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Accra’s sanitation woes; A dirty city, dirty people or inept authorities?

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Accra’s sanitation problems has persisted since time immemorial. From the plush estates through the central business district to the Zongos, filth of various magnitude is immediately evident.

Is it Accra that’s dirty?, is it the people living in Ghana’s capital who are dirty? Or it’s sheer ineptitude on the part of authorities?

THE PEOPLE

A trip along the Accra-Nsawam road from the inner city and at almost every bus stop what greeted me was a pile of rubbish. Unsurprisingly and perhaps very concerning is the fact that you’d find street food vendors busily selling food to people. One doesn’t have to imagine the worst that could happen in the case of an outbreak as there are countless recent precedents. Cholera outbreaks and floods have exposed our poor sanitation system over and over again.

Is the city dirty?, yes it is not on it’s own but by the activities of it’s inhabitants. In a poorly planned city center like Accra with laws that are as good as zilch, people dispose refuse in the nearest gutter for the rain to carry away. Street vending has exercebated the sanitation plight. Just walk the Kojo Thompson road or Rawlings park at night after the buzz of the day has calmed and the streets almost empty and see for yourself the tonnes of rubbish generated by the activities of traders.

Away from the city center to our beaches and any environmentally inclined person may be reduced to tears. More than 80% of our hardworking Fisher folk’s catch is plastic and who’s to blame but themselves. Most of these fishermen live close to the shores and dispose their refuse right into where they get their daily bread but turn around to complain.

Accra is tagged the most polluted city in Africa because of the enormous e-waste site at Agbobloshie. The burning of such wastes releases toxic chemicals into the aquifer, the sea and the atmosphere. Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are carcinogenic and among the dominant chemicals released by such activities.

THE AUTHORITY

The Accra Metropolitan Authority is the government institution with the mandate to manage the city. It has the authority to enact by-laws and enforce such laws by use of their task force.

Management and disposal of the city’s refuse is contracted to Zoomlion and the company does its best to ensure a clean Accra but the sheer volume of waste generated overwhelms the sanitation company.

Ideally, if our by-laws on sanitation were being enforced, it would have complemented the effort of Zoomlion in a way that our sanitation problem wouldn’t be as palpable. In as much as people should be blamed for the filth in town, the authorities are equally to blame for their ineptitude at regulating trading activities in our city centers and streets.

THE WAY FORWARD

Ghana has extensive sanitation laws, infact our constitution makes it a civil responsibility for every citizen to protect the environment but the problem at hand is an issue of enforcement as is the case with many other laws in Ghana.

Civic education has proved ineffective as the Ghana’s literacy rate is quite high yet even educated people still litter indiscriminately. Even though education must continue and more so rigorously, more drastic measures are needed to yield any quantifiable outcome.

PROSECUTE, FINE AND JAIL

Fast-tracking sanitation related prosecutions.

The threat of punishment has to some extent served as a deterrent to would-be criminals therefore those caught flouting the law must be dealt with in a swift and severe manner to deter others from perpetrating same.

COMMUNITY BASED SANITATION POLICE

It is true the city is so big it will be hard to police every citizen, therefore the best and pragmatic measure is to form community sanitation vigilante groups. Turn community members into sanitation police with actual policemen as leaders to make arrests when culprits are reported. Fishermen and people living close to the ocean must be sensitized on the dangers and threat to their livelihoods and the need to police the shores and stop disposing rubbish on the shores and open defecation.

BAN PLASTICS

Environmentalists all over the world are advocating for the total ban of anything plastic. Plastics take zillions of years to degrade and now fills our oceans, river bodies and land fill sites.

Our addiction to plastic use is alarming and weaning ourselves off it seems to be impossible. But countries such as Rwanda have banned the production and use of  single-use plastics and Ghana should be able to do same. It comes down to the two major problems we have in Ghana, political backing and enforcement. Such decisions may be unpopular but our politicians must realise banning plastics may kill an industry but will also give rise to another. Alternatives to plastics such as organic paper bags for packaging, biodegradable rubber materials and the reusable and easily recyclable glass bottles could replace the use of plastic bottles and bags.

DEPOPULATE, REDESIGN AND REBUILD

Accra is a disorganized and an unplanned city. Buildings are in water ways and even on sewage systems there giving rise to many of our liquid sanitation issues.

Many communities needs to be relocated to the outskirts of the city to enable proper planning of such areas. These areas include Nima, Alajo, Kotobabi, Arena, chorkor and surrounding beach communities, Old Fadama among others.

I understand it is almost an impossible task and very unlikely to get political backing for such a move but in the long run, it is the best thing to do as the population density in these areas keeps increasing, more refuse will be generated and an eventual and total failure of the current sanitation system would be inevitable.

This would be easier to do in China but if our leaders can be bold enough to build planned communities at the fringes of the city and relocate the current current slums as it did with the Old Fadama residents then these areas could be torn down, redesigned and built to suit modern standards.

Joseph Naah-Yiereh

naah-yiereh@nsemwoha.com