Universal access to adequate and proper sanitation is a fundamental human right which is essential in a country’s developmental process. Since 1990, about 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation in forms such as flush toilets, ventilated improved pits, etc. 2.1 billion people is a huge figure but it still did not meet the target for the 2015 millennium development goal because 2.4 billion people in the world still depend on unimproved sanitation facilities such as bucket toilets, pit latrines etc., and about 950 million people still practice open defecation. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia form majority of the 2.4 billion people that lack improved sanitation. 44 per cent of the sub Saharan Africa population depend on either shared or unimproved facilities while 26 per cent practices open defecation. Ghana is no exception in this case, an average of 22.9 per cent of Ghanaians do not have access to any sanitation facility, therefore resort to open defecation.
Consequently, unavailability of improved sanitation systems has several detrimental effects on the human race. Unfortunately the effects are more prevalent among the poor because they can’t afford to provide improved sanitary systems on their own. Lack of improved sanitation affects the health, productivity of people in a country and subsequently degrades the economy of countries. An estimated 800 children die daily as a result of diarrhea spread through poor sanitation. These deaths are not only limited to children but occur in adults too making the canker one worth fighting against. In this article, emphasis will be laid on the impacts of sanitation systems, especially, toilets on the economy of a country, with focus on Ghana.
The Ghanaian economy in recent times have faced great challenges an many financial analysts pointed out several factors ranging from fiscal, infrastructure, and many others being the cause. Unfortunately, one important factor which has escaped the minds and eyes of many is impact of unimproved sanitation on the people and the country. I guess this is pardonable because no one thinks toilets could be a problem. For a country to develop three important sectors need to function properly, thus, health, employment and education. Verily, without toilets, improved and convenient for that matter, the efforts of these three sectors will not be complete. Take a minute to ask yourself these questions: how will you feel if you had no toilet at your workplace? What will be your reaction if you had to walk several meters or queue to access a public toilet facility? Imagine a school without improved or with no toilet facilities, what health conditions will occur among the school children if one had cholera or diarrhea? Many people cannot just associate themselves with the conditions in this questions but the fact is there many people in this country who do not have any choice but to adjust themselves to those conditions which do not affect them alone but every other person in the country.
In Ghana, the human lives lost to diarrhea, cholera and other conditions as a result of poor sanitary facilities are lives that worked hard to contribute to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to UNDP; Human Development Report 2006, Lack of water, sanitation and hygiene costs Sub-Saharan African Countries more lost in GDP than the entire continents get in development aid. For instance, the hundreds of lives lost to cholera every year has a detrimental effect on Ghana’s economy. The lives lost, could be that of the farmer, doctor, seamstress, president, mechanic, pastor, scientist and many others, shows the clear loss of human resource, which would have been a great asset to the country but lost to lack of toilets. In addition to losing potential human resource, a lot of funds are spent on controlling the consequences of poor sanitation and even more money spent on funerals and hospital bills of victims. It is estimated that the cost of Water and Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) response to WASH related disease outbreaks is about US$1.2 million every year. This implies the cholera outbreak in 2014 affecting about 20,000 people cost the country about US$13.3 million. According to the water and sanitation programme of the World Bank, it’s estimated that Ghana loses about US$290 million because of lack of improved sanitation systems. This amount is capable of building schools, hospitals. Water treatment plants and interestingly, can build 3 of the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange. The economic impacts of toilets is not only limited to lives and money but also time. As the saying goes; time is money. Women and children are the most vulnerable in this case; they spend several hours of the day searching for potable water to keep their toilets clean and most school girls absent themselves from school because there are no convenient washroom where they can tidy themselves during their menstrual period. Research shows that women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water and women and girls living without toilets spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go. Interestingly the time spent gathering water around the world alone translates to US$24 billion in lost economic benefits each year. Indeed Ghana is losing a great deal of money, time and manpower and there has to be a critical analysis of the water and sanitation sector because investments in toilets are really profitable.
As we mark the World Toilet Day, I would like us all to contribute our widow’s mite towards the provision of clean toilets for all. If we can achieve the targets under the Sustainable Development Goal 6; Access to Sustainable Water and Sanitation, then attention has to be given to toilets no matter how disgusting the name might sound. Improved sanitation systems increases productivity, saves money, saves lives and keeps girls in school. Ghana will be a better place if no one wakes up in the morning not knowing where to go to toilet. It is time everyone everywhere has access to a toilet. HAPPY TOILET DAY!
By: Jacob K. Amengor, Water & Sanitation Expert and ThreesixtyGh Writer