Managing Waste Through Right to Information

wasteWhen I first arrived in Ghana, the first things I noticed were the blistering heat and the excessive garbage; it is everywhere, clogging the open drains on the street side, in the markets, on the road, and every other place imaginable.

I was blown away not only by the sight of it, but by the smell which could knock one from their feet. From plastic bottles, a bag, Styrofoam (polythene) containers, cans, rotten food, to drinking water sachets.

I was amazed and at the same time wondered what the government is doing to clean up the city of Accra. The beauty of the city is sadly hidden beneath tonnes of waste.

I have discovered that the waste situation in Ghana is at the heart of its development as a country because it impacts other industries both directly and indirectly. These industries are interconnected.

The key to rectifying this situation is through the mechanism of information. The pending Right to Information (RTI) bill is the ticket towards Ghana’s development and prosperity. This bill will ensure Ghanaians individual freedom; as well as the right to ask questions and obtain information about their government, its various initiatives, and its expenditures.

Accessing information in this sector will allow people to see how the government of Ghana is working to improve the lives and standards of living for all Ghanaians. Additionally, it will be a source of economic gain for unemployed citizens and youth.  It starts with cleaning up the city.

Garbage is more than an eye-sore; it is a health and safety hazard. Its collection in the open drains is by far most alarming and stomach turning. I have observed the open drains to serve as garbage receptacles, communal toilets, and in some cases a play area for children.

The obvious hazards such as mosquitoes which carry malaria and bacteria that cause cholera thrive in these environments. The garbage and human waste is a haven for these parasites which can infect people with disease and illness.

Furthermore, the excessive amounts of garbage impacts Ghana’s water supplies. Waste not properly disposed can find its way into Ghana’s waters and subsequently cause contamination in soil, drinking water, and food.

Recently I attended the 4th Annual Civil Society Conference on Natural Resources and the Environmental Sector at the Ramada Beach Resort, and this issue was mentioned in a presentation by the Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS) and the Fisheries and Alliance Sector(COFA).

Specifically, the pollution of Ghana’s water caused by garbage relating to the fishing industry was described in a manner intended to draw attention to the effects of pollution on fish. COFA described heavy fishing nets containing mass amounts of garbage along with fish that survive in the net. These fish manage to make it onto dinner tables across the country.

One can imagine the living conditions of fish amongst waste found in the water, and how it will impact the long-term health of Ghanaians.

The garbage in Ghana impacts some of her major industries; as mentioned earlier, waste impacts health, water, and fisheries. Additionally, other industries are directly impacted such as agriculture, wildlife, and tourism.  How can Ghana move forward when her industries are clogged because of the way the government manages its waste and disposal?

The answer lies with Ghanaians who exercise their Right to Information. Through RTI, the people of Ghana will have the power to access information and ask questions concerning the governance of their affairs, including waste management.

Accessing and obtaining information is one of many positive steps towards a better Ghana. It is true that knowledge is power, but what you do with the knowledge you obtain will dictate the outcome of any situation.

The Right to Information Bill is intended to promote transparency and accountability between government officials, public and private institutions, and the general public.

Companies such as Zoomlion (http://www.zoomlionghana.com) tasked to provide waste management services across Ghana, are taking steps to desilt drains in Accra. This is certainly a step in the right direction towards addressing the problem of garbage.

However, this initiative does not mention the total cost of this endeavor, nor does it mention the division of costs to carry out the project. This is an example of where RTI is beneficial. Zoomlion is a private company; however, since it uses public funds it should be subject to scrutiny under the RTI Law.

Activities performed on behalf of the public can affect people’s rights, freedoms, and health; therefore, they should be privy to all information that concerns their well-being. This information should be fully accessible through various mediums; but not limited to, their company website, government records, and publications.

In short, the key to a cleaner Ghana is first through a RTI law, second, through action by civil society members, private companies, and government officials including MPs, and third, support and education programmes of proposed initiatives and ideas to address the issue of garbage and sustainability in Ghana that will ultimately prevent it from affecting other industries.

If this issue is ignored, Ghana will become overrun in its own waste that will bring the country to its knees not only as a whole, however, as a member, of the international community. The people of Ghana cannot afford not to know what the government is doing to rectify this increasingly problematic situation of waste and sanitation practices throughout Ghana. The future of this country including its education, development, and population depends on the decisions made now.

Together people can make a difference towards a cleaner, more sustainable and prosperous Ghana. Help push the Right to Information Bill forward into law now. Awareness is the first step towards change. Information is the second, and action is the final step.

Together strength in numbers can promote a revolution. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” An RTI law is the future; be the change you want to see in Ghana. –  Kimberly Bent

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