Friday, November 19 was World Toilet Day, a day to ‘draw attention to the global sanitation crisis’ and in Ghana this is a big crisis. Just to put your mind in perspective (in case you’ve been living under a stone) only 1 in 7 Ghanaians have access to a household toilet. When all the nations of the world got together in 2000, 8.4% of Ghana’s population had access to improved sanitation. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7c) committed to then was for us to reach 54% access by 2015. Here we sit today at 16% access. In 2008 we stood at 12.4%. Which means we moved up by less than 4% in 7 years. Clap for Ghana.
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (which is the government body responsible for sanitation) held this year’s celebration (if you can call it that) at Bukom, a densely populated coastal community in Accra. At first I thought it was befitting since only 6% of residents in Bukom have household toilets. Drawing attention to the necessity for sanitation there made sense since they are 10 percent below the national average. But when I thought of it further it seemed quite ironic that Ghana has been celebrating this day since 2009 but we have made such a crawl as a nation to access. A toilet day celebration in a land of no toilets.
These are the ironies that stood out to me at the celebration:
- 1 in 7 Ghanaians has a household toilet: That statement won’t leave my head. Only 1 out of every 7 persons in Ghana, the so-called ‘gateway to Africa’, ‘lower-middle income country’ with that fast growing economy. That means that we don’t even see having a toilet in our houses as a sign of progress because our economy is growing faster than our access to toilets. The MDG specifically said “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation”. According to the UN, this basic sanitation is basic, improved sanitation. That means public toilets don’t count because of their ability to spread disease. KVIPs do count if they aren’t shared. So in essence a household toilet. 84% of us don’t have toilets in our houses. Christ.
- Every kid knows what a flying toilet is: Every kid in Bukom knows what a flying toilet is. You know what a flying toilet is, right? When someone eases them self into a black plastic bag then tosses it over the wall and pretends nothing happened. Yeah, that. The guest primary school from Bukom put on a play at the toilet day celebration showing scenes of the right and wrong way to use the loo and the first scene spoke volumes. A girl woke up from her sleep in the middle of the night and told her friend she had a tummy ache and needed to ease herself. The friend hands her a plastic bag to do her thing and then they toss it outside and go back to sleep. The relieved girl remarked “Oh thank you, you’ve saved me”. EH?!
- Cholera is still killing us: Of course the politicians were present for this ‘celebration’. Most notable was the deputy minister for Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), Nii Lante Vanderpuye (who also happens to be the Member of Parliament for the Odododiodoo constituency which includes Bukom. Coincidence? I think not). There was also the mayor of Accra, Alfred Oko Vanderpuije (aspiring MP for Ablekuma South which starts just around the corner from Bukom in Korle Gonno) and the Director for the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate at the MLGRD, Naa Lenason Demedeme. During the Mayor’s speech he spoke of how the yearly occurrence of cholera is still with us but the numbers have reduced and fewer people died this year. I wonder why anyone should be dying from cholera at all? But if 84% of us share toilet facilities then there you have it.
- Ablekuma South is the home of Lavender Hill: The area nicknamed ‘Lavender Hill’ is that hidden area on the seaside in Korle Gonno where there is the continuous dumping of raw, untreated, fecal sludge (human waste). For those of us in the 16% accessing improved sanitation, our waste isn’t treated but just dumped into the sea to feed the fishes. So we practice an indirect open defecation of our own. And that’s our Mayor’s aspired constituency. He has made statements for years promising to close it down, he’s even been taken to court by the Environmental Protection Agency over that ‘hill’ yet it can’t seem to disappear. What were we celebrating at World Toilet Day?
- Laptops are more important than toilets: So remember the play I mentioned earlier by the primary school children? It was a very good play I must admit. The kids acted well and we all got the point. At the end of the celebration, to congratulate these kids for such a grand performance, Hon. Vanderpuye (the MP, not the Mayor) promised the two star students a new laptop. Laptops are great and all but honestly I was expecting him to promise them each a toilet. I mean, it was World TOILET Day. If the kids have laptops to further their education but cholera kills them along the way, what’s the point? But these are politicians. Who’s going to vote for them because of a toilet, right?
And with that the World Toilet Day Celebration ended. Another year, another repetition of the sad statistics, another time for development partners to try again to get us Ghanaians to use the loo the right way. There have been so many projects and schemes yet progress is so slow. This year there were introduced the GAMA Sanitation Innovation Fund and the Sanitation Challenge for Ghana. These are supposed to be two innovative approaches to get us to make progress in this sanitation fight. Read more and see how you can get involved. We can’t afford for Ghana to remain a land or no toilets.