The crying shame of today’s public toilets

BY: Joe Fraizer

Many years ago, two friends and I travelled to Tarkwa. We arrived in the night and were hungry. We managed to locate an mfantse kenkey seller and a shop with corned beef. We looked for a place and begged water off a tea seller to wash our hands and ate from a broad leaf which we spread on the ground behind a small building.

Those were the days when bottled or sachet water was not as common as it is today. Incidentally, it was only when we went to beg for more water that the tea seller pointed to us that the building behind which we had had our meal was a public toilet. We squirmed but one of us put up a bold face, shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s alright with us; we did not see or smell anything odd to put us off.”

Obviously, the state of the public toilet of this story may be  far different from those of today. The other day, a market mummy complaining about taxes in a market put it graphically. She said: “We pay all that money but attempt to enter our toilet and see; a battalion of green houseflies will hoot at you hoooo and chase you off.” The conditions of public toilets in high population areas are a matter of shame.

Much worse are the surroundings of toilets that serve sizeable markets. At least in the communities, it is the case sometimes that some caretakers do care about their duties. These are areas that have good leadership of assemblymen and opinion leaders. However, it appears that in the markets, nobody seems to take responsibility. Not only are the cesspools not emptied. They are allowed to overflow for a number of market days. Additionally, many users are careless. Thus the floor is covered with a carpet of their deposits.

The other day, I received an urgent text message at dawn imploring My blog to comment on the unacceptable condition of toilet facilities at Akatsi. I was not surprised at all about the texter’s description as I am familiar with the level of sanitation in a lot of public toilets that would make the stomach tighten and produce incontinence. The market in question is the biggest in the South Akatsi District. It is strategically located close to the Accra-Aflao-Lome trunk road and is well-patronised every five days by vendors from as far as Accra, Ho and Lome. Foodstuffs are the specialty of this market. Therefore, it amounts to unsolicited invitation to cholera, dysentery and other killer diseases to allow insanitary conditions to persist in its toilet amid germ carriers such as flies.

Why were public toilets kept neat in the past but are neglected these days when there is so much education on sanitation and hygiene? The answer is not far to find. Though in the distant past, toilets were of the removable bucket type, the cleaners were conscientious; they were the migrant labourers who did not display any ego on what they did for a living. Their work was tightly supervised by sanitary inspectors. Those toilets have undergone modifications to KVIP and to the modern flush type that, theoretically, should afford easier management. But it is clear that population pressures and the attitude of the market managers have rendered these facilities a mess to behold and smell.

Why should a big market such as the one in Akatsi have only one block of toilets for the huge population that it hosts every five days? What cleaning schedule has been instituted for this market? Why are sanitary materials such as antiseptics and air fresheners such as aerosol sprays not used in the toilet? Does the Sanitation and Hygiene Committee of the District Assembly monitor conditions in this market? Is hand-washing afforded after visits to the toilet?

The District/ Metropolitan Chief Executives, the District/Metropolitan Directorate of Health and the appropriate committees must exercise the vast responsibilities and resources entrusted to them to keep the toilets in conditions that can be described as humane.

It is not enough to build a toilet in a market and care less about how it is managed. Fact is, every home in the district serves food purchased from this market. In this regard, the message from this column to all district and metropolitan authorities is that they should up their acts in the maintenance of public toilets. This is a matter of life and death. The health of the citizens of the district is served better when the administrations of districts and the metropolis pay more attention to the management and sustainability of public toilets.                                                                              

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(Author: Blame not the Darkness; Akora; The Sissain Bridge)