The Ministry of Sanitation &Water Resources must climb every mountain!

Sanitation Day 09 People cleaning their vicinity

Wed, 8 Mar 2017 Source: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny

By: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny

In all his three bids to become President of Ghana, President Akufo-Addo (it takes some getting used to call him ‘President’ and not ‘Nana Addo’ as he has been known for decades), has been consistent as regards one thing: that he will “bring back the Tankase people”. ‘Tankase’ is a corrupted form of ‘Town Council’ a term used in the 60’s and 70’s and a euphemism for the powerful, feared ‘Sanitary Inspectors’ and their subordinate ‘Sanitary Labourers’ of the 60’s and 70’s who could sniff an offending cockroach from a mile away and punish the home that harbored it. Now they are called Environmental Health Officers in our District and Municipal assemblies. Beyond their highfalutin titles however, these Environmental Health Officers, are hardly seen or heard of and have largely failed in their role as the vultures of our environment to ensure that our surroundings, neighborhoods and work places are kept clean and that those whose acts offend the environment remedy their offence or face sanction.

But their ‘failures’ are not entirely their fault. Rapid urbanization and increased city and town populations, multiplying slums, unchecked used of non biodegradable materials in food packaging, food vending and water packaging (sachet water), lack of education on proper waste disposal methods, lack of concern about our environment (‘I don care’), the widely held notion that “Zoomlion will clean up” after we litter, sheer indiscipline and the lack of political muscle by our leaders and Assemblies to tackle the sanitation and environmental problem, among other numerous factors have contributed to the filth that has engulfed our country and its people.

Our cities and towns are filthy. With that there can be no quarrel. Our villages are much better. Heaps of refuse, plastic sachet water bags, choked gutters, human excreta and the overpowering stench of human faeces and other waste are piled up everywhere and clog one’s nostrils. Everywhere... It is getting worse by the day. Covered drains in the tidier parts of our cities are full of garbage, sediment and human faeces tied up in black plastic bags, choking the drains and rendering them useless for the purpose of carrying rain and other waste water away. There is flooding with almost every heavy rain. Kindly walk on a short stretch of these covered drains along our nicer, asphalted, paved, streets. You’ll be horrified at how full of non bio-degradable plastic they are, and how smelly these covered drains are.

Our filthy surroundings scar us as a people and reflect who we are as a people. It is an indictment on our governments and our district and municipal authorities and a pointer to the lack of pride in our surroundings and the breakdown in our society’s basic values. They manifest the failings of our educational system which was once a bastion for instilling positive lifelong character shaping traits, values, a sense of duty, service and obligation to our society and country.

I shouldn’t amble about. Astonished narrations as to how clean Rwanda is and how kiosk and hawker free Kigali is are pointless. What are we learning from them? How do we change our slovenly and filthy habit of throwing every conceivable waste item anywhere, mindless of the consequence? We need action. Strong, concerted, sustained action… Not prayer nor fasting, nor hope for a change in how we do our things, not a weak, brief, poster and slogan filled campaign. Real, concerted, sustained action is required. It will not take 100 days as some Accra mayors strangely delude themselves into believing. It will take time. Maybe two to three years for Ghanaians to acknowledge and accept good hygiene, good sanitation, care for the environment as important in their lives and well being. But it can be done. And it must be done. Starting now…

My untrained views on some of the ways we can approach our sanitation problem are as follows:

Education: A sustained bottom-up approach to education is required. Starting with the youngest school kids, through our entire basic and SHS system, our kids must be ‘indoctrinated’ through formal education involving song, videos, lessons, posters etc about how human activities impact the environment, the need to dispose of refuse properly and the need to and methods of keeping their surroundings clean etc. Civic Education or some modern variant of it has to be reincarnated. This will inculcate in them, a responsibility towards the environment and their country.

For the stubborn, hardened, adult population, short, high impact videos of swathes of filth across the length and breadth of Ghana on our phones, TV, radio messages, TV and radio documentaries, poster education etc. Our phone companies, newspapers, and radio and TV stations must help government to carry out this public education free of charge as part of their corporate social responsibility. Corporate Ghana and every identifiable grouping like our churches, keep-fit clubs, co-operatives like Butchers, Fitters, Vulcanizers, Traders, Spare Parts dealers, Transport Unions like GPRTU and PROTOA, Tailors, Barbers, Hairdressers and other trade associations, coconut sellers, food vendors etc., must be oriented in proper waste disposal methods, tasked to provide bins and skips, display waste disposal and educational material on their premises, and carry out clean up and educational campaigns within their locality and for their members. Every Ministry, department and public building must have bold printed messages that urge us not to litter and to keep the environment clean pasted on their walls, within their premises and distribute literature on sanitation measures to staff and visitors. All government buildings must provide bins and skips where needed in their immediate surroundings or say within a 100 metre radius of their premises for waste disposal. This shouldn’t be difficult or expensive. Our priests and Imams command regular and huge followings. They must relentlessly drive the clean sanitation and environment clean, urge their congregations to clean up their home surroundings before coming to church/the mosque and lead general clean up campaigns in their localities. Education is required on the fact that waste disposal is not “free”, that effort is required to dispose of it properly, that it hurts our health, environment and pride as a people if we do not do it properly, and that there are sanctions for improper refuse disposal. Of course our refuse collection will have to up their game regarding equipment, staff training etc. to meet increased waste collection and disposal.

