped from openly defecating or else they will never come up with strategies to build their own latrines when there are open spaces for them to ease themselves anytime they want to attend nature’s call.

The seriousness of the situation is that children are learning the practice from adults, he said.
“Seriously the children are learning those habits, because for a typical community or public latrine that is commercialised, a child will not have the money, therefore when he gets there and is not allowed to enter, he will just do it behind the structure.”

He thus recommended that in fashioning out a policy on open defecation, the child factor must be looked at, while it must be insisted that public toilets are only built for transient populations and the building of individual household toilets encouraged, while flexible arrangements must be made for co-sharing of some individual latrines.

Mr. Quansah however admitted that currently, the incidence of shared latrines in Ghana is one of the highest in the world. “It is  a very big issue – close to 58% of Ghanaians share latrines,” he divulged.

The programme officer stressed though, that if the country must make any headway in sanitation coverage it must start from curbing open defecation, the absence of latrines and the use of unimproved latrines, before tackling shared latrines, by encouraging people to own improved latrines.

Currently only 15 out of 100 Ghanaians have improved latrines according to the Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) released recently.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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