Water and decent toilet facilities are a requirement for every human settlement. They promote hygienic practices, which ensure a healthy living. For academic institutions, the availability of water and decent toilet facilities or what is known as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities presents a conducive opportunity for students to concentrate on their academic activities. However, some Senior High Schools (SHSs) in the Northern Region cannot boast of water and decent toilet facilities.
Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Minister for Education stated at a meet-the-press in Accra in November, 2017 that there are 23 SHSs without toilet facilities in the country. The situation of SHSs’ without water and toilet facilities in the Northern Region can be categorized into three: those that do not have water and toilet facilities at all, those that have but they are not enough to cater for the high number of students, and those that have some water but their toilets are water-closet facilities where there is no running water to flush them after use.
In all these situations, students queue especially in the mornings and evenings to go to toilet, and those that cannot withstand the pressure either defaecate in polythene bags and dump them in nearby bushes or openly defaecate in the bush.
In the case of water, students walk long distances in search of the scarce commodity. These do not only present challenges for effective academic exercise but also a source of risk for especially female students.
In some of the schools, the toilets are so full that the stench and heat they generate put off some students from patronizing them, whiles females that visit them stand the risk of contracting various diseases.
Early this year, ActionAid Ghana (AAG), a non-governmental organization, undertook a health screening at Bimbilla SHS in the region. Out of the 620 students screened, 250 girls tested positive for candidiasis, a vaginal infection caused mainly by insanitary conditions.
The students attributed the situation to the inadequacy of toilet facilities in the school as over 1,600 of them share one eight-seater toilet facility, a situation, which compels them to practise open defaecation.
The lack of adequate and improved water and toilet facilities in most SHSs in the region has become a source of worry for especially female students, some of who say the situation exposes them to unhygienic practices as it compels them to sometimes go for classes without bathing.
At a training session for Young Female Parliament (YFP) in Tamale in May, this year, some female students complained about the situation, saying it was worse when they were in their menstrual period. The YFP is a platform created by NORSAAC, and AAG, non-governmental organizations, and it is composed of young female students at 18 SHS in the region.
Both organizations, through the YFP, develop and empower female students in the region to take charge of and contribute significantly to society through ability to lead and take part in decision-making processes.
At the training, students from Yendi SHS said the inadequate toilet facilities at their school compelled them to defaecate in the bush exposing them to reptiles. Students from Zabzugu SHS also spoke about the situation in their school saying apart from inadequate toilet facilities, the school also faced water supply challenges compelling them to walk long distances in search of water.
Students from other SHSs in the region including Walewale, Tamale, Vittin, Wulensi, Kpandai, Chereponi and Gushegu, who also participated in the training, complained about the same situation in their schools. The students, therefore, resolved to undertake advocacy campaigns to ensure that government and other development partners would come to their aid.
In 2017, WaterAid, an international NGO, published a report entitled: “Out of Order: The State of the World’s Toilets 2017”. According to the report, 85.7 per cent of Ghanaians, which translates to 23,495,896, were without access to at least sanitation.
This placed Ghana ninth amongst the top 10 countries with most people without decent toilets. The open defaecation league table compiled by United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and released in February, 2018 showed that only 28 per cent of households in the Northern Region had toilets.
The government, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been working to ensure that by the end of the year 2030, every household will have access to improved water and sanitation facilities thus eliminating open defaecation.
By this, government’s objective is to achieve the goal six of the SDGs, which is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. In line with this, government in collaboration with development partners has been creating public awareness for the citizenry to denounce open defaecation and build household toilets.
However, the current situation of inadequate water and decent toilets facilities at SHSs in the region portrays an unofficial institutionalization of open defaecation, which defeats the government’s objective to eliminate the practice by the year 2030.
The way forward
In the last two years, SHS education became free in the country. This has led to an increase in the number of students accessing secondary education across the country. This has put a lot more pressure on the already overstretched WASH facilities at SHSs in the region.
Government needs to prioritize issues of WASH at the SHSs and commit to a feasible plan to provide adequate water and toilet facilities to the schools. The need for mechanized boreholes for SHSs situated in communities without pipe-borne water is imperative.
This will ensure a reliable source of water for students to undertake their various activities. Also, adequate toilet facilities must be built at SHSs for students to use. The toilets that are full or almost full must be emptied immediately to ensure a decent place for students to attend to nature’s call to avoid contracting diseases.
This will prevent students from finding alternative places such as the bush to attend to nature’s call, which perpetuates open defaecation in the country. Providing adequate WASH facilities for SHSs in the region will ensure that students do not spend productive hours in search of water at the expense of academic exercise.
It will also promote good hygienic practices amongst students especially females when they are experiencing their menstrual cycles. It will also aid the country’s objective of eliminating open defaecation. This will not only help in efforts at achieving the SDGs six, which is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, but will also ensure improved performance of students as they will spend more time on their academic expectations.