Environmental sanitation is among the powerful drivers of human development as it affects quality of life; it can improve health and wealth. It cuts across all sectors of the economy including those that concern health, environmental protection, improvement of human settlements and services, tourism, and general economic productivity.
There are diverse effects of climate change on environmental sanitation. But efficient drainage systems can mitigate some of the impacts. This is why Ghana’s revised Environmental Sanitation Policy, which was approved by Cabinet in March this year, has storm water drainage as a cardinal component.
The other components are collection and sanitary disposal of wastes, including solid wastes, liquid wastes, excreta, industrial wastes, health-care and other hazardous wastes; cleansing of thoroughfares, markets and other public spaces; control of pests and vectors of disease and food hygiene. The rest of the components are environmental sanitation education; inspection and enforcement of sanitary regulations; disposal of the dead; control of rearing and straying of animals and monitoring the observance of environmental standards.
Presently, an area of concern is the future performance of storm water drainage systems. In regions affected by increasingly intense storms, the capacity of these systems will need to be increased to prevent local flooding and the resulting damage to buildings and other infrastructure.
What we know
At Mole XXI, participants learned that the drainage situations in five of the metropolitan areas have improved with the provision of drainage infrastructure as part of the Urban Environmental Sanitation Project (UESP) series under the World Bank.
However, the situation in smaller towns is serious, and increased urbanization and non-adherence to planning schemes and un-authorized construction have aggravated the situation further, according to the Director of Environmental Health and Sanitation at the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Demedeme Naa Lenason.
This is aggravated by the non-existence of Drainage Master Plans for some of the major cities of Ghana. For Ho (Volta Region), Cape Coast (Central Region), Koforidua (Eastern Region), Bolgatanga (Upper East Region) and Wa (Upper West Region) no master plans have been prepared though these master plans are urgently needed.
It is heartwarming, however, that drainage master plans exist for Accra (Greater Accra Region), Tema (Greater Accra Region), Kumasi (Ashanti Region), Sekondi/Takoradi (Western Region) and Tamale (Northern Region).
Even so, Accra is notorious for deaths arising from floods and city officials are quick to blame the situation on the haphazard development of housing in water ways. The June 2010 flooding affected Accra more than other areas including the Central Region. About 30 lives were lost, making that particular flooding the worst in recent memory.
The deluge, caused by heavy rains, also swept away vehicles and destroyed homes, displacing hundreds of people.
The science behind flooding shows that besides deaths, flooding can result in the inundation of land fills with water, resulting in breakdown of leachate collection systems and control systems for greenhouse gases. And this is where the climate question arises because the main factor for climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases.
Again, flooding and heavy rainfall may lead to contamination of water with chemicals, heavy metals or other hazardous substances, either from land fills, or from chemicals already in the environment such as pesticides.
Often, a solution can be found in full-proof drainage mechanisms, bearing in mind that drainage and storm water management is important in low income urban communities because blocked drains can cause flooding and increased transmission of vector-borne diseases. Cities with combined sewer overflows can experience increased sewage contamination during flood events.
Furthermore, flooding and severe storms pose the greatest risks for damage to buildings in both developed and developing countries. This is because housing and other assets are increasingly located in coastal areas, on slopes, in ravines and other risk-prone sites. Of course, Ghana is no exception.
There is an urgent need to implement the master plans for drainage for towns lacking proper drainage systems and reinforce the maintenance of existing drainage systems. Furthermore, for major towns not having master plans they should be prepared.
Much as the development of Master Plans is important, it is also imperative to improve the status of environmental sanitation through strengthening of institutions and enforcement of laws. For instance, the enforcement of building regulations is a requisite.
Naa Demedeme concurs that there is also a need to improve the management of existing waste disposal sites to control greenhouse gas emissions and groundwater contamination and take into account possible effects of climate change in design and construction of new ones.
There is a need to review local bye-laws in relation to spatial distribution of residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas and improve them in order to take into account possible effects of climate change.