21.07.2003 Feature Article

Let's sit up; Our rivers are dying

Let's sit up; Our rivers are dying
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A GNA Feature By Dzifa Azumah

Accra, July 21, GNA - "Y-e-s Ice water", "Y-e-s Pure water", shouted 13- year- old Amina, as she went round the Koforidua-bound bus. As the passengers boarded the bus one after the other, Auntie Akua, who was struggling to occupy the front seat asked for the price of the sachet of water.

"It is 300 cedis," said the little girl, as she pushed one sachet through the window of the bus to her customer. "What! 300 cedis? That's the equivalent of a bucket of water in my village," she said. But the question is whether Ghanaians have to pay that much for water?

People in some urban and rural areas are even paying as much as a 1,000 cedis for a bucket of water.

Dr Daniel Adom, Acting Executive Secretary of the Water Resources Commission (WRC), said whether Ghanaians believed it or not, they would be paying more in the next two decades if adequate care were not taken to manage this vital resource.

The fact that Ghana has abundant water resources, especially one of the biggest man-made lakes - the Volta Lake, does not mean that the resource should be taken for granted and its base, which is the vegetation cover, destroyed.

Dr Adom expressing dissatisfaction with the present practice of destroying vegetation cover along river banks said, "irrespective of the fact that Ghana has abundant water resource, the country might have to import water from elsewhere in a couple of decades in care is not taken".

It is estimated that the country is endowed with about 54 billion cubic metres of surface freshwater resources, about 30 per cent of it originating from outside its borders.

Yet, nearly half of the about 20 million Ghanaians do not have adequate access to water supply with the situation becoming worse during each dry season.

The search for water for domestic use is one of the principal daily preoccupations of most women and children in both rural and urban centres. Women have to carry containers some weighing more than 30 kilograms and travel over 20 kilometres in some cases in search of water for household use.

Dr Adom may sound like an alarmist but the truth is that the availability of clean, fresh water is one of the most important issues facing humanity today - and will be increasingly critical for the future, as growing demands outstripped supply. Pollution would also continue to contaminate rivers, lakes and streams.

He said the greatest challenge facing the WRC was how to change people's perception and attitude toward water use. "This, in fact, should be the concern of all well meaning Ghanaians and not that of the Commission alone."

During most dry seasons the most topical issues that the newspapers carry is the drying up of some major rivers including the Kakum River, which supplies water to the people of Cape Coast.

There have been years when the chiefs and people of Cape Coast had had to sacrifice animals to the river god in anticipation that it would allow the river to flow. But the reality of the situation is that the rivers are dying.

They would continue to die if concrete measures were not taken by stakeholders to ensure their survival all year round.

The degradation of watersheds has brought about the perennial drying up of many water bodies, including the Upper Tano River, a tributary of the Volta. The low level of water in the Akosombo Dam becomes a reminder of the dangers of the reckless degradation of our natural resources.

The per capita freshwater availability for 2000 and projected to 2020 suggests a decreasing trend from 2,209 cubic metres to 122 cubic metres per year, representing a 44 per cent slump.

To raise awareness and galvanize action to better manage and protect this crucial resource, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater.

"Lack of access to water for drinking, hygiene and food security inflicts enormous hardship on more than a billion members of the human family," United Nations Secretary-General Busumuru Kofi Annan said in report carried by the Ghana News Agency.

"Water is likely to become a growing source of tension and fierce competition between nations, if present trends continue, but it can also be a catalyst for cooperation," said Busumuru Annan. He added that the International Year of Freshwater could play a vital role in generating the action needed not only by governments but also by civil society, communities, the business sector and individuals all over the world.

The tension that the UN Secretary-General spoke about might have already started to manifest itself in Ghana. The February 10 edition of "The Chronicle" had as its headline

"Trouble brews in Kintampo over blockade of waterway." The story talks about how some farmers tried to block the waterway to divert it into their farms for irrigation purposes. This led to a number of clashes among farming communities in Kintampo compelling the District Chief Executive to mediate.

Dr Adom said: "This is just the beginning of some of the problems if care were not taken to conserve the water bodies that serve at demarcation points between villages and towns and even between Ghana and neighbouring countries."

He said it was not enough for people to be provided with only drinking water to the detriment of their livelihood.

"Provision of water for people, whose livelihood depend on it is as essential as providing it for them to drink. This is because without a source of livelihood their very basis of existence is affected.

"Providing for peoples' livelihood means affording the country enormous opportunities for socio-economic development including fisheries, hydropower generation, water supply, irrigation, water transport and salt production and all the other water-related industries that one can think about,'' he said.

The celebration of this year as Freshwater year is to provide Ghanaians and the world at large with an opportunity to raise awareness, promote good practices, motivate people and mobilize resources in a sustainable way.

How could resources be mobilised in a sustainable way? It could start with the harvesting of rainwater as was done previously, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris, Minister for Works and Housing said during the launch of the International Year of Freshwater in Accra according to GNA report.

He noted that freshwater was still the single most precious element for life on earth; hence it needed all the attention it deserved. "It is essential for satisfying basic human needs, such as health, food production, energy and the maintenance of regional and global ecosystems."

The year is being celebrated on a global theme: "Water-Two Billion People Are Dying For It" whilst the local theme is: "Freshwater Indispensable for Human Survival."

Alhaji Idris said: "There is the need for much more effort at inculcating the culture of using water wisely to avoid waste at the domestic level, undertaking efficient irrigation, producing less toxic agriculture and industrial activities and new investments in water infrastructure and services."

Scientific studies have also proved that variation in climate have resulted in declining rainfall and reduction of both ground and surface water recharge.

''Within the last three decades, rainfall in various places of the country has reduced by between 13 to 22 per cent while available freshwater resources dwindled by between 30 per cent and 40 per cent," said Dr Adom.

It is, therefore, important for the people to discard the notion that water was free.

Ghanaians should put some value on water by using it wisely and also ensure that the banks of rivers, streams and lakes are well protected with trees and other forms of vegetation to ensure that the remaining watersheds do not dry up but rather ensure the availability of water all year round.

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