Ghana loses about 290 million U.S. dollars and 79 million U.S. dollars annually to poor sanitation and open defecation respectively, state-owned Ghana News Agency (GNA) reported here Tuesday.

David Duncan, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), said Ghana also ranked lowest in sanitation levels among all lower middle income countries, although richer than a lot.

Duncan, who was addressing Municipal and District Chief Executives, and other stakeholders at a meeting on the UNICEF WASH programme in the Volta Regional capital, some 167 km north east of the national capital, attributed the situation to “but commitment and prioritization.”

Ghana, he noted, was one of the lowest in terms of access to sanitation worldwide, saying it was rather ironic that she sank lower than countries recovering from wars.

Nationally, he said only one out of five people washed their hands and that the rate of diarrhea in children under five years old was highest in communities with unimproved sanitation facilities.

He said 3,385 infant mortalities were recorded which could be reduced by 25 percent if birth attendants washed their hands with soap, and by 60 percent if mothers did same.

Duncan said about 90 percent of Ghanaians had access to water but only a third drank quality water and that UNICEF was supporting the drive for access to safe water by helping government to make key decisions.

He said about 60 percent of the populace used shared toilet facilities, 15 percent used improved ones, six per cent unimproved, and 19 percent practiced open defecation and asked that toilets be built to withstand the weather and be made affordable for the poor.

“Political will is the challenge and not household wealth, a change in behaviour and not only constructing toilets,” he said, and asked stakeholders to make sanitation a top priority in all policies.

Duncan said though open defecation rates had dropped by one percent in 24 years, “with such rate of improvement, it will take Ghana about 500 years to become Open Defecation Free (ODF).”

Source: Xinhua