Osrogba, where it is a taboo to build a latrine

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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Madam Grace Akwete beaming with smiles in front of her pit latrine

At Osrogba very close to Dodowa (40km from Accra) in the Shai Osudoku district of Ghana’s Greater Accra Region, one thing is obvious – no landowner or landlord is ready to release land for the construction of a latrine, a facility which is taken for granted by many.

This is because it is considered a taboo, a repulsion and disincentive to sell or lease their land for such purpose – which situation has largely contributed to open defecation by the 270-member community for many years.

Woman builds own latrine against all odds

However, the situation has not deterred 55-year-old, Grace Akwete, from building her own 10-feet deep latrine at absolutely no cost, after using the bushes for years without number.

Hear her when asked where she defecated before constructing her own latrine: “Please I did it in the bushes,” she replied bluntly.

She explained that she resolved to build her own latrine, after she had become convinced it was the right thing to do, when Pronet-Accra, partners for WaterAid Ghana (both non-governmental organisations in water and sanitation), visited the community and spoke with them about observing proper sanitation and hygiene.

“If I was still going to the bushes I could easily be bitten by a snake, but I just returned from a trip and I have gone to toilet several times without fear,” she said emphatically, adding “I like it, now I am free.”

Noticeably overjoyed at having her own latrine which her family shares with her, she said, “now I just have to open the door to the latrine and I can conveniently do it.”

She advised her fellow community members to follow her example, saying it only took about a week with assistance from her son, some old roofing sheets, wood and nails to construct.

Taboo mode activated

Confirming that landlords were reluctant to release land for the construction of latrines in the community, a four-member team led by Edwin Osei Kumi, Pronet-Accra, and also comprising Adwoa Pabby and Yakubu Karim Alhassan, project officer and programmes officer respectively of WaterAid Ghana, which was on a monitoring visit to the community, was called in to resolve an issue where a landlord who only gave his name as Mr. Johnson, had refused to give his blessings to the construction of a latrine by his tenants.

But when the team together with the community’s six-member WATSAN committee visited, he alleged he had stopped the tenants because they had just started constructing a latrine on the land without first seeking his permission.

“When I came from Nigeria, I realised that they [tenants] had dug three holes for use as a latrine so I told them ‘I cannot stop you from going to toilet there but when it becomes full do not dig any more holes for a latrine’”, he narrated.

The landlord continued that the tenants did not heed his caution but went ahead to dig another hole for a latrine, which he stopped, asking, “They have seen a big land so they are just constructing latrines on it – if I decide to sell this plot of land right now, will anyone buy it when latrines are constructed on it?”

“As I stand here and you come and see me for land and I decide to give you that portion and you see toilet will you buy? So I told them to fill up the hole dug – fortunately they had not started using it – I have asked surveyors to map out the land and will not allow construction of a toilet there,” he reiterated.

However, after being persuaded to release the land to help check open defecation, which he was also guilty of, he consented and permitted the construction to continue but asked if he would also be allowed to use the facility once it was completed, which drew laughter from the team.

“I defecate into a black polythene bag and dump it into the public latrine because I cannot squat on it – It is not hygienic,” he said.

Meanwhile, following after Grace’s example, two more women have started construction of their own latrines and one of them gave her name as Esther Haduo.

Iron Removal Plant constructed

But the Osrogba community has not only benefitted from sanitation and hygiene education from Pronet and WaterAid. An iron removal plant has also been constructed to treat their unwholesome water and the project was completed and handed over to the community in October 2012, according to the WATSAN committee.

Speaking to the visiting team, the committee said to access the water, each household, 40 in all, pays GH¢1 each month for  the water fetched, regardless of how many buckets a household fetches during the period.

However non-community members are made to pay 10Gp for a 36-inch sized bucket each time they fetch, while a school in the community is made to take the water for free as their contribution to their ward’s education and welfare of the staff.

Emmanuel Zanu Bukor, Watsan Chairman, however indicated that it was difficult collecting money from January to March because it is the lean season, adding that collection picks up from April, when the community’s major crop – mango, is in season.

Commenting on how the iron removal plant had been of immense help to the community, Emmanuel Bukor said: “At first, when one fetches water, he or she will have to leave it for a period so a substance like mud settles and it becomes clean for use.”

He divulged that the facility is mostly patronised during the dry season and that many of the community members harvest rainwater during the wet season, hence the low patronage during that period. 

Sanitation bye-laws

Zanu Bukor also disclosed that the watsan committee had come up with some bye-laws on animal rearing, in order to keep the community clean, whereas they are using endogenous means to keep the tap area clean – no slippers ought to be worn while fetching water.

The watsan chair however said they were yet to implement a bye-law against open defecation, which states that whoever is caught openly defecating will be arrested and prosecuted.

Osrogba’s watsan committee has also benefitted from a series of training (four in all), after its formation, which has included an endogenous development training by the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD), also a WaterAid partner.

Meanwhile in a related development, the authorities at the Shai Osudoku District Hospital at Dodowa agreed to provide a polytank to complete the mechanisation of a borehole for which an iron removal plant has already been provided by Pronet.

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