Residents of Sege are battling pollution from a slaughterhouse in their midst because butchers in the area have refused to relocate to a modern facility built by the local assembly.
Residents of the coastal community in the Ada West District lament that the continuous emission of smoke and trails of unhygienic practices from the obsolete slaughterhouse threaten their lives.
While residents complain of sleepless nights, data from the district’s health records also show a worrying case of upper respiratory diseases and typhoid among inhabitants.
Sarah Anim, a 67-year-old woman, has lived at Sege for many years.
She has lost count of the sleepless nights. In her younger years, Sarah used to relish the calming sounds of crickets and distant traffic as she drifted off to sleep.
However, as she ages and struggles to sleep, the charm of those nights has now been replaced with relentless noise and smoke from the community’s slaughterhouse.
Her house is only 20 metres away from the shambles that was once a thriving slaughterhouse. Inside the dilapidated facility, animals are slaughtered in the open with their faecal matter poured into containers in contravention of Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) regulations.
In the absence of a chimney facility, the butchers create open fires to remove remaining hair from the slaughtered animals, often leaving the neighborhood hazy with billowing smoke.
As Sarah rests on her bed every night, she says the strong, pungent smell of smoke and raw meat permeates the air, making it difficult for her to breathe comfortably. The sounds of clanging of knives and the thud from meat being processed add up to her nocturnal headache.
To deal with the public health concerns and the environmental hazards, the Ada West District Assembly in 2018, cut sod for the construction of a state-of-the-art slaughterhouse located at the outskirt of Sege. It is designed to adhere to modern hygiene and safety standards. The cost of the facility was GH₵290,000.00 and was completed in 2022.
On February 9, 2023, the new edifice was handed over to the butchers. However, eight months on, the butchers have refused to move to the new space, leaving the community in a state of frustration and despair.
Juliana Ogbey, a resident expressed deep concern about the harmful effects of the current situation.
“We have been enduring this unhealthy environment for far too long. The smoke, the stench, and the unhygienic conditions have had a severe impact on our lives and well-being. We are pleading with the butchers to move to the new slaughterhouse, we don’t want to see them here,” she appealed.
She is not alone.
Prosper Dylan Amuyao, another resident, observed that the situation has not merely impacted the living conditions of residents but also presents notable health risks, particularly to children and the elderly.
“We are breathing in contaminated air every day, and the meat people consume may not be safe for consumption due to the unsanitary conditions at the place,” he lamented.
These health concerns reflect in data from the Sege Polyclinic.
Through a Right to Information request, The Fourth Estate found that Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) topped the list of most reported illnesses from the Sege area in the last five years, followed by anaemia and malaria.
Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI)
The Sege Polyclinic, however, declined to speak to the figures. The Administrator of the facility, Mr Richard Bernstein, directed one Dr Ohene to speak with The Fourth Estate, but he declined, insisting that he needed further consultation from management before granting an interview.
Globally, air pollution has become an increasingly problematic issue. In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its air quality standards for the first time since 2005. The WHO’s updated guidelines emphasised that air pollution poses a significant environmental hazard to human health, resulting in approximately seven million premature deaths annually.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2015, an estimated 2,800 individuals lost their lives due to air pollution in Accra.
Sarah fears she might become part of this worrying data.
She said the lack of quality sleep is taking a toll on her daily life and mental health. She feels fatigued and drained throughout the day, struggling to find the energy to perform her daily tasks.
“Simple chores that I once completed effortlessly now feel like heavy tasks,” she shared.
To remedy the situation, Sarah said she has tried pleading with the butchers and local authorities about the issue, using her advanced age as an excuse, but her efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
The Butchers Response
The butchers confirmed that the new slaughterhouse has been duly handed over to them.
However, they vehemently denied any wrongdoing, insisting that they are law-abiding citizens who would not intentionally engage in activities that would threaten the lives or well-being of others.
The Chief Butcher, Yahaya Mohammed, told The Fourth Estate that they have stopped slaughtering animals at the old facility.
Yahaya Mohammed, Chief Butcher
“In the past, we used to burn the head, the legs, and the tail here, but we have stopped. This is not a slaughterhouse; it is more like a meat shop,” he said.
The Chief Butcher, who is also the Zongo Chief of Sege, said they have moved some of their operations to the new slaughterhouse as intended.
However, they continue to conduct grilling of the meat [Suya] and sell it to customers at the old site due to its proximity to the highway.
“This is what we do to take care of our families. The people buying here, what is the probability that they will go to the new place to buy? So, leaving this place is like taking our work from us,’’ he justified their stay at the old slaughterhouse.
A bit hesitant in talking about the challenges they face at the new slaughterhouse, he, however, said although wiring had been done, there is no electricity there.
He contended that accusations of wrongdoing were merely attempts to force them to vacate the space for others who might have personal interests in the location.
When asked about implementing the FDA guidelines for slaughterhouses to ensure meat safety, the Chief Butcher said he doesn’t know about the guidelines.
He was, however, quick to add that veterinary officers from the assembly inspect all animals before they are slaughtered.
Sege Slaughterhouse left abandoned
When The Fourth Estate visited the new slaughterhouse, its immediate environs were overgrown with weeds. All four doors of the building were locked, except for one. There were no signs of the structure being in use when The Fourth Estate entered the building. And indeed, the facility had no electricity.
Amid thorny overgrown lawns, the structure that cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of Ghana cedis stands in ruin with its walls developing cracks.
When The Fourth Estate contacted the District Chief Executive (DCE) of the Ada West District, Sampson Tetteh Kpankpa, he confirmed that the facility has been completed and handed over to the butchers.
On the health situation, he said deplorable health statistics were being recorded across the country and not only in his district.
Although The Fourth Estate confirmed that the new slaughterhouse has not been connected to electricity, the DCE insisted that that has been done.
“I am sure you don’t know the place. We have handed over the place to the butchers and everything is fine. This is a place that has been connected to electricity. There are streetlights everywhere,” he said.
When The Fourth Estate probed further and told the DCE that his claims were in contrast with what it discovered, the DCE ended the interview abruptly.
“I cannot speak to you again, I am busy,” he ended the interview.
Calls on the Local Authority
While their DCE dismisses their concerns, Gabriel Kabutey, a community leader, has called on the local authority to take decisive and urgent action to address the health and environmental hazards in their community.
“We urge the Ada West District Assembly to enforce the relocation order immediately. The health and well-being of the residents should not be compromised due to the inaction of a few individuals,” he asserted.