Bring back our Rights to Water

Bring back our Rights to Water

What is the circumference of the planet earth?  No need to be specific, but we know it would make a baobab tree look very, very small.  With that in mind, consider this, if all the people living in rural areas without access to clean water stood in a queue it would go around the earth 6 and a half times.

How long would a similar queue look in Ghana?  If all the people living in rural areas without access to clean water made a queue could they make a circle around the whole of Ghana?  And if we added in those living in informal settlements in our peri-urban and urban areas how much longer would our queue become? This is a queue of those whose rights are being violated.

The celebration of World Water Day is meant to acknowledge all that is being done to ensure that everyone has their rights to water realized.  This World Water Day it is great that we can celebrate the fact that Ghana is one of the 10 most improved countries for rural water access.  The State of the World Water Report 2017, a WaterAid publication, notes that in 2000, 57.1% of Ghana’s population had access to safe water.  Fifteen years later, the percentage of the rural population with access to safe water was 84%.  This 26.9% increase over fifteen years is certainly to be celebrated. Ghana is in 8th place on the list of the top 10.

Our celebration, however, has to be cautious.  We must still ask: what is left to be done so that 100% of rural dwellers have access as well as those in peri-urban and urban areas?

This day, then, is an opportunity to look at the recently released Government of Ghana Budget for 2017 from a WASH perspective.  In other words, let’s review to what extent the budget focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene.  And given it is World Water Day, I will discuss mainly water, rife as this is with running the risk of reinforcing the dominant tendency to prioritize water to the detriment of sanitation and hygiene.  Because the Citizen’s Budget is meant to be user friendly, I will use that for a quick analysis.

Bring back our Rights to WaterAccording to the Citizens Budget 2017, the government plans to construct at least 2000 boreholes.  If next year, we will be able to see Ghana climb further up the list of the top 10 countries with the most improved countries for rural water access, then we have to do more than construct another 2000 or more boreholes. In fact, instead of talking about the number of boreholes to be constructed it would be more helpful to speak about the additional number of people who will gain access to safe water services and at what cost.   The Budget should tell us how much we are going to spend to ensure an approximate number of people gain access.

The Citizens Budget 2017 identifies the construction of new health facilities as a priority.  What ought also to be prioritized is the provision of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene in all Health Care Facilities.  A recent study by the World Health Organization and United Nations International Children’s Education Fund, on the provision of WASH in Health Care Facilities covering 54 countries and 66,101 facilities found that “38% of facilities don’t have improved water source, 19% do not have improved sanitation and 35% do not have water and soap for hand washing”.[1]  Similar analysis done by WaterAid Ghana, in collaboration with two District Assemblies, reveals comparable findings.  Unquestionably, water, sanitation, and hygiene, in Health Care Facilities, schools, and other institutions need to be urgently prioritized.  It would be immensely helpful to citizens if we could know precisely what budget has been allocated for water, sanitation, and hygiene services in Health Care Facilities, as well as schools.

I am fully aware that the Budget statement will not elaborate how things will be done.  I know it can only give a snapshot.  The point of raising these issues here is a reminder to citizens and the media of the need to be vigilant about budgets at various levels of government.  In fact, budget tracking must become a focal area for civil society as well as citizens more generally.

For the rights to water and sanitation of all who live in Ghana to be realized we must prioritize the most marginalized in our planning, budgeting, and implementation; then we need to budget appropriately and subsequently utilizing the budget as directed by the planned priorities, ensuring value for money guided by principles of equity, effectiveness, and efficiency.  Therefore “Bring Back Our Rights” is not a plea.

Indeed, for those fortunate to have been a part of the screening of “Bring Back Our Rights” at the Banquet Hall on World Water Day, the eloquence of the school children in demand of their rights should strengthen our own resolve.  Water, sanitation, and Hygiene are ultimately about life and death.  Every newborn and infant death as a result of sepsis or any diarrhoeal related death is testimony to this brutal fact.  So if “Bring Back Our Rights” seems to be a rift off of the “Bring back our Girls” campaign it is with good reason – both are concerned with the right to life and the opportunity for everyone to fulfil their human potential.  Let’s listen to our children let us Bring Back Our Rights to water and sanitation.

By Dr. Chaka Uzondu

The Author is the Ag. Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at WaterAid Ghana

He also serves as WASH and Health Focal Lead

[1]  Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Health Care Facilities: Status in Low — and Middle – Income Countries and the Way Forward, World Health Organization and UNICEF, 2016.

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