By Edmund Smith-Asante
WaterAid Ghana, a non-governmental organisation, has hailed the declaration by the United Nations of November 19 as World Toilet Day, saying it will use commemoration of the day to draw the attention of Government to the gravity of the sanitation problem.
“We’ll certainly be working with private sector, civil society organisations, academia and others to use World Toilet Day to draw attention to governments of the enormous scale of the problem,” Dr. Afia S. Zakiya, WaterAid Ghana’s Country Representative stated in a statement copied to the press.
She pledged that “WaterAid Ghana will continue to work with national government ministries and local government authorities in Ghana to find sustainable solutions to ameliorate Ghana’s sanitation challenges, with an abysmal 15% coverage at the end of 2011.”
In the statement issued to applaud the world body’s formal recognition of November 19 every year as World Toilet Day, Dr. Zakiya said; “WaterAid welcomes this recognition of the global sanitation crisis, and the need for the UN and member states to take action. This is not just the creation of yet another UN day, but another sign that governments recognise that toilets for all is essential for saving children’s lives.”
Also welcoming the UN’s declaration, Jan Elliason, UN Deputy Secretary-General and former Chair of WaterAid Sweden said; “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”
The General Assembly resolution was unanimously adopted on July 24, 2013 in New York and calls on UN Member States and partners to promote behaviour change and policies to increase access to sanitation for the poor, along with a call to end the practice of open defecation.
World Toilet Day, before the UN declaration, was marked by civil service organisations and non-governmental organisations worldwide including WaterAid, although it was not recognised as an official UN day.
It is widely believed the official recognition of World Toilet Day by the United Nations will bring about the much-needed stimulus to improve sanitation coverage or access globally.
According to available statistics, 2.5 billion people around the world currently lack access to safe sanitation or improved toilets, while around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
Meanwhile, according to a World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) report released on April 17, 2012, Ghana’s economy loses GH¢ 420 million (US$290 million, 1.6 per cent of GDP) each year, due to poor sanitation.
Titled “Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa – Ghana”, the desk study found that the majority (74 per cent) of the costs come from the annual premature death of 19,000 Ghanaians from diarrhoea, including 5,100 children under the age of five (5), nearly 90 per cent of which is directly attributable to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Health-related costs accounted for nearly 19 per cent of the total economic costs, while access time and productivity losses accounted for about seven (7) per cent.