At a glance: Ghana

Improved sanitation catches on in rural Ghana one latrine at a time

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
Children of Chirifoyili village in rural northern Ghana smile for the camera.

By Nerida Williams

TAMALE, Ghana, 26 August 2010 – Peering through the doorway of the Chief’s hut in the village of Chirifoyili, into a courtyard littered with earthenware and ceramic cooking pots, it seems nothing has changed in this village for centuries.

But in fact, one very important thing has changed.
 
A new initiative – part of a UNICEF Community Led Total Sanitation project – has recently introduced latrines to the village, and for the first time, people are using safer sanitation methods. In this and other remote villages in northern Ghana, people have practiced open defecation in the bush throughout history.

Ancient problem, new solutions

Open defecation presents serious health hazards. Communities that practice it are at greater risk of diarrhoeal diseases, worm infestations and hepatitis.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Ghana/2010/Williams
The Chief of Chirifoyili in northern Ghana, who has been instrumental in introducing improved sanitation to his village.

But today improved sanitation is expanding rapidly in Ghana. Between 1990 and 2006, the country’s rate of improved sanitation access has increased from 6 to 10 per cent.

Through its ‘IWASH’ project, UNICEF Ghana is hoping to make more and more villages ‘open defecation-free.’ One of the first villages to obtain this coveted status is Chirifoyili, located in the country’s northern region. Today all community members here have access to drop-toilet latrines, or small outhouses built over safe waste pits.

The Chief of Chirifoyili village, as is frequently the case, was instrumental in rallying the community’s support for new latrines. Having worked to educate his neighbours on the health benefits of improved sanitation, he is now extremely proud of Chirifoyili’s status as one of the first villages in the district to have an advanced method of waste disposal.

‘Excellent idea’ catches on

A few weeks earlier the district resource coordinator, Issah-Bello, was travelling past a nearby village in his vehicle. He was stopped by some villagers, curious to know what his business was in their area. Issah-Bello showed them video footage that he had just taken of the latrines in Chirifoyili. Seeing images of their neighbours and their successful latrines, the villagers were inspired to build their own.

“How could they do this and we can’t?” one asked. “If he can build a latrine toilet, so can I!”

UNICEF Image
Joesph Bnugaram stands in front of a latrine his village recently built in rural northern Ghana.

And so the seeds of change were planted.

The villagers told Issah-Bello that they too would build their own drop toilet latrines – and without any outside help. To prove it, they asked him to return to their village in three weeks.

After three weeks, Issah-Bello did return to the neighbouring village. Several men were awaiting him under a tree nearby the dusty main road. Then community leader Joseph Bnugaram proudly led him to the new latrines – small mud structures with doors on either side. The female side was differentiated by the male side by a sheet of corrugated iron covering the doorway.

“This is not just a good idea, it is an excellent idea,” said Mr. Bnugaram. “Previously, you would step in someone’s defecation, and flies would follow you.” The health benefits of the new latrines have been immediately obvious as well, he said. “Children have not fallen sick, and it has limited diarrhoea.”

Strides toward the MDGs

This safe, simple innovation was built for villagers, by villagers. Besides being practical, the latrines will go a long way to helping Ghana meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals targets related to safe water and sanitation. The MDGs, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide, call for reducing the by half the proportion of people around the world without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the year 2015.

In Chirifoyili, the village Chief has a unique way of enforcing latrine use: he threatens a fine of GHS3.00, or about $2, for any villager caught defecating in an open space.

The construction of latrines may not seem monumental. But the health benefits gained by eradicating open defecation may in fact be.

“It has changed our lives,” said the Chief. “This will have a life-long impact.”


 

 

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