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GHANA: Rapid ‘Development’ Leaves Poor Without Toilets

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA, Jan 22 2008 (IPS) - There are many things that confirm the rich-poor divide in the Ghanaian capital.

One of these is the beautifully designed houses in the well-planned neighbourhoods of the rich. Another is the lack of toilets in the poor neighbourhoods. Accra’s beaches are open-air toilets, the human waste washed untreated into the sea.

Recently a newspaper exposed the truth about the beaches, but it caused only a small outcry. Officials of the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) seem overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand.

Pastor Mensa Otabil, one of the country’s leading preachers, has remarked, “Ghana is the only country in the world where the beaches have become toilets. In other parts of the world, you see beachfront houses.”

“We have devalued our beaches by what we do there instead of making them a place of high value where people can build houses and take good rest,” Otabil said.

The beaches of Labadi, Osu and Teshie, suburbs in Accra, have been turned into outdoor toilets. “It is a sad sight,” said Nii Allotey who lives at Labadi but is quick to admit, “I am a culprit because I go there every morning to ease myself.”

Allotey blamed the AMA for the serious sanitation problem. “All this is because officials of the AMA have not lived up to their responsibilities. House owners are allowed to build without providing toilets,” he said.

But this problem is not peculiar to houses along the beach. In Nima, also a suburb of Accra and considered a shantytown far from the beach, most houses do not have toilets.

Adam Salifu who lives there has his own story. “I came to live in Nima some years ago, and for all this time the landlord has not provided a toilet,” he said. “I am ashamed to admit it but I do my thing either at night or early morning by the side of the big drain that passes through the neighbourhood.”

Numo Blafo, public relations officer of the AMA, refuses to take the blame for the pollution of the sea. “We have a waste treatment facility which is in operation but it is the private contractors who have entered the waste management service who are doing what they are not supposed to do,” he insisted.

Waste collection in this metropolis of some 3 million has for a long time been the responsibility of the AMA. But the recent liberalisation of the economy has opened the doors to private contractors. According to Salifu, “these people do not have the knowledge and the equipment to engage in human waste management and it is worrying that they have been allowed to continue to be in business.”

The truth is that Accra has been allowed to expand without the city officials insisting on planning laws. Buildings are springing up especially in the low- income areas with no supervision as a result, provision of civic amenities have not matched the population growth. From about 1.6 million in 2000, the Ghana Statistical Service estimated the population in Accra at about 3 million and this is set to double to 6 million by 2015.

In Osu, for instance, there used to be public toilets. These have all been demolished and in their place stand stores where brisk trade takes place.

“The capital has been turned into one big trading centre and house owners only think of profits they can make without thinking of the needs of their tenants. We are also to be blamed in a way because we do not insist on getting what is required in the first place,” said Allotey.

AMA’s Blafo agreed with Allotey. “The city authorities have the rules and regulations but the people who go to live in these houses do not ensure that they are provided with amenities such as toilets and bathrooms. These are the same people who turn round to blame the AMA.”

Blafo said work has started to keep the beaches clean. “We have taken steps through by-laws that make it an offence to use the beach as a toilet,” he said. This has started to pay off.

In addition, since 2005, he said the AMA has taken the treatment of human waste in the city seriously. “There is now a new plant that has been in operation at the Korle Lagoon from where the treated waste goes to the sea.”

“The Environmental Protection Council (EPA) has also made it a point that we abide by the strict guidelines that it has set for the treatment of human waste. This has greatly improved the hitherto poor standards,” Blafo added.

Indeed the intervention is showing results. The area around the treatment plant is no longer engulfed in the stench of human waste.

Mariam Ablor who lives near the Korle Lagoon neighbourhood told IPS, “We used to go about covering our noses with our handkerchiefs because of the stench, but now it has improved as you can tell yourself. You couldn’t have stood talking to me like we are doing in the past.” She is right.

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