On March 22nd every year, the World celebrates “World Water Day” to draw everyone’s attention to the importance of freshwater to life and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
The theme for this year’s celebration, which is ‘Leaving No One Behind’, leaves one with a lot to ponder about, seeing the yawning gap that exists between demand and supply for potable water in many developing countries, including Ghana.
Interestingly, this year’s theme is linked to the United Nations’ 2010 declaration that access to potable water is a Human Right, as well as the United Nations’ Agenda for 2030, which tasks all nations and stakeholders across the globe to collectively work towards attaining a world free of poverty, hunger and diseases.
Indeed, access to potable water may be a Human Right and a fundamental requirement to achieving Agenda 2030, but the important question is: why do many Ghanaians still lack access to potable water?
Unlike other water-stressed nations of the world, Ghana’s challenge is not linked to a lack of fresh water resources. Our country is endowed with abundant fresh water bodies, which are also perennial. Experts in water resources management even believe that the Volta River alone is enough to take care of all the fresh water needs of the country. This notwithstanding, there is a large section of our population that is still without access to potable water. Why is that the case?
The reasons why a portion of the population is still without access to potable water may not far-fetched. Perhaps the first among them emanates from inadequate investments for the two major government agencies, Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), which provide potable water to Ghanaians. Due to inadequate investment, these organizations have over the years, not been able to match the increasing water demand, arising out of the fast pace of development and population growth across the country.
Another major factor why access to potable water is limited is the lack of expansive distribution networks. Even where there are established water treatment plants to serve towns and communities in a given area, the lack of expansive distribution networks limit the supply area. This is because, over the years, GWCL’s projects for new water systems place major emphasis on the treatment plants and less on the distribution network.
These water projects are mostly executed through international loans secured by governments and the cost of treatment plants take center stage with only limited budgetary provisions made for the expansion of the distribution network.
Recently, the Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources, Hon. Cecilia Abena Dapaah, in a publication in the Ghanaian Times on 21st February 2019, cited the Akim Oda Water Project as an example of a water project that had been completed and not being fully utilized because of inadequate pipelines to carry the water to the beneficiary communities.
It is also worth mentioning that, large sections of the water transmission and distribution pipelines across the country are very old and result in frequent bursts and leakages. This mostly accounts for the high non-revenue water that GWCL is battling with currently. This also means that treated water that could otherwise be supplied to consumers, often goes to waste.
Problem of funding
The challenges outlined above, are mainly attributed to inadequate funding. Traditionally, governments in Ghana contract long-term loans to develop water infrastructure. However, due to competing demands on the national budget, the water supply sector is unable to get adequate budgetary allocations.
Unfortunately, GWCL itself is not well placed to attract funding for itself, partly because in Ghana, water is treated predominantly as a social commodity. The tariff structure set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission for instance, has virtually no provision for infrastructural development. The tariff structure approved for GWCL mainly takes care of the operations and maintenance costs only.
The challenges associated with adequate supply of water to all may appear enormous; nonetheless, hope is not lost. It is important for all stakeholders to play their part, no matter how small, to ensure that the agenda to leave no one behind can become a reality.
From the supply side, much more effort should be made by GWCL to respond promptly to reports about leakages and bursts, in order to reduce the volumes of treated water that goes to waste.
Consumers of potable water should also commit to paying their water bills loyally to reduce the arrears buildup. It is unfortunate that in this day and age, some customers still think they can just consume potable water without paying for it.
On the part of government, and I do not mean just the current government, there is an urgent need to prioritize the development of water supply infrastructure in the country. The national purse may be small, but better attention must be paid to the development of water supply infrastructure because Ghana’s population is growing rather rapidly than expected.
Water is life and access to it is a human right. Let us all contribute our quotas to ensure that everyone gets water.
By Solace A.M. Akomeah
The writer is a communications specialist working in the water sector.