It was late evening. About 6p.m. on February 24, this year.
I visited the site for the new Kpassa Market project that has been under construction for decades.
The last time I visited the facility in 2017, it had been turned into a place for open defecation following years of neglect.
On my second visit, however, some ground work had started on the facility.
The weeds had been cleared and the land being developed.
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But this will not stop the residents from doing their own thing.
They continue to use the area as a safe haven for open defecation.
The offensive odour emanating from the bushes around the market is enough to scare any stranger spending a couple of minutes there.
But the residents in this part of the Kpassa town have developed a tough skin and repellent nose to the offensive odour.
The ugly scene at the Kpassa new market area is just like a cup of water drawn from the flowing ocean as many parts of the Nkwanta-North District are suffocating with open defecation.
Many parts of the town, including school premises, have been turned into sites for open defecation.
For instance, at the Kpassa JHS B D/A Basic School, teachers and pupils live with the daily phenomenon of open defecation.
The toilet facility that served teachers and pupils for years was in such a terrible state that anytime the wind blew towards a particular direction, pupils and teachers held their noses and ran for cover.
The situation at the Kpassa ECG Schools, the Bisignamdo D/A Basic School, the English and Arabic Basic School was no different.
In almost all the schools visited, it was clear that open defecation was an albatross hanging on their necks.
The open defecation situation in the district is even dire because there are just a handful of household toilets at Kpassa, Damanko, Sibi, Abunyanya, Tinjase and other towns and communities.
The lack of household toilets leaves the occupants with no option but to find other means of responding to the call of nature.
Meanwhile, the few public toilets are in a terrible state of disrepair with some of them being death traps.
At Damanko for instance, the public toilet along the Pibilla road has been swallowed by a huge refuse dump, compelling patrons of that facility to ‘do their thing’ anywhere.
For 26-year-old Kabuja Thomas, it is better "to do free ranging where the air is fresh than putting myself in prison by attempting to use a public toilet."
He complained that in spite of the fact that the public toilets were poorly managed, the operators still expected them to pay 50 pesewa "to go and attract more diseases."
Nineteen-year-old Mary Ubor lamented that the situation was worst for females.
"As for men, they can just squat anywhere and do their thing but you know that women are shy so we go to far places to also do our thing because the public toilets are no go areas for us," she said.
A Public Health Officer at the Nkwanta-North health directorate, Mr Abdul Aziz, said records at the directorate indicated that there had been an increase in the incidence of sanitation-related diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, typhoid, intestinal worm infestations across the health facilities in the district.
He said unless something was done to improve toilet facilities and sanitation services, more health complications could arise and affect the quality of human resource in the area.
The District Chief Executive, Mr Jackson Jakayi, described the rise in open defecation in the area as an attitudinal problem.
He said the assembly had carried out a number of sensitisation programmes on open defecation but the needed results had not been achieved.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 4.5 billion people live without a safe toilet and 892 million of them still practise open defecation.
The statistics show that globally, the number of people practising open defecation declined steadily from 1,229 million in 2000 to 892 million in 2015, indicating an average decrease of about 22 million people per year.
Although the global figure looks quite good, the same cannot be said about sub-Saharan Africa where the number of people practising open defecation increased from 204 million to 220 million within the same period.
The statistics further show that only 15 per cent of Ghanaians have access to improved toilets, and access to toilets has just increased by nine percentage points in the last 25 years.
Again, it indicates that about 35 per cent of urban dwellers in Ghana patronise public toilets, with 19 per cent of the country’s population defecating in the open.
Ghana currently ranks seventh worldwide and second in Africa for open defecation.
These statistics mean that the path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Six - to ensure availability and sustainable management of sanitation and water for all by 2030, is bleak.
SDG 6.2 specifically states that “by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”
Achieving the SDG on open defecation, therefore, requires concerted efforts to build decent toilets at the household and institutional levels.
The 2018 World Toilet Day that was held on November 19 on the theme “When Nature Calls,” stressed the importance of building toilets and sanitation systems that would not compromise the integrity of the environment.
If the country’s beaches, bushes, school premises will be free from open defecation, all stakeholders must act to tackle the menace.
This calls for stronger collaboration among Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MNDAs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other private sector actors to tackle the challenge.
While more emphasis ought to be placed on the construction of household, institutional and public toilets, it is important for MMDAs to enforce by-laws on open defecation to deter people from engaging in that act.
It also calls for targeted behavioural change communication to dissuade people from defecating in the open.