Professor Chris Gordon, Director, Institute of Environment and Sanitation, University of Ghana, Legon, on Tuesday said open defecation cost Ghana $79 million per year, where as it would require less than one million latrines to eliminate the practice.
He said open defecation led to epidemic disease outbreaks like cholera, especially when human excreta and urine entered water bodies, and called for concerted efforts and strong political will to address the problem.
Prof. Gordon was speaking at the 64th Annual New Year School being organized in Accra by the University of Ghana Institute of Continuing and Distance Education for a cross section of the public to brainstorm on water, sanitation and hygiene issues which had become a major problem facing the country.
It is on the theme: “The Key to Future Health of our Nation: Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene,” with sponsorship from major institutions including the Ghana News Agency.
Prof. Gordon said 16 million Ghanaians used unsanitary or shared latrines while 4.8 million had no latrines at all and defecated in the open.
“The poorest is 22 times more likely to practice open defecation than the richest,” he added.
He mentioned political will beyond lip service, attitude and behaviour, education and research, infrastructure including appropriate technology and funding as some of the antidotes to the problem.
“If we fail in education and research, we fail in everything. Training and research in developing countries need a radically redesigned approach,” he said.
Prof. Gordon said the approach needed to address issues of relevance and applicability to national development needs, with emphasis placed on knowledge creation and better understanding of processes and interaction as well as cost-effective innovation.
“World class education and research has to be seen as part of the same development agenda, just as all the over-arching issues such as gender, sustainability and inter-generational equity,” he said and urged the media to join in the struggle.
He blamed the media for not devoting more columns on sanitation issues as compared to sports stories.
Prof. Gordon said the media gave more than 50 per cent coverage of its regional coverage concentrating on Accra, which, he said, was unfair representation of the issues on the ground.
Professor Samuel Afrane, Provost of the College of Arts and Social Science, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, contributing on slums and peri-urban development in Ghana, said slums and peri-urban development cut across the urban landscape.
He said large proportions of population in West Africa lived in slums and in Ghana, according to 2001 statistics 4.1 million Ghanaians lived in slums. The number increased to 5.5 per cent in 2008.
Prof. Afrane said 51 per cent of Ghana’s population lived s in the cities and if the trend continued it would rise to 58.5 per cent in 2020.
He identified lack of urban and regional planning systems to curtail movement of people; use of obsolete planning technology and inadequate human resources; unresolved legislative conflicts and inconsistencies, and poor coordination among urban development actors as factors increasing the number of slums.
“We cannot deal with slums in a hit-and-run approach, it must be dealt with holistically,” he said.
Mr Farouk Braimah, Executive Director of Peoples’ Dialogue on Human Settlements, an NGO, advocated for adoption of lower cost technologies to provide good quality and affordable housing for the increasing population.
He, therefore, called for concerted efforts to develop all inclusive cities where everybody’s needs would be well catered for.