“There is a Direct Relationship between Environmental Sanitation and Health” - Prof. Martin Oteng-Ababio

Prof. Martin Oteng-Ababio, Acting Provost, College of Education, has questioned how Ghana as a country profess sustainable waste management when all it does is collect municipal solid waste from households to dumpsites, and treats municipal waste management as an action or event instead of a process. Prof. Oteng-Ababio made these remarks when he delivered his inaugural lecture on the topic: Double Standards, Single Purpose; Deconstructing the ‘Fence Wall’ for Sustainable Municipal Waste Management.

The lecturer explored the waste problem in Ghana and gave pertinent suggestions about the path forward; he explained his motivation behind the selected topic as anchored on the position that managing municipal waste is inextricably linked to the rate of urban growth, the level of development, climate change dynamics, and the prospect of promoting human-centered and environmentally friendlier management futures.

Prof. Oteng-Ababio gave some major interventions and initiatives by the government, other bodies and some public and private sectors to help alleviate the issue of waste in the country and noted that these interventions and initiatives have not positively impacted the waste industry in Ghana. “The sad truth is that all these mouth-watering initiatives have not impacted the waste industry in Ghana. Waste remains an urban issue …’’, he stated. 

He expressed concern and noted that waste is a social problem that is more pervasive in bigger cities, hence generating pressure on the environment and human health.  According to the lecturer, clean cities do not only promote physical and mental health but can also attract tourists. Stating that Accra is just a microcosm of what pertains in other regional capitals, he presented his other motivation to deconstruct the ‘fence wall’ to help expose the barriers to sustainable municipal waste management.

Prof. Oteng-Ababio opined that the country’s troubled history of unsanitary conditions has a colonial antecedent and can equivocally be attributed to policy failures. “Undoubtedly, the waste management trail has been bumpy, exhibiting occasional transformations in tandem with changing volume and content of waste and technology”, he added. Giving a historical overview of the waste industry and shedding light on factors influencing development outcomes and the politics of policy retrenchment to guide future policies, Prof. Oteng-Ababio noted that waste management in this current dispensation among others has a characteristic where the policy regime has changed from government’s control of resources to a more facilitative role in different socio-economic and political events.

Prof. Oteng-Ababio, Acting Provost, College of Education

Giving some ramifications of waste policy initiatives, he noted that the onus is on all citizens to be innovative about the existing waste disposal methods, which is a daunting task that requires persistence and providence to overcome. “The challenge calls for smart minds to develop innovative solutions. Yet, our waste policies so far appear unattractive enough for smart minds. Again, the composition of waste has a major impact on the technology and the infrastructure that needs to be installed, but this remains a nightmare in our case”, he stated. Prof. Oteng-Ababio mentioned that an area’s cultural and social attitude should significantly impact the strategic approach that needs to be taken to spread awareness and create incentives or take decisions for and with the people. “Technically, each constituent of municipal waste be it organic or inorganic can be handled or disposed of through multiple technologies or processes. This means that proper care should be taken while searching for appropriate management methods”, he added.

Prof. Oteng-Ababio urged the authorities to appreciate, embrace and consciously work towards sustainable waste and resource management. He indicated that the ability of cities and other governing authorities to improve the waste sector will provide enormous opportunities to mitigate future climate variability and generate co-benefits, including improved human and environmental health.

Criticizing the current waste management architecture, the lecturer explained the country’s waste management history, which blindly mimics and embraces foreign paradigms and has so far failed to achieve its set goals. Giving some statistics derived on research conducted on public-private partnership in Ghana, Prof. Oteng-Ababio mentioned that waste policies must be based on scientific research, without which the situation will frustrate or even harm the quest for a clean Ghana. “Despite the mounting research-based evidence of the operational efficiency and effectiveness in adopting all-inclusive private sector participation, the authorities’ appetite for foreign-based flavoured solutions is rising to a crescendo of misery. If the sanitation situation in our cities is to improve, then something must change in this regard”, he stated. He added that research has revealed that the current situation will persist and perhaps worsen unless the imported solutions are integrated with indigenously derived knowledge and strategies.

Prof. Oteng-Ababio stressed the need for policymakers to appreciate the local solutions based on local conditions, knowledge and traditions.  “They must realise that solutions cooked up in distant, unrelated foreign countries can at best, provide guidelines and ideas. They should understand that for solutions to work in practice, residents must feel that they own these solutions, have significant input into crafting them, and that these solutions originate from their best understanding and wishes for their future. Policymakers must understand that waste management is not an act but a process comprising activities required to handle waste from its origin to its final disposal”, he added.

A cross-section of the participants at the lecture

Prof. Oteng-Ababio further opined that future management policy must be shaped by the lived experiences of all households. He added that empirical experiences show that some low-income communities have the inherent abilities and skills to win the war against waste substantially. He said, “what is now required is an unbiased appreciation that less orthodox approaches may be viable routes to creating efficient and sustainable waste architecture”.

By way of ending his lecture, Prof. Martin Oteng-Ababio expressed the need to rethink what is bought to help control unnecessary purchase; the need to refuse over-packaged products and food/materials packed in plastics. Instead, people must carry a reusable bag while shopping, reuse discarded items and reduce waste as it saves energy, time and cost; they need to repurpose products that cannot be refused, reduced or reused and to repair items to decrease material consumption.

He urged all present and policymakers to appreciate and address Ghana’s unique problems using solutions drawn within instead of consistently modelling solutions from Europe. 

In her closing remarks, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, who chaired the lecture virtually, congratulated Prof. Oteng-Ababio for such a relevant/timely lecture. She noted that the issue of waste in the country requires a joint response. She encouraged all present to contribute their quota in dealing with waste issues and contribute to making Ghana and Accra clean. 

Earlier, the Registrar, Mrs. Emelia Agyei-Mensah, welcomed all present and said, “Inaugural lectures form an essential component of the University’s programme for an academic year and every academic who rises to the rank of a professor in his or her career in the University of Ghana is expected to deliver an inaugural lecture”. Mrs. Agyei-Mensah added that inaugural lectures offer the University an opportunity to recognise and showcase the achievements of faculty as they share their research with colleagues within and outside the University.

A group photo with members of convocation

The Ghana Dance Ensemble graced the occasion with cultural performances as well as Seperewa appellation to herald the lecturer. 

Several presentations were made to Prof. Oteng-Ababio to congratulate him on his achievement.

As a prelude to Prof. Martin Oteng-Ababio’s inaugural lecture, a week-long exhibition of his scholarly works was held at the Balme Library. The exhibition centered on his research in the areas of urban planning and development, waste management, environmental management, sustainable waste management, climate-change resilience in urban mobility, sustainable wastewater systems and sustainable development of circular economy.

Present at the event were Prof. Kwasi Adarkwa, former Vice-Chancellor, KNUST; Mrs. Mercy Haizel-Aisha, former Registrar, and representatives of the Asantehene and Togebe Afede.

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