Ghana: “Drowning in water yet thirsty”

Ghana‘s emerging water crisis is straining the nation. While some African countries suffer from a lack of freshwater resources to quench its citizen’s thirst, Ghana suffers from too much-polluted water and inadequate treatment water plants

“If there is ever going to be a 3rd World War then it’s almost at our doorsteps and it’s definitely going to be about water, to curb this we need to take action now” (Kofi Annan).

Ghana‘s emerging water crisis is straining the nation. While some African countries suffer from a lack of freshwater resources to quench its citizen’s thirst, Ghana suffers from too much-polluted water and inadequate treatment water plants.

Even though past and present governments, civil society organisations (CSOs), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have taken steps to try and minimize the damage to water bodies, the growing population, coupled with the use of obsolete equipment, rapid urbanization, and inadequate financing are outpacing most improvements to freshwater bodies and water treatment plants.

The rapid urbanization in Ghana causes water pollution. Poor housing with inadequate housing facilities like sinks and toilets pour polluted water into water bodies and waterways.

Harmattan which comes with dry weather conditions also causes water shortages in Ghana, especially in the northern belt. This leads to water rationing which has become rampant in recent times. In the southern part (especially in Eastern, Central, and Western Regions), deforestation and illegal gold mining have further exacerbated the problem by further polluting the limited water supply.

In its 2021 Report (Progress on Household Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, 2000-2020), the Joint Monitoring Platform (JMP) put access to basic access to water in Ghana at 86 percent. Safely Managed Water was, however, at 41 percent in the same report. Urban water access was 96 & and 72 percent for rural areas.

Based on this assessment, it can be concluded that at least 86 percent of Ghanaians in both urban and rural areas have access to water. Interestingly, the 2021 Population and Housing Census estimated access to basic drinking water in Ghana at 87.7 percent, with 96.7 percent in urban areas and 74.4 percent in rural areas.

However, the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), which is in charge of the provision of water and sanitation services in rural areas puts access to water at 63 percent.

As hard as it is to question these statistics, the reality of access to safe and clean water in most communities lives much to be desired and brings to the fore the differences between statistics and reality.

Poor and deprived communities have differences in access to water compared to the rich and affluent communities. Also, urban and rural differences in access to safe water is real, with women and girls spending many hours in search of clean and safe water for domestic chores.

To make meaning of these different data sets, the Ghana WASH Journalists Network (GWJN) with support from the 1 Global Fund of the Roddenburry Foundation carried out a field assessment activity in three regions including the Savannah Region of Ghana.

This field assessment was also timed to coincide with the World Water Day being commemorated under the theme: “Ground Water: Making the Invisible Visible.”

The assessment was carried out under the following themes: i. State of Water Bodies, ii Access & Equity iii. Quality & Safety, iv. Sustainability.

A visit to Damongo,  the Savannah Regional capital, and its adjourning towns and villages attest to the fact that the country is still miles away from achieving universal safe and affordable water for each and every one living everywhere. In fact, it remains a doubt if the Savannah Region and the people of Damongo, in particular, would-be part of Ghana’s success story if we were to achieve the 2030 SDG 6 water target for everyone everywhere with access to safe water.

Most of the dams which serve as sources of water are either dried up or polluted and so are the boreholes which are either breakdown or dried up. Thus, depriving residents of getting access to safe, clean water.

Madam Cecilia Pouteroh, who spoke through an interpreter in an interview said: “When it comes to portable water, we are nowhere near there. As you  can see, the few mechanised boreholes around here are broken-down and for me, water is woman and woman is water because everything we do is about water.

Last week I had to go to the ‘Agric dam’ for that contaminated water and drop a substance called alloy for the dirt to settle before we drink but myself and the children vomited and we’re rushed to the hospital.

Due to scarcity of water here, many children don’t usually take their baths before going to school because there’s not enough for that and we the parents can’t say…once there isn’t water.

So, if I have my way, I’d tell the government to sit up and fix the water situation here once and for all.” This is how the old woman pours out her frustration about the dire water situation which is affecting every facet of our livelihood.

In most deprived communities, most of the residents do not have the luxury to depend on sachet water which they consider more hygienic for drinking, because the cost of sachet water is an additional burden they have to grapple with, hence still hooked to drinking from contaminated sources of water.

Despite the critical gaps filled by sachet water, hand-dug wells, and boreholes to satisfy the thirst and water needs of people in some of these deprived communities, the safety and quality of the water cannot be fully guaranteed.

Again, the dependence on groundwater by many communities for their water needs is also unsustainable due to the seasonal nature of these sources.

From available information, the situation in the Savannah Region is not different from the rest of the other 15 regions. This matter urgently needs to be done to address this shortage of water canker since distances covered by women, girls, and children to access some form of water, whether treated or untreated is still quite long in many of the communities, with its dire consequences for school attendance generally, and other economic activities especially by women.

It will be very suicidal for the country, if duty-bearers look on unconcerned about the danger Ghana is running into in the near future while the continuous pollution of water bodies through preventable human activities such as refuse dumping into water bodies, illegal mining, unhealthy fishing methods, and the seepage of agro-chemicals into these bodies , As well as the breaching of the demarcated buffer zones along the course of the water bodies hamstrings the country’s effort to achieve the SDG target 6.1 and  6.3  which urge the implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels, to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials into water bodies.

Without addressing issues of pollution, inadequate financing, and behavioural change in attitude towards the environment, water producers like GWCL, CWAS, and others will soon not get water to treat serve the masses even though the country is endowed with so many water sources, and that reason, Ghanaians will continue to be drowning in water and yet will be thirsty.

I strongly believe that the strict enforcement of the law’s approach should be adopted where polluters remain recalcitrant towards rules governing water bodies.

Well, a huge responsibility is on the head, arms, and shoulders of the West Gonja District Assembly, the Member of Parliament of Damongo and the Savanah Regional Co-ordinating Council to co-ordinate their efforts and pull the necessary investments to provide safe water to the good people of West Gonja and Savana Region in general.

Water is life and all efforts must be made to ensure this life flows to every individual.

Franklin Asare-Donkoh

A Journalist and National Organiser, Ghana WASH Journalists Network (GWJN)


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