Friday, November 09, 2007

A Crappy Problem...

Today's subject is a bummer.

But it's something that we keep getting smacked in the face with, and it's probably one of the biggest cultural disconnects we have encountered here.

Certainly it's bad for Ghana.

You know I love Ghana, and especially Ghanaians, and god knows America is not a world leader in environmental issues, but the problem here is bad and getting worse...

The beaches here are huge natural waste sites (both household garbage and human effluent), and littering is not considered a problem by the majority of the population. I won't point out the human waste in these pictures, but it's there. Trust me.

Witness these two excerpts:

...The sanitation situation in Accra is in a very bad state. Of the twenty existing sewage treatment systems in the Accra
metropolitan area, none is in working order...

[The ailing and barely functional Achimota Water treatment plant was shut down completely in March of 2005 because it conflicted with a roadworks project along the coast. Because of that, we got a news story more than a year later...]

  • ACCRA, 1 August 2006 (IRIN News) -
For well over a year, more than 80 percent of the sewage generated by the two million people of Ghana’s sea-front capital of Accra has been dumped in the ocean, untreated...

... "It is not an acceptable international practice," Appiah told IRIN. "But it is a mighty ocean out there. As far as I am concerned, it doesn't do anything bad to anyone."...


Yes, you read that official of the government in Ghana said "it doesn't do anything bad to anyone." How do you begin to fight that kind of ignorance?

As opposed to the coastlines of developed countries, in Ghana only the poorest people live close to the beaches (especially in Accra) because all the garbage, effluent, and trash ends up at the beach or in the ocean.

At least the garbage that isn't just dropped directly on the streets and property of Accra.

Water "on the go" can be bought here in "single serving" sized plastic bags for a very small price. When emptied, these bags are simply dropped on the ground, resulting in a constant line of empty, discarded plastic bags on every street in the city, along with the sort of trash and litter that was so common in America (and sometimes still is) before the Anti-Littering campaigns of the 60s and 70s.

Having grown up with the Iron Eyes Cody crying a single tear for the littering of America's highways and rivers, I developed a horror of litter and littering that I passed on to my son.

But after almost three years in Ghana, I have to catch myself occasionally when I have "inconvenient" trash in my car- the temptation to just chuck it out the window is very real. It would be a small addition to a monstrously huge existing problem.

But I don't.

Thankfully my distaste for litter is ingrained enough to stop me from actually contributing to the problem, but how will we ever educate Ghanaians to the enormity of this issue before it overwhelms the city and country?

If I can be tempted, with my anti-litter upbringing and pampered lifestyle, how can you communicate the urgency of the problem to the average Ghanaian?

One of the community service projects at Lincoln School is to clean up the beach in La (the beach community in Accra). Cooper participated in that his second year here, and he came home sad, disillusioned and not a little grossed out.

The younger kids were prohibited from picking up some of the things on the beach, but the senior school kids (like Cooper) were confronted with more than just trash- they picked up condoms, syringes, and many many plastic bags filled with human feces.

On the beach.

Within walking distance of major international hotels that will never ever attract the guests they seek because of the condition of the local beaches.

Even a country as forward-looking as Ghana will be prohibited from becoming the modern destination the Ghanaian government constantly talks about and wishes for as long as the streets and beaches of the country are full of garbage and human waste.