The surroundings are lush and the greenness all around is enough to be the envy of many a city dweller. Here, there is no cacophony of noises coming from moving vehicles, tooting horns, screaming vehicle ‘mates’, industrial machinery and milling crowds.
Everything seems so serene and peaceful as the branches of the trees swing and allow some cool breeze to circulate generously all around. But there is one major problem!
The air circulating so ever freely is foul scented and does not allow normal breathing and inhalation, as well as enjoyment of the soothing breeze and cool atmosphere.
Nevertheless it did not take long to find out the cause of that ever present odour, as an interaction later, with members of the Tindang-Peliga community in the Gushegu District of the Northern Region of Ghana revealed it all – open defecation was prevalent.
Tindang-Peliga is 20 minutes drive from the Gushegu town, the capital of the Gushegu District.
We were on a fact-finding mission and sensitisation field trip to the Tindang-Peliga community, to ascertain the level of responsiveness of its people in keeping to proper sanitation and hygiene, and what their peculiar needs were, to enable WaterAid in Ghana (WAG) and their local partner, New Energy (both NGOs), as well as the Gushegu District Assembly, to effectively and efficiently implement the sanitation module of the Global Water Sustainability programme (GLOWS) under the West Africa Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WA-WASH) programme in that community.
During the four-member team’s interaction with some members of the predominantly farming community of Tindang-Peliga, which translates ‘White Priest’, it was gathered that although a well-meaning organisation, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) had assisted many individuals to put up latrines in their homes – 15 in all – just two years ago, in 2010, only two of them, including that of the Priest and Leader of the community, Zachariah Fuseini, were functioning and in use when the team visited.
The reason proffered by the other community members who had abandoned their household latrines was that water had collected in the pits in view of the high water table of the area. “We abandoned them because sometimes when we used them the water splashed on us,” they said.
Others held that because their pits were not lined or cemented, they caved in as a result of the water, and for this reason they abandoned them.
As an alternative, the households for whom the toilets had been built had resorted to open defecation, popularly referred to as ‘free range’, hence the stench that had permanently engulfed the otherwise very serene and lush community of 754 adults and a sizeable number of children.
During the very animated discussions with the visiting team led by Mr. Wumbei Abdullah Kofi, Community Development Officer, New Energy, Tamale, the community members disclosed that others too sometimes used a latrine built for the school in the area, although branching off into the bush was the much preferred option when one was hard pressed.
The Result of Open Defecation:
However, this practice, has apart from resulting in the invasion of house flies from the faeces to food in their homes, diarrhoea and other diseases, brought about quarrels, divisions and shame, especially to the women in the community, we learnt.
Speaking to the team in an excited tone, Madam Ayishetu Kofi, the women’s leader, said “Whenever we go to the bush we are exposed to danger from both snakes and men”, adding “There are always quarrels between households because children who cannot go to the bushes defecate around neighbours’ houses.”
“Even grown up men defecate behind my house and I am not able to drive them away because they do so when I am not at home or sleeping and hide in the bushes behind when it is early morning or in the dark,” Ayishetu Kofi lamented, adding that she always has to endure the stench from the faeces left in the open behind her house.
And as if it was a day for Ayishetus in the community, Ayishetu Sulaimana, an elderly woman in the community who corroborated the leader’s statement, blurted out; “At one instance, after easing myself, I was pulling up my panties, only to find to my horror that I had all along been squatting beside a man who was also defecating behind me – and I didn’t notice that before.”
Nonetheless, the community consisting of 398 females and 356 males, said they know open defecation is not good, but are left with little choice because of the absence of latrines.
Non-functioning Sanitation Committee:
As the interaction progressed, it came to light that although a sanitation committee trained by another NGO was still in place, it had become very ineffective, hence the sorry state of sanitation in the community.
Responding to that assertion, Mohammed Fuseini, a member of the committee said the situation had arisen because community members began accusing them of receiving perks from the NGO when they became vigilant in their work.
From the interactions it was gathered that there was no proper sensitisation of members who were assisted to construct household pit latrines and so they did not know how to manage them.
Further, they were not even aware of the much touted CLTS (Community-Led Total Sanitation), a model adapted by Ghana to promote proper sanitation – which has largely contributed to their present state and their being overawed by the current situation.
The Way Forward:
This notwithstanding, members of the community clearly indicated they are not happy with their present status as an open defecation community, because they always put themselves at risk when they engage in that, saying when it rains especially, they are not able to go to the bushes to empty their bowels.
They were united in their desire for household toilets but said they are inhibited by the high cost of construction, adding that although they have appealed to the district assembly for support, that has not been forthcoming.
But to enable them come out of their present predicament, Assemblyman for the area, Mohammed Braimah, said there is the need for more education to facilitate behaviour change.
In response to the community’s plea for assistance, he assured that plans were already underway to aid individuals construct household latrines and that at the appropriate time the Assembly will attend to the community’s need.
For his part, the community leader, Zachariah Fuseini, who in his exasperation opined that construction of more household toilets would not change things as 13 out of the 15 constructed two years ago had gone waste, however maintained that water and sanitation are critical needs of his community.
Speaking for the women, Madam Ayishetu Kofi, the women’s leader, also said they desired from the WaterAid, New Energy, Assembly and GLOWS WA-WASH partnership, water and a mill to extract shea butter from the nuts they harvest.
Farmers in Tindang-Peliga, which is 103km from Tamale, mainly grow yam, maize, soya beans, rice and millet among other crops and speak Dagbani.
Meanwhile, available statistics indicate that about five million Ghanaians defecate openly daily, while the Northern Region is listed as the region with the third highest defecation cases in Ghana at a rate of 72.9%.
According to a 2008 assessment by the Water and Sanitation Monitoring Platform (WSMP), the highest defecation cases in Ghana are reported in the Upper East Region with 81.9%, followed by Upper West with 78.7%. The Central Region is the fourth highest on the table with 18.1% and Volta Region fifth with 13.8%.
Placing sixth is the Western Region with 12.8%; Greater Accra, seventh with 8.1%; Brong Ahafo, eight with 6.4%; Eastern Region, ninth with 5.5%, and Ashanti Region, tenth with 3.4%.
Also, a research report by the Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank, and the Ghana Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate (EHSD), has shown that Ghana loses $290 million each year or about 1.6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a result of poor sanitation (WSP-ESI, July 2011).
WAG-GLOWS WA-WASH To The Rescue?
Perhaps the USAID funded WA-WASH programme will ignite the people of Tindang-Peliga to action, using the magic of CLTS to promote and improve their livelihoods. A candle has been lit and the sanitation revolution is already beginning with GLOWS WA-WASH in Tindang-Peliga, as members of the community showed during the interactions that they are more than eager to better their lot.
For its part, WAG’s expectation is that New Energy will sustain the mobilisation and hygiene promotion efforts in the other communities supported by GLOWS WA-WASH.
That, WAG believes will keep the flame burning, and with that bright glow, the people of Tindang-Peliga would not have any other choice but be triggered and ready to take their destiny into their own hands, to make their community a true beauty where the air is not fouled.
By Edmund Smith-Asante