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Ghana’s Sanitation Policy and Strategy Has Failed: Winning The War Against Waste & Filth

Inaugural Lecture, by Casely Ato Coleman, Fellow, IMANI Africa Centre For Policy Education.


Today is World Happiness Day and the latest World Happiness Report confirms that Ghana ranked 108/159, we trailed Somalia and Nigeria. The 6 main indicators measured under well-being were income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. I have no doubt that the poor state of our sanitation is a contributory factor to this very poor rating. Sanitation plays a vital role in preventive health care and quality of life.  It is estimated that only about 30% of waste in Accra is taken out, a whopping 70% not cleared immediately.  According to UNICEF Ghana ranked second after Sudan, in open defecation in Africa with 19% of the population resorting to sanitation practices deemed the unhealthiest and most dangerous. According to the UNDP 2012 study that looked at the Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa Ghana loses $79 million annually due to open defecation. Approximately 19,000 Ghanaians including 5,100 children under the age five die each year from diarrhea; 90% of the cases are directly related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. Ghana has lost many lives due to sanitation related disasters, the recent one in 2015 when an explosion at a petrol station after a flood killed an estimated 150 people. In 2014 a cholera outbreak recorded about 22,000 cases and resulted in about 174 deaths and this was the worse since 1982 according to the Ghana Health Service. According to a report by Water Aid done in 2017, Ghana has about 85.7 percent of its population without decent toilet facilities and, with an estimated population of 29.6 million, this equals about 25.6million people who experience and suffer the fear and indignity of relieving themselves in the open or in unsafe or unhygienic toilets. According to USAID Ghana, in the next 20-30 years there will be increased high temperatures in Ghana which could range between 1.2 to 1.6 centigrade. As the temperature gets warmer there will be more evaporations and more clouds leading to more extreme rains. Climate change will affect sanitation, livelihoods, rain fed agriculture and energy security amongst others. This means things are going to get worse and we are in a big war against waste and filth and we need sustainable solutions!

In many of the clean cities in the advanced world, they don’t do communal cleaning because the systems work. Communal cleaning is a sign of systems failure and we must STOP the focus on communal cleaning because it is not sustainable. We must solve the challenges from a systems-wide organizational design approach. Using a systems-wide organizational design approach, I will examine 5 main elements namely Values and Behaviors, Data and Knowledge Management, Operational Excellence – Investing in Technology and PeopleOrganizational model & Leadership & Culture.


Overview of Institutional Framework – Policies and International Commitments

There is no denying the fact that we have very extensive policy, institutional and legal frameworks to address our waste management challenges. To mention a few, we have the Local Government Act 462, the Environmental Sanitation Policy of 1999, which was revised in 2000, and 2010, the National Environmental Sanitation Strategy and Action Plan of 2010 and the Strategic Environmental Sanitation Investment Plan (SESIP 2012). Government has also in the past announced a series of initiatives and measures to address our poor state of sanitation. These include allocating GHC 200m to resolve the legacy of debts, working with the private sector to address waste management, the GAMA Project which is intended to cover the entire value chain of waste from sweeping, collection, haulage, treatment and disposal, as well as an intention to establish a Sanitation Authority. The African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) also organized the Second African Sanitation Conference  (AfricaSan) in 2008 in Durban, South Africa, where participating countries made what is referred to as the eThekwini Declaration on specific activities and actions to be undertaken with the aim of improving access to basic sanitation services in the respective countries. Ghana was a signatory to this Declaration.

Values & Behaviors

Every society has to be built on shared values that define what is considered as fundamental truths and principles that they hold dear and will never compromise and which shape our behaviors and serve as the basis to hold each other accountable. In Ghana the lyrics of our national anthem can be considered as one major source of values that as Ghanaians we cherish. Key values here are boldness, true humility, honesty, strength, resilience etc. The chorus of the famous Yen Ara Ya Asaasei ni song which is more or less an alternative national anthem, also states that Whether or not this nation develops! Whether or not this nation develops clearly depends on the character of the citizens of the nation. For me this represents a value of stewardship, which we must drive our mind set and behaviors. This is for the simple reason that the war against filth and waste will not yield the needed results if the citizenry do not take absolute responsibility and demonstrate the right character and boldness to ensure we live in a clean environment.