Clean Up Campaigns; are public shows of various groups’ commitment to tidying up adopted places like hospitals, orphanages, markets, particular streets etc or their surroundings. Used by Churches, schools, corporate institutions, social clubs, NGO’S etc., every now and then to ‘make some noise’, they are usually fun filled events lasting a few hours at which enthusiastic groups wear identical T-shirts and carry out clean ups often to blaring brass band music and end the effort with food, drink, dancing, taking selfies and a few speeches. Clean up campaigns are useful and provide immediate relief and hope, and every household, squatter camp, village, social and business group must be encouraged to carry them out periodically, say, once a month. Occasional clean ups are not the way out of this mess. Our sanitation and environmental cleanliness regeneration effort must hinge on sustained education and sensitization resulting in a change of attitudes and mindsets and the realization that we all have a duty to keep our surroundings clean all the time, that it is an offence to litter, and that there is a punishment for littering and improper refuse disposal.

Music and Creative Arts: Just like during elections, musicians through songs, collaborative musical efforts of Musiga, the Actors Guild, Beauty Pageants etc can be used to educate etc. Musicians with followings like Shatta Wale, Amakye Dede and Daddy Lumba and radio celebrities with influence like Kwami Sefa-Kayi, can be made “Ambassadors” to help promote environmental cleanliness.

Intensive Collaboration: The new ministry and the ISD in unison with the Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and other related agencies like the Food & Drugs Board must come out with inexpensive, poignant, leaflets, booklets, posters and radio and TV messages that highlight the common practices that are destroying the environment and negatively affecting our lives. They must collaborate, not compete among themselves and set common targets in this mammoth, nationwide exercise that must be felt in every nook of our country. A lot of our government agencies are unnecessarily territorial which hampers government efficiency. Every government building must have an Environmental Health Officer or train someone in the basics of sanitation and environment matters to ensure that their surroundings are kept clean, ensure notices on sanitation, hygiene and the environment are boldly displayed and regularly updated etc. A monumental and determined effort by every grouping in Ghana is required for a sustained educational sanitation and environmental cleanliness drive. Corporate Ghana must partner government and its agencies in this matter.

The President: whose initiative this is, and his Vice-President must make sanitation and environmental issues their mantra in every speech or engagement with Ghanaians. Every speech without fail.. Every locality they visit must see a real effort by the district assemblies visited to up the sanitation drive.

In all this, Zoomlion’s top heavy, financially burdensome model imposed and funded by central government has no place. Those poorly paid Zoomlion workers in blue and orange overalls workers who hog major intersections and high traffic areas look professional and tidy, but they are not the way out of this mess. Zoomlion’s astronomic fees for waste collection etc far exceed its benefit to us. It should be possible for every public sector organization and corporate Ghana to allocate a fraction of their existing annual budget to help print leaflets, booklets, posters and stickers, run educational programmes, provide waste disposal bins and skips where necessary for highly populated, less financially endowed areas, ensure regular collection of garbage and have sustained, monthly clean up campaigns etc in their localities, at a sensible cost.

Each must do his bit to support the new Sanitation and Water Resources Ministry as it begins to address this problem. Our sanitation problem is a national disgrace and the President’s steely first step towards tackling it with the creation of a new ministry is commendable. Strong propulsion from the very top of government is immediately required to deal with this tragic situation. How this fledgling ministry is able to co-ordinate its work with other government agencies and stakeholders responsible for sanitation, public health, education and the environment like the Ministry of Local Government and its District and Municipal Assemblies, the Ministry of Environment, the National Council For Civic Education, Ministry of Information and lead a sanitation Blitzkrieg will play out as this new government settles down.

It will take time to change our poor habits and accept that every citizen has a duty to the environment that our society has “do’s” and “don’ts”, to which we must all conform. But when the benefits of a cleaner, flood free, mosquito free and a less smelly environment, and the consequent and beneficial reduction in diseases like malaria, typhoid, dysentery, food poisoning etc become apparent, Ghanaians will become proud, jealous guardians of their neighborhoods, towns and public places.

If this effort is successful, it will spawn a new pride in, loyalty to, and real love for Ghana, a love more important than the love we once had for our Black-Stars.

Our hydra-headed sanitation problems and environmental degradation issues and solutions thereto, go beyond basic refuse and waste disposal and collection. Recycling plastic waste and biogas power generation for schools and small communities from should be standard practice by now. Sadly they are not. All these are incapable of capture in an article by a layman. And I risk boring you…

Over to you Mr. Kofi Adda, Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources. Roll up your sleeves and good luck. And to Ghanaians, let’s put our shoulder to the sanitation wheel. We are 60 years as nation; we cannot continue to live in filth.

Johnny Blukoo-Allotey,

Accra, Ghana.

Columnist: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny