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IMC Travel Diaries – A journey across Ghana for a UK Aid sanitation project

Welcome to IMC Travel Diaries, where we explore new places and development issues. Our consultants will take us on a journey with them for a day, so we can discover what it is really like to work in international development.

Wednesday 24 July 2019, Bastian Schnabel

Bastian is a Senior Consultant in our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team. He brings us to Ghana, where IMC runs the UK Aid-funded Sanitation Challenge for Ghana (SC4G), which is part of the wider Ideas to Impact programme.

This prize competition aims to improve sanitation in Ghana by stimulating Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), which are local governmental authorities, to design and implement innovative liquid waste management and sanitation strategies. Interventions range from building public toilets to mobilising communities to stop open defecation.

Bastian has spent the last two months in Ghana to verify implementation progress in the MMDAs.

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7.00am – The day begins. Our plane from Ghana’s capital Accra landed in the town of Tamale late yesterday evening. We then drove for three hours through the bush to Navrongo in the country’s far North, close to the border with Burkina Faso.

The air is dusty, dry and hot, with the temperature close to 48°C in the shade.

After breakfast and a quick consultation of today’s agenda, I meet my colleague Bessy (plus her four-months-old baby boy) and my driver Rahim outside the hotel. We are ready to set off to visit the local Municipal Assembly to verify the progress of implementation of their liquid waste management and sanitation strategy.

‘Stop open defecation’ sign next to a recently cleaned up area. One in five Ghanaians have no access to a toilet and defecate in the open, with open defecation rates over 70% in the North (unicef.org/ghana/wes.html).

9.00am – After passing through several military and police checkpoints, we arrive at the Assembly. The Municipal Chief Executive and his implementation and planning team have been waiting for us.

The air conditioning is not working so I am much relieved when the secretary distributes water bottles to everybody. After introducing the team and myself, the planning director starts his presentation. I pay attention, take notes, ask lots of questions and discuss some interventions with Bessy.

10.30am – The presentation is over, and Bessy and I start to verify all the documents: construction contracts, blueprints, financial statements, proof of payments, digital photographs. Everything has to be checked for originality, dates, stamps and signatures. We spend about three hours going through all the documentation, while simultaneously asking questions to the planning, environmental health and finance officers.

It feels a bit like an interrogation and the Assembly representatives look clearly stressed as they need to explain their interventions.

01:30 pm – After three intense hours of discussions, everybody is eager to go out for a lunch break. We wake up our driver, who is taking a nap in his car in the shade of a shea nut tree, and we head to the local market to get some food.

The food of choice here in northern Ghana is fufu, jollo rice or banku with tilapia. Fufu is made of pounded and cooked yams with plantain – traditionally swallowed and not chewed! – while banku consists of fermented yams with maize and is often served with local fish or chicken. For dessert, we each have a handful of groundnuts.

02.30pm – We return to the Municipal Assembly to continue the verification visit with site checks. The implementation team mentioned during their presentation a hygiene education programme delivered in local primary schools, which Bessy and I are eager to learn more about.

Schoolchildren enjoy free access to safely managed drinking water.

We go and visit one of these schools. As part of the programme, pupils have received training in hygiene and have built so-called ‘tippy taps’, which are simple handwashing facilities that can be made from locally available and recycled materials – in this case, branches and empty jerrycans.

A stick works as a foot pedal, making the use of hands unnecessary. Tippy taps are especially appropriate for rural areas where running and potable water is not available.  

Handwashing with a newly built tippy tap and hygiene education demonstration at a local primary school.

After introducing the team and myself to the headteacher, Mrs Priscilla, I got surrounded by a bunch of schoolchildren. I have no escape. Meanwhile Mrs Priscilla tell us about the hygiene education programme. We ask the pupils to show us how the tippy taps work, which they are very excited to do. Before setting off to verify the construction of a public toilet close by, we are asked to leave a statement in the school’s guestbook.  

04.00pm – We arrive at the newly built public toilet, close to another school. The Assembly has just finished building it and has handed it over to a private contractor for operation. Water for handwashing is provided in large buckets at the entrances of the male and female toilets.

The toilets are well maintained and clean, and the private operator confirms that construction has been recently completed with funding from the Municipal Assembly. We are delighted to see they are in good conditions as they benefit people that have no access to household toilets and are forced to defecate in the open.

A newly built and privatised public toilet.

05.00pm – We decide to call it a day and to return the following day to continue with the verification visit. The sun is still burning and the temperatures have dropped only slightly to the lower 40s. It hasn’t rained for months and all buildings are covered in a thick layer of red dust.

While driving off the Assemblies compound, our driver Rahim suggests stopping by a nearby river to watch and feed some rather wild but friendly Nile crocodiles. A local boy on the shore has lured one out of the water by holding a clucking chicken. The crocodile and I instantly become close friends.

I decide to finish the day on a more adventurous note.

After the last – mostly entertaining – meeting of the day, we head back to the hotel where report writing awaits us.

09.00pm – The day is finished, and I decide to retire, together with a swarm of mosquitoes, at the hotel’s bar.

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