Sanitation management requires joint accountability and responsibility from both citizens as right holders and government as duty bearer to ensure we live in a safe, clean and healthy environment. Sanitation, just like security, begins with us individually in the same way we ought to be alert with our personal security. As a nation we need to embed positive social norms, values, beliefs, rituals etc that reinforce healthy waste and sanitation practices in all spheres of our lives. We need to draw lessons on discipline and boldness from our  national anthems and hold each other accountable for negligent acts that contribute to filth and waste within our society. If we live by those values they will drive a behavioral mindset of stewardship, discipline, respect for rules and we will hold each other accountable and not build houses on waterfalls that leads to water clogging and put up structures on drainage passage ways. A good starting point will be to ensure that the values that reinforce cleanliness become integrated into our educational curricula this will build the foundation for behavior change.

Data And Knowledge Management

In 2012, a World Bank report estimated that Ghana loses $290 million annually due to poor sanitation and this also affects other sectors of the economy such as tourism.  Compare this to the fact that many people visit Sierra Leone because of the beautiful white beaches in River No 2 for those of you who have visited Freetown. Our service sector which includes tourism constituted 49.5% of our GDP in 2013. For a country that generates part of its revenues from tourism, cleanliness if well prioritized and marketed, can become a major source of revenue. Government has to invest in data management to provide accurate information to drive decision making in this sector. The question should be posed, for example about how many sewerage systems do we have and how many are functioning? How many landfills do we have and what are their state currently? Can they meet the increasing population growth in the big cities? How much waste is generated in Accra? What are the statuses of the various waste disposal agreements and have we had value for money? Significant headway can be made if government invests in building a solid data infrastructure that will continuously provide integrity centered data that will drive decision making in this sector devoid of partisan or narrow agendas. Ghana must be able to not only document worst practices of sanitation, but also document low cost high impact promising practices of good sanitation in some parts of the country so that we can learn and replicate such models. The Community Led Total  Sanitation Model(CLTs) is an example. Perhaps another reason why we need the RTI bill so we as citizens and right holders, can access data and information to objectively challenge and assess the basis of decisions taken by government as a duty bearer.


Operational Excellence (Investing in technology  and  People )

The waste management value chain requires treatment plants and landfill sites. Without these there is no point collecting the waste in the first place.  The technology and equipment to manage waste in a clean and efficient manner are highly capital intensive as they must run 24 hours every day. According to a report by IMANI in 2014, sanitation investment in Ghana was less than 0.1% GDP. In 2015,it went up to 0.2% of GDP which is still less than the 0.5% Ghana signed up to. According to an assessment done by CONIWAS which is a coalition of CSOs in sanitation a major concern is the difficulty in tracking how much of this already poor allocation has actually been spent in the field on improving access to improved sanitation ie toilet facilities that hygienically separate human contact with the feaces).

The amendment of the Customs and Excise Act in 2013 passed by Parliament determined  an excise duty of 10% of the ex-factory price on imported plastic and plastic products, should be levied. The law indicates that “not less than 50% of the revenue accruing under this tariff should be paid into a fund designated as the “Plastic Waste Recycling Fund”. By Imani’s records, an estimated amount of Ghc265m has been realized since the introduction of the excise duty and has the potential of providing the country 950,000 waste bins. A key solution towards solving the sanitation problem is to ask government to explain how the  “Plastic Waste Recycling Fund” (PWRF) has  been used 4 years since the passing of this law, and to what extent it has been applied towards tackling the challenges with waste management in Ghana.  There are a few significant private sector players who are contributing towards this fight. Investing in the right technology with the right people with the right skills to drive the agenda to make Ghana clean is very crucial in this process. Zoomlion and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and technology have established the African Institute of Waste Management to build capacities and expertise in waste management. This must be seen as a national treasure to leverage to contribute towards building core capabilities in this sector. Government has to build partnership with integrity driven actors from the private sector to win the war against waste and filth.  Operational excellence also requires investing in research to support new technologies and approaches in waste management. There are many promising low cost high impact innovations such as alternating twin ventilated latrines, fossa alterna, ecosan, arbour loo and pour flush toilets. For example for rural and urban households without individual water connections, there are new technologies on waterless excreta disposal solutions while strongly promoting the use of handwashing. Government must strengthen the capacity of the Ghana Standards Board to play an active role in the standardization of sanitation technologies in line with environmental quality requirements. We have to see all our resources in the war against filth and waste both public and private as national resources which requires stewardship in managing them.

