Kasoa is a peri-urban town and the capital of the Awutu Senya East Municipality (ASEM) of Ghana’s Central Region. The town is situated along the Accra-Cape Coast Road with an estimated population of 69,384 according to the 2010 Ghana Population and Housing Census. Like any other sprawling urban settlement in Ghana, Kasoa is characterised by sanitation problems due to the high population density and the resulting waste that is left unmanaged.

Since investments in sanitation in Ghana are generally not prioritised and thus low, urban authorities are called upon to devise policies and interventions to properly manage the generated waste. The government’s Sanitation Policy (SP) requires metropolitan, municipals and district assemblies (MMDAs) to see to the sanitation needs of all communities and households. In reality, however, there is limited awareness and low participation and involvement among citizens in addressing sanitation. And in addition to low prioritisation of sanitation issues, there is also limited budget allocation and limited collaboration among stakeholders.

It is in this context that SNV’s Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme strengthens the capacities of civil society organisations (CSOs) to effectively voice their views, gather evidence, effect structural change and create an enabling environment for participatory development at national and MMDA levels. One of the CSOs that we work with is Intervention Forum, an organisation that engages with citizens and assembly authorities to address sanitation challenges in Kasoa. We work with them to develop their capacity in the areas of evidence-based advocacy, leadership skills and organisational sustainability.

At a recently held district stakeholder meeting on sanitation organised by Intervention Forum, I caught up with Annie Agyabeng, a resident of Kasoa who shared her experiences regarding sanitation and hygiene and the V4CP programme. She spoke of how the practice of open defecation is still very common within her community: "Most houses in Kasoa do not have toilet facilities and there are only a few privately owned toilet facilities in the community. So instead, people are using bushy places near the Okrudu river which runs across Kasoa and Amanfrom. When it rains and there is flooding, those faeces will flow back into town and into people’s houses."

Annie Agyabeng, a resident of Kasoa

Usually, most citizens do not know who to turn to regarding the issues they encounter. At first, Annie did not either, but after the community dialogue and sensitisation by the V4CP programme, she and her community members directed their concerns and complaints to the Assembly member of the area, the Municipal Chief Executive, and the Municipal Environment Health Officer. Having participated in district sanitation forums arranged by SNV and Intervention Forum, she said that she now understands her own role and responsibility as a citizen regarding sanitation and hygiene. "I know I am supposed to keep my surroundings clean and properly dispose of liquid and solid waste. I also know that landlords have a responsibility to make sure that toilet facilities are available for their tenants. Through the V4CP programme, I now understand the need to be part of the planning process to address sanitation and also hold the authorities accountable. I know I have to be involved as a citizen and not just as a spectator."

Annie does feel, however, that there is still great need for further education within the community: "The Assembly must make sure that information is shared at grassroot level so that people can really understand the health implications of their behaviour." Apart from citizen’s participation, collaboration on sanitation issues and enforcement are other areas that require attention. People need to know that there are sanitation by-laws in place and that they can be sanctioned. Sanitation officers must also intensify their field activities by paying regular visits and doing their inspections throughout the communities in order to identify issues.

In my view, the V4CP programme is bringing about change to the existing sanitation situation and citizen mindset in Ghana. Both citizens and other stakeholders are increasingly becoming empowered to demand and offer better sanitation services. CSOs, like Intervention Forum, have an important role to play in this. They have the power to mobilise their constituency, influence public debate, and advocate government transparency and good governance.

The perspective of Annie Agyabeng epitomizes the views of many Ghanaian citizens and how the V4CP programme is changing current practices as both citizens and duty bearers have a collective responsibility to excecute their responsibilities to improve the country's sanitation situation.