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Sanitation infrastructure provision: Call for change in behaviour

BY: Dennis Ofori-Amanfo
Cecilia Abena Dapaah‚ Minister of Sanitation
Cecilia Abena Dapaah‚ Minister of Sanitation

The provision of quality water and sanitation infrastructure forms part of the key components of Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (2030), which involves halting the disposal of raw faecal sludge and municipal solid waste into drains, bushes, and water bodies that cause or exacerbate threats to environment, health and well-being of humans.

Thus, there is the need for adequate sanitary systems in households, institutions and communities.

Sanitation systems in the country are purely based on on and off-site practices, but the management of wastewater or faecal sludge of off-site practice is carried out at treatment plants, characterised by challenges, including complex mixtures of various compositions or the variegated nature of waste generated and received at different treatment plants.

Over the years, Ghana has made some significant achievements in providing sustainable access to water, though sanitation coverage is low.

In February 2018, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in his state of the nation address, complained about the poor sanitary conditions in the country, describing it as "unacceptable".

In line with the President's vision, he cut a sod for the construction of 16 integrated recycling and compost plants, including three fecal treatment plants.

As such, the government through the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources in collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) and stakeholders, is implementing interventions, especially the construction of adequate facilities, to ensure improved sanitation in communities.

Question

Considering the lessons learned on socio-cultural and financial barriers regarding higher user rate and user fees for sanitation facilities, the question remains whether there is an appropriate engagement with the people concerning these facilities which governments/private sectors are putting up.

As a result, even though sanitation facilities are suitable and appropriate with an enormous capital investment, the facilities are unused, under-used or overburdened, because of obvious reasons, such as, poor management coupled with a lack of financial resources.

We could consider this the potential missing link in the provision of sanitation infrastructures across the country.

The mix-up of systemic environmental management approach, which considers the infrastructure (hardware), the topmost priority, as against behavioural change (software), in most developing countries such as Ghana, has resulted in challenges.

Collaborators in the environmental management services must underpin the behavioural change of citizens, as the key component in the provision of sanitation infrastructure.

We need to develop both environmental and sanitation behavioural change models that will commit government, stakeholders and facility users in all aspects to ensure the sustainability of constructed sanitary facilities in communities.

One of the lofty drawbacks of this field (specifically faecal sludge management) is the efficient separation and removal of foreign material load (such as textile/fabric, condoms, gravels, metal, glass, sanitary pads, rubber/plastics, etc.,) from the wastewater/faecal sludge received daily at the treatment facilities.

That challenge has contributed to a great extent to the high investment cost, particularly with regard to advanced technologies to ensure the safe treatment of wastewater/faecal sludge.

The assertion affects most sanitation players and possesses extra financial burden in the sector, which in the end increases the government’s capital expenditure in the sanitation infrastructure budget.

Efficient

An efficient wastewater or faecal sludge treatment has been challenged by poor engagement and involvement of the community authorities during the initial phase of the construction.

Hence, the investment in sanitation projects to address sanitation challenges should focus on the behavioural change in order to maximise the sanitation benefits.

Mastering gender sensitivity in sanitation development will enhance greater success in the behavioural change of the citizens towards good sanitation practices.

We need to develop an environmental sanitation behavioural change models for full-scale implementation of sanitation activities, as well as the underpinning framework on "area-specific" behavioural change.

It is recommended that the government encourages stakeholders in the sector to invest in the behavioural change in order to ensure that people who are living in vulnerable communities practice proper waste management.

One sanitarian philosopher argued that the knowledge of sanitation system is of no value unless it is put to practice, so we need to do this together by investing in changing the mindset of people towards the use of sanitation infrastructure.

Finally, addressing these issues would help to prevent the epidemiology of diseases, improve the environment, health, well-being of the people and the economy at large.

The writer is a Quality Control/Research Supervisor