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Why we need, taflatse, toilet task forces in communities

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Ghana seems to have exited the era of task forces, once so much a part of our governance. But how I wish there could again be a task force, even if the last one, for dealing with our national embarrassment: the slow fulfilment of ‘universal access to toilets’!

In this World Toilet Day (WTD) period, I find it regrettable that a question I posed in this column in 2018, “Why can’t we have a ‘Toilet Task Force’ in every district or community?” is still relevant.
Such task forces would have the duty of speeding up the implementation of the Government’s laudable programme to ensure provision of toilets/lavatories/latrines in homes – which includes part-funding for deprived households.

It is beyond shocking that a country like Ghana, a leading light in the sub-continent and elsewhere, finds itself regularly cited in the global league of shameful sanitation statistics, a country where unacceptably high numbers of houses don’t have toilets.

Discussion of toilet issues has been almost a taboo everywhere. In this country, even the word itself could only be mentioned preceded by an apologetic ‘sɛbe’(Akan) or ‘taflatse’ (Ga, both meaning ‘excuse my use of this word’). But the present circumstances make it critical to highlight the issue.

The question is, how much importance do the responsible officials – in the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies – attach to ensuring that there is at least one toilet in every home? And do they check to see if schools have toilets?

According to the Daily Graphic of November 19, “Ghana has made strides towards achieving universal access to toilet facilities.”
Nevertheless, the paper notes that “the over 40 per cent of the country’s population without access to toilet facilities either use public toilets or defecate in the open.”

I wonder how many prospective tenants would agree to rent accommodation that has no bathroom. Or, conversely, would a landlord offer a prospective tenant accommodation without a bathroom?
So, why is it that landlords dare to rent out rooms without toilets? Don’t bathrooms and toilets go together in building designs?

Thus public toilets, which are supposed to cater for visitors, have become household toilets, and which provides the excuse for unscrupulous landlords to rent out rooms in properties without toilets.

More scandalous still, some officials whose job it is to inspect and approve building projects, turn a blind eye to structure designed without toilets.

On November 19, Ghana and other UN countries marked World Toilet Day 2022, under the theme, “Sanitation and Groundwater - Making the Invisible Visible”.

The Day raises awareness of the 3.6 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. It is about taking action to tackle the global sanitation crisis and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: sanitation and water for all by 2030.

‘Making the Invisible Visible’ explores how inadequate sanitation systems spread human waste into rivers, lakes and soil, polluting underground water resources.
However, this problem seems to be invisible. Invisible because it happens underground. Invisible because it happens in the poorest and most marginalised communities.

In a statement to commemorate the Day, the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources charged local assemblies to enforce their bye-laws regarding construction of toilets in private and public buildings to ensure the success of its ‘Toilets for All’ flagship programme.

As always, I salute Singapore whose boldness led to the declaration of the Day as a UN event. Thanks to a July 24, 2013, resolution by Singapore, the UN agreed to observe a ‘World Toilet Day’ every November 19.

Admirably, Singapore’s then UN envoy, Mr Mark Neo, is reported to have stated that he didn’t care if their ‘Sanitation for All’ resolution made people laugh because World Toilet Day highlights “a serious problem: 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have access to proper sanitation.”

Fortunately, a World Bank grant of US$150 million has supported the Government’s efforts to increase access to improved sanitation and improved water supply in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA). The project, started in 2014, and extended to Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area, continues to chalk successes.

National Coordinator of the GAMA project, Mr George Asiedu, told the Graphic: “As of 2015, the situation was bad, with access to toilet facilities across the country ranging around 15 per cent, while 60 per cent of the population was using shared toilet facilities.

“The 2021 figures show that we have come far by increasing access to toilet facilities to 59.3 per cent and reduced the usage of public toilets to 23 per cent. Open defecation also reduced from 8.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent,” he said.

Still, I sincerely hope task forces is an idea that the Sanitation Minister, Ms Cecilia Dapaah, will consider to accelerate the advances. Certainly, every facility for public use should have a toilet.

My suggestion to the Ministry is that what is needed is a group of committed people in every community to spearhead the execution of its sanitation agenda: a task force.

Reassuringly, I note that there is at least one official who believes in having a sanitation task force, Stella Kumedzro, the Volta Regional Environmental Health Director. She is quoted in The Mirror of last Saturday as emphasising that “toilet and sanitation are now a human rights issue”, consequently, households without toilets are “infringing on the rights of others”.

Public toilets are meant for people in transit and not for locals, she insists …. “As a priority, landlords whose properties are without toilets will be processed for court, likewise school proprietors who fail to provide adequate toilets in their institution,” Ms Kumedzro told the paper.

She added that “a task force from her outfit (will) inspect schools and introduce district sanitation league tables to name and shame municipal and district assemblies which fail to meet acceptable health and environmental standards.”

I would suggest one more category to be included in her action list: severe sanction for officials who authorise construction of buildings without toilets.

If only there were more proactive, creative thinkers and action-oriented appointees like Ms Kumedzro to underpin the Sanitation Ministry’s efforts!
We need many more such officials to ensure that Ghana exits ASAP from the sanitation league of shame.

 taflatse

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