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Assemblies must show leadership to make Accra work

BY: Kobby Asmah

It is eight days since the much heralded city-wide sanitation campaign, involving 29 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) in the Greater Accra Region started in earnest on Tuesday, February 1, 2022.

With the deployment of about 30,000 people to start the massive clean-up campaign, dubbed ‘Operation Clean Your Frontage’, the initiative, if sustained, can become an important first step to rid Accra of filth and green portions of the environment to enhance its aesthetic beauty and improve health.

Sanitation challenges

Over the years, challenges with sanitation have had to do with mass education, attitudes of the citizenry, enforcement of bye-laws and logistics.

To make a city clean requires that a number of things must be done by both government and the citizenry. It will require the use of multiple approaches such as campaigns for attitudinal change, strict enforcement of bye-laws and logistics to drive residents not only to keep their immediate surroundings clean, but beautify them.

Keeping Accra clean is therefore everyone’s responsibility but very much that of the various assemblies to show leadership in a consultative manner. This will get the buy-in of all citizens to sustain the initiative to make Accra, the capital of the country, work.

Per section 181 of the Local Government Act 2016, Act 936, the various MMDAs have been empowered to formulate local bye-laws and enforce them with support from the Ghana Police Service and the Judiciary to take care of the environment. All the assemblies are also required to have a vibrant prosecution unit to help enforce the bye-laws. It is the ineffective discharge of these responsibilities that has made the city difficult to manage.

Managing difficult city

Why is it so difficult to manage or control the city of Accra? People sell anyhow on pavements, erect unauthorised structures such as kiosks and containers, and build on unapproved portions of land including places designated for roads, while spatial land use is also not respected.

Many of us are doing little things that will not position the city as the cleanest on the continent. In our own environment we are destroying the water bodies, river paths, felling trees indiscriminately, dumping refuse or rubbish including plastic waste into improvised landfills which eventually clogs open drains and pollute the environment, particularly, water bodies. 

Cleanest countries

There are some lessons to be learnt from some cleanest countries in Africa and the world as a whole.

The 2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), for instance, ranks Switzerland, France, Denmark, Malta and Sweden in that order as among the top 10 cleanest countries in the world.
The rest are the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Austria, Ireland and Finland.

Switzerland was crowned the cleanest country in the world with an EPI score of 87.42. It is known for its dense forests and wildlife. It is a land of natural beauty and scored exceptionally high for ensuring clean drinking water and good sanitation practices.

In Africa, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco, Tunisia and Kenya have been mentioned as some of the cleanest African countries that have high EPI scores. The rest include Botswana, Namibia and Malawi.

Rwandan story

Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has been touted as the cleanest city in Africa for a number of reasons. Pedestrian walkways are devoid of human activities such as hawking and trading while beautiful lawns and trees are planted along the roads with streetlights installed.

The streets are also free of heaps of refuse and littering. The city has no kiosks nor metal containers used as shops and no vending points dotted along the streets, thereby ensuring free flow of traffic and movement of pedestrians. 

There are also no heaps of refuse piled up in the central business district (CBD), making it easier to maintain its enviable status as the cleanest city in Africa.

Today, Rwandans use bags made from other biodegradable sources, including paper, cloth, banana leaves, and papyrus (a material prepared in ancient Egypt from the pithy stem of a water plant, used in sheets throughout the ancient Mediterranean world for writing or painting).

Residents are also conscious of their environment and, therefore, do not litter or throw away rubbish indiscriminately.

In 2008, there was a ban on the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags and other similar materials, accompanied by a fine of over $150 and imprisonment of six to 12 months for vendors caught selling them.

This significantly enhanced cleanliness in Kigali and created an environment of fresh air in the city.

Culture of cleanliness

There is also law and order on the roads as vehicles do not park on the shoulders of the roads or the pedestrian walkways to cause congestion and vehicular traffic.

In Rwanda and for that matter Kigali, aside from the hefty fines and other punitive measures, the citizenry have imbibed the culture of environmental cleanliness.

Umuganda is a well-known practice rooted in the Rwandan culture that is conducted every last Saturday of the month where citizens come together to clean the country and the city while emphasis is placed on personal hygiene.

The word Umuganda means 'coming together with a common purpose to achieve an outcome'.

Compared to Accra

Compared to Accra, there is the need for a daily cleaning, sweeping and picking of litter from public places such as streets, kerbs, walkways, road medians and open spaces.

Concrete bins must also be located on major highways, while the desilting of public drains, weeding of road medians, greening of public open spaces, road medians and road shoulders must be undertaken with periodic painting of kerbs on ceremonial streets. Creating public awareness of the importance of cleanliness and the effects of not keeping the environment clean (such as diseases outbreak) are equally important.

There must also be public and household toilets which must be maintained regularly. On the part of the citizenry, spitting, throwing away waste in public places while travelling and roaming the streets must be avoided to ensure a clean city.

The 29 MMDAs in the region are expected to ensure the deployment of a systematic approach to sensitise residents, corporate organisations and community members to their roles and responsibilities in waste management.

They will also need to create extensive awareness of the sanitation and cleaning bye-laws and ensure commitment to their enforcement.
Challenges with sanitation will include placing dustbins and waste containers at all public places such as bus terminals, railway stations, gardens, theatres, markets and others. Rules should be made and action should be taken if anybody breaks the rule.

Longer life

After all, cleanliness doesn't just look better, it also leads to a longer life. Clean water, pure air, efficient handling of waste, and effective sanitation can all significantly improve human health.

For instance, countries with high air quality scores reduce their citizens' chances of being exposed to harmful particles such as fine particulate matter which reduces the frequency of illnesses associated with air pollution such as respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

Indeed, countries with high pollution levels see high rates of non-communicable diseases accounting for a high rate of deaths as a result of toxic pollution.

Now that the Regional Minister, Mr Henry Quartey, is leading the charge to make Accra work, we hope that the assemblies will be up and doing and when we are to evaluate the exercise we can pat our backs for a job well done. We are looking forward to a clean Accra that is globally competitive.

The MMDAs over the years have been quite disappointing. The assemblies, which should have been at the forefront and at the helm of affairs, have failed to take the bull by the horn and must largely be held responsible for the poor sanitation in the city and other parts of the country.

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