By Ashvin Ramasamy

Water shortage in Ghana is not only a politicized issue in 2018 but underlies important social and environmental consequences

Having access to water is a tremendous challenge for many in Ghana, a country that depends heavily on surface water for consumption. As with many developing nations on the African continent, the poor bears the brunt of the issue. It is estimated that 3,500 children under the age of five die annually in Ghana, from consumption of waterborne illness and poor water hygiene. As of 2018, only 60 percent of the population has access to safely improved water sources. All eyes are on the government to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for assuring clean water and sanitation for all people by 2030 or earlier. The water conundrum is not only a highly politicized issue in 2018 but lies at the root of important social and environmental consequences.

Parts of the population, mostly in urbanized areas, end up paying less than rural users. Further to the problem is that the the poorest of the poor cannot afford alternate solutions. They do not have the up-front funds to invest in water and sanitation solutions. However, the disparity is not as large of problem as the prevalent lack of infrastructure that prevents 40 percent of all Ghanaians to access an “improved water source”, that is water safe for human consumption obtained from a reliable source. The metropolitan capital is home to 4 million people where the Ghana Water Company, the main public water provider for urban areas, has come under fire as water pipelines stopped pumping as recently as last July. Over the past several months, distribution has been erratic and an estimate of 30-million-gallon daily water deficit still lingers. That is despite the two main water treatment plants (Kpong & Weija) operating at maximum capacity. While the story behind recurring water shortages is complex, the leading drivers of the water conundrum point to illegal connections, power outages and encroachment at the Weija catchment area. Authorities have a large part of the blame to bear as urban growth that occurred was not accurately factored into water provisioning and thus has been incapable of meeting increased water demand.

The current state of political affairs over the past decade lends credence to the pervasive water problem. While financial capacity expanded with a significant boost from international donors, the national government opted out of smart, practical approaches to solving water challenges. Public opinion on poor governance suggested an overhaul was needed but the underlying problem laid in integrity of the authorities, not measures. Instead of relying international consultants from the joint WHO/UNICEF WASH programme to execute sound operations for water and sanitation, Ghanaian leaders expelled them in favour of allies who lacked the capabilities. Capacity for monitoring water quality and sanitation services fell significantly, and confidence of workers dropped in part due to political corruption and demotivation. Pollutants leaking into Ghanaian water points to the same political complacency. 60 percent of all water bodies report strong levels of pollution, concentrated in the south-western part of the country. Local land use plans do not tackle water pollution — which the major drivers are illegal mining, household and farm waste. Regulatory controls are not enforced but are desperately needed. Moreover, development overshadows the effective function of natural buffers. Wetlands and vegetation safeguard water resources against the adverse effects of effluents, in addition to their inherent capacity to reduce flooding and limit damages to surrounding areas. Authorities have traditionally disregarded the perils of development on waterways in favour of business, but loose regulatory measures do not hold operators accountable for on-site wastewater leakage. Farm effluents encroach ecosystems but the cost of remediation is prohibitive after the effluents leave the site. One alternate measure is to focus on sustainable crop production and encourage people to shift their diets to sustainable consumption.

Recognizing the urgency of universal coverage, the government has recently iterated commitment to implement water distribution strategies and mobilized human and financial assets to fight water pollution comprehensively. Indeed, the SDG Targets pertaining to water and sanitation stand among the highest of priorities for the current administration. Without greater water funding and international expertise from external sources, the project will fall flat as it has in the past. Water needs come at a hefty price tag of nearly USD 1 billion, with about USD 832 million currently short. SDG requirements will not be met unless Ghanaian leaders step back in exchange for some control over innovative, out of the box solutions equipped to bring water to 3.2 million people without access.