With the 2015 target date for the United Nation’s (UN's) Millennium Development Goals drawing ever closer, the beginning of 2014 seems an ideal time to consider what progress has been made in developing countries like Ghana.
Although Ghana is currently far from on-track to meet all of its targets, the looming deadline has helped to foster a new sense of urgency in some areas. Nevertheless, much change is still needed if the goals are to be achieved.
In January this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated a US$1 million grant to Biofilcom, the Ghanaian creators of the innovative Biofil toilet. The Biofil toilet was designed as an inexpensive alternative to Ghana's currently available systems, combining elements of both flushing and natural compost toilets to improve hygiene and efficiency. The grant given to the company means that the cost of installing toilet facilities will be considerably lowered for Ghanians, from GH¢2,000 to around GH¢1,300 per unit.
Kwaku Anno, inventor of the Biofil toilet, said that Biofil's goal is “to get a toilet in every Ghanaian home, workplace and school, as the issue of sanitation cuts across all segments of society.” He has also spoken of the company's work on a new water recycling system, which will trap water used for handwashing and redirect it for reuse in the water closet.
Both Anno and Vincent Oppong Asamoah, the Deputy Minister for Water Resources Works and Housing, have urged financial institutions to support this locally developed technology.
Meanwhile, in a new drive to reach UN Millenium Development Goals, President John Mahama has said that Biofil will feature as part of his plans for “an aggressive sanitation campaign”, which will include distributing new toilets to areas where residents currently have no access to these facilities.
The President’s determination to achieve the UN-set goals will doubtless be helped by the fact that the World Bank has lately earmarked GH¢20 million to be put towards improving water and sanitation in the Upper West Region. Upper West Regional Minister, Dr. Ephraim Avea Nsoh, spoke of plans for a new waste processing plant, and hopes that the area will ultimately become self-sufficient in terms of its water supply.
Despite this positive news, disease is still a serious problem, particularly in northern Ghana, as the latest statistics from the Bolgatanga region show. According to data collected by the Bolgatanga Municipal Health Directorate, the number of typhoid cases in the area rose from 8,555 in 2012 to 9,074 in 2013. Worryingly, there was also a surge in the number of cases of elephantiasis, from just 5 in 2012 to 255 in 2013. While some illnesses have begun to decline a little, the figures show that disease is still a major source of concern, with 1,662 people suffering from dysentry and 119,734 from malaria last year in just one region alone.
Feminine Health and Hygiene
It's not only the lack of toilets and washing facilities that creates problems for the poorest sections of society in Ghana. Feminine hygiene is a particular concern, with educational failings, coupled with a lack of sanitary or contraceptive products, putting women and teenage girls at high risk of early and unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other infections caused by poor personal hygiene.
To make matters worse, the transmission of AIDS amongst those poorly educated about sexually transmitted infection (STI) risks leaves them more vulnerable to other illnesses, damaging their immune defences.
In Ghana and other developing countries, these problems often develop into almost unbreakable cycles, with girls getting pregnant in part because of their limited education, and then ending their schooling altogether because they have children to care for.
One 2012 project, however, offered a potential solution by providing sanitary pads for girls who attended puberty education classes. The results of a study showed significant improvements in attendance at classes where girls were offered these products. Nevertheless, it remains the case that many girls are still unable to attend school rather than simply making a decision not to go.
Since improving maternal health, promoting gender equality and fighting the spread of diseases such as AIDS all fall under the UN Development Goals, if Ghana is to achieve these, work still needs to be done to ensure that all young people and girls particularly, are given full access to proper education about health and hygiene.
In addition to inadequate facilities for the disposal of sewage and human waste, Ghana also faces serious public heath issues as a result of the indiscriminate dumping of general and household waste. Even in cases where rubbish is taken to specific dump sites, these are often poorly maintained, offering little improvement on simply leaving waste lying around in the streets.
One such site is the Mankranso Zongo garbage dump, a towering refuse pile which has been built up over more than ten years. Not only does this attract flies and vermin, it also contaminates the nearby Mankran River which serves as a source of drinking and washing water for residents. Because there is no toilet in the area, the rubbish dump is also often used as a substitute. Though residents have appealed to the Ahafo Ano South District Assembly, little has so far been done to rectify the situation.
In an attempt to improve waste disposal across the country, the Ghanaian government made the decision to privatise waste management. However, problems have continued regardless since many people are unable or unwilling to pay for proper disposal services, resulting in dangerous dumping and burning of rubbish.
One part of the solution may lie in new plans for composting and recycling, with one plant having been established in Accra, and another due to open in Kumasi soon. Not only should the establishment of better recycling facilities help to prevent household waste from polluting water supplies and to combat the dangerous practice of scavenging, it will also be a move towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability.
Mellisa Mounsey is a freelance journalist whose work covers a wide base including finance, local, national and international business, sustainability, family/personal finance and a lot more besides.