Promoting innovative WASH solutions in Ghana

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Nyani Quarmyne

Around 85% of Ghanaians do not have access to a basic toilet, but an innovative project initiated by WaterAid Ghana could help light the way. 

Yvonne Kafui Nyaku, Communications and Campaigns Officer at WaterAid Ghana, looks at how a Total Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) intervention could solve WASH problems while providing energy in a Ghanaian boarding school.

It is 4am, dawn, at Salaga Senior High School in East Gonja District, Ghana. The campus is quiet. The usual clinking of metal buckets and thumping of jerrycans is missing. Students who normally have to wake up as early as 1am are still sleeping.

The students used to wake early enough to make a 4km walk before school to the Kpembe dam to fetch water to prepare for the day. They also had to wake early enough to relieve themselves in the bush before daybreak. Of course, it was not ‘cool’ to be spotted defecating openly. Waking up at 5 or 6am was considered a luxury, because there was a heavy price to pay for that – one would be late for classes.

The students recount the drudgery of waking early to search for water. Apart from the Kpembe dam they also fetched water from Agape, a school close by, where they could collect a jerrycan full of water for 20 pesewas. Sometimes they begged for water from nearby houses.

The Kpembe dam was a last resort because of the distance, but, when queues elsewhere were long, or when the other sources ran dry or broke down, they had no choice but to make the journey.

But those tedious and undesirable experiences ended with the support of a project initiated by WaterAid Ghana and sponsored by HSBC Malta through the HSBC Water Programme.

Benefits beyond improved WASH access

The pilot project, named Total WASH, was designed to promote ecological sanitation and a ‘resources in transition’ approach to sanitation management.

Total WASH is an integrated solution in which facilities, as well as improving access to WASH, will help meet the energy needs of the school kitchen. In time, the programme will produce energy for the school through a biogas digester attached to the sanitation facility, which processes faecal matter to produce gas. The digester will also produce fertiliser as a by-product – once a sufficient amount of waste has accumulated – which the school can then use on its farmland.

Thanks to the project, Salaga Senior High School has a solar-powered mechanised water system and three blocks of eight toilets, with separate hygiene facilities for boys and girls. It also has two 30m3 rainwater harvesters.

More than 2,145 students and teachers now have improved access to safe water and good sanitation facilities. The introduction of the biogas plant will be the icing on the cake.

Action on a neglected issue

This multi-pronged intervention is the first of its kind in the Northern Region of Ghana. Many schools in Ghana’s rural and poor urban communities do not have adequate access to WASH.

In schools with no toilets, children have to go to the bush to defecate. When schools do have toilets they are not separated for boys and girls, which creates difficulty for girls during their periods.

The Government of Ghana has prioritised and continues to emphasise improving water access; more than 80% of Ghana’s population now have access to water. Inequalities still exist – some communities sometimes endure days without piped water and must use unsafe water – but the Government projects achievement of universal access by 2025.

Contrastingly, the Government gives comparatively little attention to sanitation, and concentrates efforts in this area on environmental sanitation or the management of refuse – not necessarily faecal matter.

A nearly-completed toilet block constructed by WaterAid at Salaga Senior High School in the Northern Region of Ghana .

WaterAid/Nyani Quarmyne

The new toilet block at Salaga Senior High School, photographed close to completion in November 2014.

Innovation for lasting benefits

The pioneering project at Salaga High School has shown that change is possible, and steps have been taken to ensure the benefits are sustained.

Members of the school community have been trained to operate and manage the facilities – a solar energy expert and biogas technologist explained how energy is derived from the sun and human waste respectively, and gave a practical demonstration of how the systems produce energy.

The kitchen staff and the system operators were also coached on operating and maintaining the stoves once the biogas system comes into use.

WaterAid Ghana hopes that the project will encourage work towards improved sanitation elsewhere in Ghana, and bring the benefits of WASH in school to many more school communities.

The experience from this project will inform and guide future interventions in other community schools. WaterAid Ghana intends to reduce or entirely prevent absenteeism among school girls by providing the required facilities to keep them in school even during their menses.