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Accra Filth: The Double Agony of a City

Sat, 22 Jan 2011 Source: Gavi & Ablordepey

By

Jonathan Kuma Gavi & Golda Ablordepey

Talking about the poor sanitation and dirt in Accra is tantamount to talking about the sand on the beach. To talk about Accra being filthy and dirty is equally to talk about residents of Accra not being mindful of their surroundings. In fact, beside the exclusive residential areas and where the affluent in our society live, filth and unsightly rubbish heaps is the daily scene that greets you whenever you step out of your home. So what is it about us that make us do things the way we do them that has made our capital city to be what it is today?

Comparing the sewerage system of central Accra with the density of its population, coupled with its floating population, it is true that the available sewerage system is grossly insignificant and dysfunctional. Waste management has become a chronic challenge for city authorities not so much because of lack of resources but largely due to lack of fore planning, inability to stick to policies and corruption. Times without number, we hear of ultimatums to landlords to provide their households with toilets. But what do we see? Continual defecation on our beaches and open spaces within the city. Land developers continue to flout town and country planning regulations with impunity yet officials who are supposed to supervise and ensure compliance are paid monthly.

Charity, they say, begins at home and cleanliness is next to godliness. While public officials fail in discharging their duties, the evolving Ghanaian drop-as-you-go attitude has exasperated the already nauseating level of dirt in the city. We seem to lose all sense of the virtue of keeping our surroundings clean as we litter the streets without a wince. The sense of community and self-help spirit has given way to an I-don’t-care spirit. This problem goes beyond the unavailability of trash cans. We simply lack the mindset of carrying our trash along till we find the next receptacle.

A visit to the University of Ghana Campus for example is enough to buttress this point. Students who are expected to know better about the implications of unsanitary conditions drop litter anywhere even in the full glare of available trash cans. We throw rubbish anywhere, turn around and make all the noise that someone needed to clean up Accra. Really? Truly, the core problem of our dirty and unkempt city environment is behavioural constraints. We cannot run away from this under any pretexts.

Unless we change our attitude of how we treat our environment, no amount of facilities provided with our own taxes will benefit us. The 92 million-dollar Korle-Bu Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project for example is yet to benefit us. Why? We continue to throw more rubbish into the lagoon, stalling a project that could benefit us directly and attract more tourists, both domestic and foreign, into the country. Why should our resources be sunk into projects only to be left to deteriorate? Which prudent entrepreneur does that? It is ridiculous that we expend contracted loans they way we do in Ghana.

We kill our own tourism potentials with our bad attitudes. Yes, we can make the argument that if facilities were to be available for waste disposal, people would not have been dumping refuse indiscriminately. Indeed, this way, the vicious cycle of the blame game never ends, our city will remain dirty and filthy. Maybe the diseases caused by insanitary conditions will wait for us until we finish the blame game before they attack us. In 2008 alone over US$ 700m was spent on treating malaria when there are preventive means of eradicating the killer all together! No need to talk about cholera and typhoid fever that is killing people on daily basis. We are paying dearly for our sloppiness and drop-as-you-go carefree attitude.

The fact that the wealth of any nation is inherent in its people cannot be overstated. Likewise, the reality that a country brand is about the people can never be denied since as a matter of fact, without the people, and how they do things, what they hold dear and their aspirations, a country or nation is an empty landmass. For this matter, whenever we talk of Accra being dirty, one cannot help but infer that Ghanaians are dirty! Are we a dirty people? But for how long can we continue like this?

We have done enough of the talking and blame game. If Ghana wants to attract investors, world class brains and tourists, host international programmes and events, then it is imperative the government (and all succeeding governments) shows the political will in practical terms that it cares about the health and wellbeing of the people. Sub-metro agencies responsible for the sanity of our cities must sit up with innovative plans to rid the city of filth. City authorities must display the disposition that they are abreast with the implications of rapid urbanization, and the challenge and methods of urban waste management. State and city authorities, as stewards, must safeguard our investments by ensuring compliance with policy directives. Ultimatums should be treated as such - deadlines for punitive action. This is an aspect of branding ourselves internally that must not be taken for granted.

To borrow the words of George Owusu (ISSER, Legon), the current poor state of sanitation in Accra is not an accident. If by our irresponsible behaviours we have brought this menace upon ourselves, then with like mindedness, we can work to turn things round for the better.

Columnist: Gavi & Ablordepey