Ghana loses GHC 420 million annually due to poor sanitation according to a study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank in 2010.
The findings were disclosed by Professor Yaw Oheneba-Sakyi, Director of the Institute of Continuing and Distance Education, at the opening of the 64th Annual New Year School and Conference in Accra on Monday.
The week's conference, under the theme, "The Key to Future Health of our Nation: Improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene," is being sponsored by scores of institutions.
He said the "enormous" challenge posed by rapid urbanization, coupled with institutional weakness in physical planning policies, had led to the growth of slums which had no access to safe drinking water and good sanitary practices.
"Incidents and daily reporting of diarrhea and malaria cases in our poor and rural communities are pointers to the fact that there are poor sanitation practices and the absence of hygiene education, which depletes the human resource needed for national development," he said
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi said effective delivery of environmental sanitation services remains one of the huge challenges of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies.
He suggested a national crusade on sanitation to effect a drastic change "in our behaviour and attitude towards all waste issues and it should include advocacy at the highest level of government, effective implementation of policies and rigorous sanitation and hygiene education as well as enforcement management."
Prof Oheneba-Sakyi said "failure to do so would mean Ghana could miss the Millennium Development Goal target for improved basic sanitation by 2015.
Justice (Prof) Samuel Date-Bah, who chaired the occasion in addition to being the Chairman of the Council, University of Ghana, Legon, said "water, sanitation and hygiene are key to our survival and should not be left to government alone."
He said that with 1.6 million people dying from cholera and other sanitation related diseases every year all over the world, it is clear that the sanitation problem needs to be tackled seriously.
Justice Date-Bah urged all stakeholders in the health sector to contribute their quota towards ensuring that the sanitation situation in the country improved.
Enoch Teye Mensah, Caretaker Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing, who formally opened the conference, said it was commendable to hold such an event affording academicians the opportunity to contribute to national development.
He said the country faced challenges in the area of water sanitation, adding that apart from poor sanitary practices that contaminate water bodies, activities such as mining, which pollutes river bodies.
Mr. Mensah expressed the hope that the conference would lead to recommendations that will generally improve the sanitation situation in the country.