NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE NEED FOR IMPROVED SANITATION AS A PRE REQUISITE FOR SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
TOILET ISSUES MATTER
Today, is World Toilet Day, a day set aside by the UN to celebrate toilets and create the needed awareness among billions of people who still do not have access to this important but basic facility. World Toilet Day exists to inform, engage and sensitize people all over the world to take action towards stopping open defecation and ensuring access to improved and sustainable toilet facilities. Access to Toilet is a human right issue. On 28th July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. The UN acknowledges that sanitation is essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution called upon Member States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help in capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable sanitation for all. As a country how do we ensure that toilets become accessible to all?
SDG 6 and other related guidelines have given us some indications as to how to make sanitation for all a reality. One of the critical tools of achieving set goals is keeping reminding ourselves of the existence of such goals and how close or far we are from the goal. Globally, one of the triggers and reminders of our “Toilet for All” vows is the commemoration of the annual World Toilet Day. Ghana, as a dedicated UN member state, has commemorated the day since its inception in 2001, even before the UN General Assembly declared World Toilet Day an official UN day in 2012. Themes for the commemoration have been chosen to highlight the global and local challenges within the sanitation space.
Analysing the past themes points to the importance of toilets in the lives of people and the general socio-economic development of the country. Toilets are so important that they impact directly on Tourism, Health, Education, Environment, Economy, Job creation and is key in the attainment of all other SDGs. This year the global theme chosen for the commemoration of the World Toilet Day is “Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change.” The nexus between Sustainable sanitation and Climate change is not far-fetched. Whether we believe it or not the issue of Climate Change is already here with us and its consequences abound in our everyday lives.
We therefore need to drum home the need to see toilets as cause and effect of Climate Change. Building toilets with Climate change in mind is the most sustainable approach for safe management of faecal matter. The discussion of Climate change within the context of Toilets is more relevant than ever as available statistics on Sanitation and Hygiene are alarming and not in our favour. According to the latest available data from WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP and the World Bank, more than half of the global population lack safe toilets. Around 297,000 children under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor hygiene, poor sanitation or unsafe drinking water.
These are not too different from our in-country statistics. According to Ghana Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2017/18 (MICS 2017/19), Only one in every five households (21%) in Ghana have an improved toilet facility. About 22% still practice open defecation. Close to eight in every ten households (80%) had E-coli in their drinking water while close to half of our water sources are contaminated with faeces. The effects of climate change threaten water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure directly, especially when floodwater contaminates wells and other such sources meant for drinking or when flooding damages toilets and exposes faeces into the environment, and food crops. These scenarios are becoming more frequent as climate change worsens. Exposure of faecal matter into people’s living environments cause deadly and chronic diseases including a number of Neglected Tropical Diseases. Without safely managed, sustainable toilets, people often have no choice but to use unreliable, inadequate toilets or practice open defecation. Even where toilets exist, overflow and leak from pipes and septic systems, and dumping or improper treatment, can mean untreated human waste going into the environment and spreading diseases like cholera and intestinal worms. Sustainable sanitation systems, and knowledge to practice good hygiene, are strong barriers against COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks.
Improving access to safe toilets and handwashing facilities in healthcare facilities reduces infection and mortality rates, particularly in maternal and child health. Ghana has adopted a local theme for this year’s World Toilet Day and that is “Household Toilets for All, Creating Zero Barriers.” This Theme is very relevant in addressing our local sanitation challenges, which may be more complex than most countries around the world. There are a number of barriers that militate against an average Ghanaian gaining access to this important human need called Toilet.
These barriers could be poor coordination, high cost of toilet facilities, land tenure issues, attitudes and beliefs, lack of information, inadequate financial support mechanism, non-availability of appropriate technologies, weak enforcement regime among others. These barriers to increase in access to toilets should be surmounted if we want to get back on track to achieve our SDG goals as a country. It is important to appreciate the fact that the time to act to remove these barriers is now. Sanitation cannot wait otherwise it would drag the rate of progress for our socio-economic development. Let us remember that Sanitation and Hygiene are the most important and cost-effective health intervention ever in the history of modern civilization.
By Kweku Quansah, Fellow of West African Postgraduate College of Environmental Health