The Executive Chairman of the Zoomlion and Jospong Group of Companies, Dr. Joseph Siaw Adjepong, says that Ghana's gloomy water and sanitation situation is due to the systematic failure of policy.
Also, he attributed the situation to a lack of receptiveness on the part of the deprived to accept the argument that good sanitation practices hold the key to true health and longevity.
According to him, several local and international bodies such as the universities, World Health Organisation, World Bank, the United Nations, and WaterAid had carried out substantive studies on water, sanitation and hygiene, and their findings show that "there is a crisis on our hands."
He pointed out that the global context was also very gloomy, and illustrated it by quoting a WaterAid document, saying, "The world can no longer afford to overlook the global water sanitation crisis. 783 million people worldwide live without access to clean water, and over 2.5 billion people live without adequate sanitation facilities. This has a vital impact on growth and human development, including economic development, health, education and gender equality."
Dr. Adjepong was delivering the keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 64th Annual New Year School and Conference, on the theme "The Key to Future Health of our Nation: Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene."
The event, which is organised by the Institute of Continuing and Distance Education (ICDE) of the University of Ghana was aimed at creating a platform for a dispassionate discussion of how the nation could deal with the challenges of inadequate safe drinking water, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate hygiene education, poor physical planning strategies, indiscipline and lack of enforcement of sanitation laws among others.
In view of the current situation, he said "the evidence is that many African countries are not on track to achieve the MDG target in the areas of sanitation and water."
A WaterAid report further illustrates the situation by saying that "on the basis of current progress made, it will take over two decades for sub-Saharan Africa to meet its sanitation MDG target," he mentioned.
In the case of Ghana, the report mentioned that the country's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target was to supply 77% of the population with safe water by 2025, and 54% of the population with adequate sanitation.
However, while 82% of the population has water, only 13% have good sanitation, an indication that though Ghana had supposedly met its MDG on water, ahead of the target, at current rates of progress, the sanitation target would be missed by 115 years.
To get the sanitation MDGs back on track, countries in sub-Saharan Africa need to spend at least 3.5% of gross domestic product on sanitation and water.
Thus, the theme for the school and conference topicalizes the issue for rigorous debate, so that the nation can take necessary measures in order to guarantee the country's collective health, Dr. Adjepong said.
He expressed worry that despite the fact that Accra can boast of potable water, numerous households do not have access to it, while access to places of convenience is very limited or non-existent.
He noted that the complexity of the situation in Ghana was such that funding for water and sanitation was dominated by development partners, stressing, "The National Waste and Sanitation Programme (2011) estimates that sanitation investment in Ghana is less than 0.1% GDP."
In view of this, he said increased investments in sanitation and hygiene promotion were required to realise health and welfare benefits of sanitation, and also avert large economic losses.
He pointed out that in 2012, 7,000 cases of cholera, with about seventy deaths, were recorded, while diarrhoea-related diseases were responsible for about 20 to 25 child deaths annually in Ghana. Thus, "good sanitation would imply making some savings in our health expenditure, and freeing up money for other productive ventures," he added.
Prescribing some solutions to the problems, he said: "Public/private partnership, if forged, properly can contribute immensely to the attainment of our goals." Using his company as an example, he said: "Part of our collaboration with MMDAs has involved restoring their capacity to handle sanitation-related problems, and in furtherance of this objective, we have provided sanitation equipment to some MMDAs to augment their work."
In his view, the country has to continue looking for alternative ways of sourcing for funds, and urged the participants of the New Year school to help identify potential sources of financing.
Additionally, he called for the need to forge innovative strategies or mechanisms for engineering an attitudinal change among Ghanaians.
Furthermore, he urged the participants to critically discuss the sanitation and waste phenomena that had to do with land fill site issues, waste treatment and recycling, environmental tax, and handling of e-waste and medical waste.
The other issues include management of hazardous and mining waste, and managing the activities of informal operators in the sanitation and waste management sector.
He assured all that "on our part, as the leading private sector waste management company, we shall lend our unflinching support to the post-school strategies for rapid implementation of the recommendations."
The caretaker Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, Enock Teye Mensah, said the annual school and conference enhanced the contribution of academia to national development beyond its traditional role.
He observed that with the deadline for the delivery of the MDGs on water, sanitation and hygiene just two years away, the forum should provide the platform to assess Ghana's performance in the sector.
He pointed out that, over the years, demand for water, especially in urban areas, had exceeded supply due to obsolete water infrastructure, uncontrolled human settlement, encroachment on headworks leading to siltation, difficulty in expansion, and the vandalisation of water assets.