By Aghan Daniel
MESHA Secretary I

MARCH 22, ACCRA, GHANA – “Are all roads in Ghana this smooth? This good?” asked Maina Waruru, a senior MESHA member from Kenya as we approached the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra last Monday afternoon.

As we got off our hostess’ car, one Linda Asante, a very kind member of Science and Technology Communicators Association of Ghana (SaTCOG), received us and led us to the Scoop, the institutions canteen run by Akan, a very talkative woman.

For me, I rushed to the washroom to empty my bowels in a nearby modern toilet. My colleagues were already placing their orders for a late lunch. To many of them that would be their first meal on Ghanaian soil, thanks to the efforts of Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) and India-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

As I left the washroom, one thing kept ringing in my mind – how does Accra manage its faecal sludge? What about Africa? And the world?

A few years ago, I was startled when the City Council of Nairobi put a levy of Ksh100 (USD1) in addition to my water bill. I was startled that they specified the levy as a stand-alone-item, instead of including it in the charges for water consumed.

According to a study on waste water management carried out by CSE in 2015, the high cost of disposing faecal waste should be blamed on colonisation, which constructed modern sewage systems. “The colonial administration created systems and structures where the participation of local people in making decisions was completely eliminated while the systems also became more and more centralised,” the study read in parts.

The report furthers that while water supply systems were centrally controlled and relied on long transmission lines as well as transportation of water from distant locations, sewage disposal too, was done in a centralised manner in most towns and cities. “As much as 20 to 50 per cent of water was wasted during the supply process.”

Going by the analysis, the per capita (per person) consumption of water increased when the sewage systems became more ‘modern’. For example, data from India shows that in towns, the per capita consumption of water was 70 litres per person per day. This, according to the study, increased to 135 for cities. For the metros, it was as much as 150 litres per person per day.

“Only 20 per cent of this water is consumed. The rest is waste water – indicating an urgent need to curb wastage of water through wasteful sanitation and other practices,” said Suresh Kumar Rohilla, Programme Director (Water Management) of CSE.

Waruru and I were part of a group of 24 journalists from all over Africa who attended a one-day dialogue meeting on water and sanitation with specific reference to faecal management of waste in various countries. The dialogue, organised by MESHA in conjunction with SaTCOG, was funded by CSE. Journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Rwanda attended the dialogue with others from Benin, Sierra Leone and South Africa.

According to WASH Alliance in Kenya, it is estimated that only one-third of the residents have access to sufficient, affordable and potable water close to their homes.

More so, only another third of Kenyans have access to improved sanitation. This basically calls for integration. As we think of the improved sanitation, costs also need to be discussed. In the rural areas, according to WASH Alliance Kenya, open defecation is still practiced by 18% of the population.
This suggests that contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene are urgent and growing health concerns. It is the leading cause of diarrhea, which is one of the main causes of death in Kenya.

In an effort to bridge the gap, WASH Alliance Kenya is currently raising awareness on low cost management technologies and faecal sludge management. They have launched a Sanitation and Solid Waste Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and local banks. This is aimed at influencing governments to adopt pro-poor and innovative waste management approaches that would target 175,000.

While WASH Alliance commits itself to this intervention, Ms Henrietta Ose -Tutu of the Department of Environmental Sanitation, Ghana observed that the current discussion and effort around waste management was more focused on solid waste. “It is necessary that we lay emphasis on liquid waste or waste water management as well,” she said.