Organizational Model – A very weak organizational model also accounts for some of the paralysis in decision making with respect to waste management in Ghana. There are also 4 key factors that must be looked at. Firstly the way the delivery of technical and support services expertise have been organized facilitates bureaucracy and does not help to clarify decision space and decision mandate of the key actors and structures. Secondly there must be more clarity on separation of roles and checks and balances between the Ministry of Local Government and  Rural Development, Community Water and  Sanitation Agency, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation, Works and Housing to coordinate efforts, expertise and resources. The responsibility and accountability for sanitation development must be vested at the decentralized level. Thirdly there is also need to focus on building the right strategic partnerships with NGOs, private sector, faith based organizations and community based leadership structures in the war against waste and filth.

Leadership & Culture of Accountability

Ghana also needs strong values driven leaders who promote a culture of accountability across all 3 levels of governance ie national, regional and local government to ensure policy alignment in budgeting, planning and measurement of results. We need leaders who consistently apply corrective action when performance expectations are not met by all actors involved in the waste management value chain.  We need strong leadership that ensures (a) enforcement of environmental regulations and laws on sanitation which are clear. Section 296 of the Criminal Offences Act and Section 56 of the Public Health Act (b) proper urban planning (c) that is held to account through a rigorous performance management system that defines clear roles, responsibilities and targets to be achieved with customer satisfaction as a key measure. We need leaders at the assemblies who must have business acumen, take risks and must be proactive and innovative in identifying economic opportunities rather than  relying heavily on central government especially when there is donor fatigue to fund sanitation related initiatives due to corruption in the sector. For me, as a Human Resources & Organizational development practitioner, its unfortunate that we have to use teachers, civil servants, doctors, nurses, engineers to clean gutters. This is a complete misapplication of human resources, especially when we have millions of unemployed youth and labourers.. Mr. President please set clear performance targets for all the key leaders in the sanitation value chain and FIRE those who don’t meet expectations.  Mr. President please FIRE those who misapply our resources and turn them over to the Office Of The Special Prosecutor.


Let me conclude with the famous Rwanda Model which is touted as a best practice for environmental cleanliness in Africa. In 2008, the government banned non bio degradable plastic. Littering is not an option, plastic bags are illegal and confiscated at the point of entry. In Rwanda the laws are enforced.  The 2016 Sanitation policy of Rwanda also embeds key principles such as cost recovery, private sector participation, gender and child protection as well as behavior change. Sustainable cleanliness is a combination of holistic discipline in mind set, systems and leadership. A clean Ghana should be a priority for all of us. The war against filth and waste can be sustainably won if we adopt a system wide organizational design approach namely Values and Behaviors, Data and Knowledge Management, Operational Excellence – Investing in Technology and PeopleOrganizational model & Leadership & Culture. We need discipline from government, from the private sector, from the citizens in order to win the war against filth and waste. Lets create a “Ghana “beyond” Borla”!


Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa, UNDP-Water & Sanitation Program Report, March 20122.https://washwatch.org/uploads/filer_public/86/d2/86d2ad38-ae52-4e77-bf3c-36c68cc39d75/cso_ethekwini_assement_-_ghana.pdfCSOs assessment of Ghana’s eThekwini commitments compiled by Ibrahim Musa, Water Aid Ghana,  April 2015. http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2018/ http://citifmonline.com/2015/11/18/ghana-ranked-2nd-in-open-defecation/


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