ACCRA, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At the heart
of Ghana's capital, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, sits
Lavender Hill, a former dumping site for raw sewage better known
for its aroma of human waste than fragrant flowers.
For decades, cesspit tankers emptied their cargoes of sewage
here, collected from across the Accra metropolitan area, while
residents traditionally used the site for open defecation.
Some 500 metres away in Jamestown village, 32-year-old
Maxwell Lamptay fishes every day in water locals say is
contaminated with faeces.
“I do not disclose that I have fished here,” said the father
of three. “In Accra people refuse to buy the fish when they know
it’s been caught in this area”.
In Jamestown, hundreds of people share public toilets, with
the majority defecating openly along the beach.
Ghana approved a revised environmental sanitation policy in
2010 that was meant to put an end to the tradition of emptying
untreated sewage into the ocean, now more than a century old.
But the practice continued as the government provided no
alternative methods of disposal.
Now it is hoping a new modern wastewater treatment plant,
which started operating in November, will finally allow the
restriction to be enforced. The site by the sea where the
tankers used to dump their load has been blocked off.
Haidar Said, managing director of Sewerage Systems Ghana
Limited, said work began on the new plant at Lavender Hill in
2012, in an effort to tackle waterborne diseases and stop the
discharge of raw sewage into the ocean.
Under a partnership between a group of companies and the
ministries of local government and rural development, Sewerage
Systems Ghana and its private-sector partners run the sewage
treatment facility, with the government paying a management fee.
The plant also produces biogas from solid waste in the
sewage, and in turn uses that gas to generate electricity.
The world’s population produces an estimated 9.5 million
cubic metres of human excreta and 900 million cubic metres of
municipal wastewater every day, according to a 2016 report by
the U.N. Environment Programme.
Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is
released into the environment without being treated, according
to the U.N. World Water Development Report 2017 – a figure that
tops 95 percent in some of the poorest countries.
Ghana, like many sub-Saharan African nations, is an economy
on the move. Between 2000 and 2011, it recorded an average
annual growth rate of 7.5 percent.
Its expanding population, along with industrialisation and
urbanisation, has increased the amount of waste generated and
put tremendous pressure on landfills.
According to U.N. data, some 5 million people in Ghana still
lack toilets and practice open defecation.
For over 45 years now, the West African nation has suffered
recurring cholera outbreaks. In 2014, the Ministry of Health
recorded more than 15,000 cases, resulting in around 130 deaths
in eight out of its 10 districts.
But the situation may be improving - for 2016, the World
Health Organization reported 596 cases in only two districts.
Lamptay’s two children got sick with cholera in 2014.
“It was the worst diarrhoea my family has suffered in the
more than 10 years we have lived here,” he said. Because the
Lavender Hill dump is close to settlements, children are prone
to picking up infections, he added.
Naa Amerley Sawa, a 47-year-old mother of four from Korne
Gonno, some 800 metres from Lavender Hill, spent around 430 cedi
($101.78) to treat her 13-year-old daughter when she got sick
with cholera several months ago.
She and her children also fall ill with frequent bouts of
“This neighbourhood has an influx of mosquitoes and
houseflies,” she said. “Malaria and cholera have become common -
every household suffers from one of them.”
Joy Hesse Ankomah, a senior programme officer at Ghana’s
Environmental Protection Agency, said only seven of the
country’s 44 sewage treatment plants are functioning properly.
Companies will recoup the cost of building the new
wastewater treatment plant at Lavender Hill - nearly $40 million
- from the government’s monthly fee of around 2.4 million cedi
over the next 15 years.
The plant has the capacity to accommodate around 2,400 cubic
metres of liquid waste - 300 to 400 truckloads per day – and is
now receiving about two-thirds of that. Each truck pays a small
fee of 20 cedi to offload at the plant.
The plant generates 0.5 megawatts of electricity per hour,
which it uses for its own operations. It is now self-sufficient
in power and plans to produce electricity for commercial use,
according to Said.
“The aim is to improve the sanitation levels in Ghana,” said
George Kwesi Rockson, research and development director at
Zoomlion Ghana Limited, which manages some 95 percent of
municipal waste in Ghana’s 10 regions and is also working on the
Around 80 percent of health cases are related to sanitation
and environmental problems, he noted. But managing waste is not
a priority among many sub-Saharan African governments, he added.
“We have failed to understand that investing properly in
waste could resolve our increasing health burden,” he said.
Currently, less than 0.1 percent of Ghana’s GDP is invested
in the waste management sector, said Rockson.
“Waste only gets attention during major disasters such as
cholera outbreaks,” he said.
CLEANER AIR AND WATER
The new Lavender Hill plant releases ultraviolet-treated
water into Korle Lagoon, which empties directly into the sea,
hoping to clean the lake’s water over time.
The rest of the treated water is used for irrigation at the
plant and washing equipment.
As African cities gear up to pursue the Sustainable
Development Goals and reduce their planet-warming emissions,
Rockson believes waste management can reduce methane emissions,
black carbon and other hazardous gases from landfills.
Lamptay said the air quality, which used to be unbearable,
has already improved in Jamestown.
“The few pit latrines we have are being emptied, and our
garbage at the communal collection point is being collected for
free,” he said. “I can’t wait for the day it will rain and not
flood - maybe that will bring cholera infections to an end.”
($1 = 4.2250 Ghanaian cedi)
(Reporting by Sophie Mbugua; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.