Dr. Simpson Anim Boateng, Director, Metro Public Health Department, Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), says access to improved toilets in the Accra Metropolis has seen tremendous improvement over the last three years.
According to him, the progress made in access to toilets in Accra, is as a result of a very aggressive exercise embarked upon by the city authority to ensure every household has an approved toilet or latrine.
Dr. S. A. Boateng, who was speaking on the topic “Access to Toilets” during the airing of the 9th edition of the Ghana Watsan Journalists Network (GWJN) WASH Radio programme on Radio XYZ Sunday April 28, described the situation in Accra as guided because three years ago only few people had access to improved toilets when the Metro Public Health Department of the AMA conducted a survey to know the exact number of households in Accra without toilets.
Describing the findings of the survey as very surprising, he disclosed that in some areas such as Abossey Okai, Odawna area and Agbogbloshie among others, almost 90 per cent of the houses there did not have access to toilets.
“So the Assembly came out with a directive that every house in the city should have its own toilet facility and landlords were given time to provide these facilities in their home. So our environmental health officers went about issuing notices and a lot of notices went to these houses without toilets. Now as I speak I can say confidently that the situation which was so bad has now normalised and some areas like Ayawaso West and Osu Klottey have close to 80 percent coverage,” he said.
On what informed an ultimatum given by the AMA to landlords to provide toilets or face sanctions, Dr. Simpson Anim Boateng said “The AMA realised there were a lot of recurrent disease outbreaks and it was attributed to the lack of toilets in people’s homes and we needed to do something. That is how come we reactivated the law which already existed.”
“In addition to this there were a lot of houses still using pan latrines. In fact when we started the exercise three years ago, we had 5,080 houses in Accra using pan latrines,” Dr. Boateng disclosed.”
While admitting that at the onset when the exercise began the situation as far as access to toilets is concerned was very bad, he indicated that after the aggressive programme was began, the number of people in Accra without access to toilets has reduced to 53percent, who can only be found at Old Fadama popularly referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah.
“Surprisingly there are still a number of houses in the city without toilets. It is in the light of this that we set up sanitation courts,” the AMA’s director of Public Health stated, revealing that the sanitation courts have done thousands of prosecutions since they were established in 2010 and that is the main reason why people have rushed to provide toilets in their homes.
Speaking to the issue of why there are houses in the city without toilets, Dr. Simpson Boateng said permits are only given for the construction of houses which make provision for toilets and that their survey showed houses without toilets originally had toilets in them but had those toilets converted into shops, offices and rooms, citing houses in Abossey Okai, a suburb of the city which did not have toilets as example.
“For instance in the Abossey Okai area, every house which was without toilet once had a toilet, he stated emphatically.
Explaining why the problem has existed over the years, he admitted that though there are laws, people have been disregarding the laws, while enforcement has been very weak.
Expressing optimism however, he said: “We are now growing as a nation, so with time, people’s ideas are changing and the realisation that everyone must provide these sanitary facilities is also growing.”
“Before we thought it was no problem, but now we are realising that it is a problem. The annual outbreak of cholera is an indication that we have to do something about the sanitation situation in the city. It will be very difficult to achieve zero per cent but then it is not an impossibility. We will work gradually towards that,” he added.
According to the Director of Public Health in Accra, interventions AMA has employed to arrest the situation apart from prosecution of landlords, is education to change people’s outlook, as well as collaboration with NGOs such as CHF International, which is providing improved toilet facilities in certain areas in the city with very flexible terms.
Shedding more light on the collaboration with non-governmental agencies, Dr. Simpson Boateng said beneficiaries provide a percentage of the total cost, which is spread over a period to make it possible for many people to be able to afford and be part of the scheme and the project commences, disclosing that many residents of Ayideki at New Town, a suburb of Accra, have benefitted from the project.
“About three years ago, the AMA also embarked on a similar exercise under a World Bank funded project to assist people build their own improved toilets. What the project did was that it provided the materials for the construction of the toilets and the landlord also provided some amount of money, which was even spread over some time and it made it possible for many people to benefit but like many projects it came to an end,” he added.
On the way forward to deal with the lack of access to toilets in Ghana and the city of Accra, the Accra Metro Public Health Department head enjoined tenants to make sure that they rent rooms which have toilet facilities, “because toilets is not something you compromise.”
He asked tenants in houses without toilet facilities to first discuss the issue with their landlords and if they are adamant report the matter to the Public Health Department of the AMA who will take instant action.
He said although only water closets are prescribed as improved toilets for the city of Accra, other improved latrines like the KVIP may be acceptable if it is well kept without stench emanating from it in peri-urban areas only.
“Fortunately now there are technologies which do not require vast lands, which trained environmental health engineers of the Assembly can assist landlords technically to construct, Dr. Boateng indicated when responding to the lack of space which is advanced by many landlords as reason for not constructing toilets.
WASH Radio, an advocacy programme dedicated to issues on water, sanitation and hygiene, which airs on Accra-based radio station Radio XYZ every Sunday from 7:00pm to 7:30pm, began on March 3, 2013 and is currently sponsored by WaterAid West Africa (WAWA) and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC).
It is produced by the Ghana Watsan Journalists Network in collaboration with Radio XYZ.
By Edmund Smith-Asante