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22.01.2007 Feature Article

Water is life... but not in Accra?

Water is life... but not in Accra?
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Whereas 'water' is a basic necessity (for which the very foundation of life depends on,) it has become a luxury for most people in some parts of Ghana.

The city of Accra in Ghana is a perfect example of an area where access to water is a luxury. Urbanization, rural-urban migration resulting in population explosion etc have been the main elements of change for the city. Social amenities and utilities have become important challenges to overcome.

At age fifty (50), it is surprising that many areas of the capital city, Accra still have water problems, and despite the numerous talk and speeches by successive Ministers of State and long State of the Nation addresses, we have not been able to find a conclusive solution to the lack of access to portable water.

The areas affected by the above problem in Ghana are many, and even in Accra, relatively plush locations like Labone, Osu & East Legon are affected. But let me zero in on Madina, Teshie, Maamobi and Adenta.

Like most suburbs, towns within the city of Accra, Teshie has experienced its fair share of population explosion as many people migrate from the rural areas to live in the city; with the hope of improving their economic lives.

Migration in Ghana means that land allocation and acquisition becomes a very lucrative business especially in the city. Teshie, a predominantly Ga (main language of the people of Accra) locality, has developed into a popular residential area, with the usual mixture of poor/middle/upper class population.

The one tragedy that has been left out in this development is adequate access to pipe-borne water. Residents of the area confirm that access to pipe-borne water has been a major challenge.

For some areas, the taps flow once a week and thus houses with reservoirs are able to store enough water for both domestic and commercial purposes. For those areas, which have the required piping system but do not have water flowing through them, residents have to buy water from their neighbours. In the affluent neighborhoods, tanker services are common.

Most of the residents complain that they have to buy a bucket of water for about 1,500 cedis. Imagine that if there is a household of five people, an average of five buckets of water will be used in a day and that will be like seven thousand five hundred cedis (7,500) in a day.

Multiply that by seven days (52,000) and then by a further 4 weeks to make a month. They will be spending on average over two hundred thousand (200,000) cedis on water alone, and we are talking here about a low income family.

The Madina situation is quiet interesting because about 90% of the houses there have well laid piping systems. One resident said “you could actually tip the right people at Water Works and your pipe will suddenly flow.”

Another resident pointed out that “the problem is not so much the lack of pipes…all the structures are there on our part; we just don't know why the government is not doing anything. Right from the PNDC, through to the NPP, it has been our hope that our water problems will be solved but now our pipes are rusted and some of them are clogged with dust…”

To curb the situation, some residents have constructed wells in their homes, while others have reservoirs and tanks that can store water for both commercial and domestic purposes.

This system is not so different from Teshie and other areas. The price of one bucket of water in Madina costs between 1,500 and 2,000 cedis. Sometimes, the water is not even available in the first place. So you often hear people say “there is no water in the area.”

Adenta is one of the favorite places I would have recommended to anyone to lice, but for their water problems. This community is one of the few well defined areas in Accra with good road networks and less dust. However, it baffles my mind how such a predominantly middle to upper class community has pipes that have become white elephants. .

Residents are forced to buy poly tanks and use the services of tankers which is quiet expensive. Some residents say when they are lucky the water flows once a week.

One gentleman who moved out of his flat at the SSNIT Estates told me “I remember the tap used to flow on Sundays, sometimes after 10pm and it means if you want water, stay up deep to feel buckets. Yes, buckets because the pressure is low that you hardly fill a drum before they close the tap. The alternative is to join a long queue at the stand pipe on the ground floor, and trust me, you'll not make many up & down rounds before it's over.”

In Maamobi, it is common to see people pulling trolleys with tanks of water. In fact this has become a source of livelihood for many of the young men. As to whether these open tanks are hygienic is questionable.

The major fear is a possible contamination of the water. The environment is so dusty that one cannot be sure of how clean these reservoirs are. Look at the process:
Stand Pipe – pumped into tanker – emptied into a reservoir/ polytank – fetched into a bucket –taken to the house.

The health implications are dire for the people and I dare say it is about time government solved this problem once and for all. Recently, there was an inauguration ceremony to put the Weija head works in shape. Will that be the end of the problem, No. Not even the much touted private-public partnership has so far brought any results.

Cholera, typhoid and the like are no mysterious diseases. Contaminated water plays a major role in the spread of these diseases and for communities that do not have adequate access to water, the risk is higher because of the high level of exposure that water goes before through ending up in cups.

You might suggest that 'sachet water' as it is known, is the answer to this problem; it is true that people have already adopted this method as an answer to clean drinking water but this means that one has to spend more money in addition to the fact that not all packaged water is safe for drinking.

We do not have to run to the Commission on Human Rights & Administrative Justice to know that 'water' is a fundamental right for everybody in all societies.

History tells us that settlements sprang up only in areas where people find water bodies. In this century, it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that their citizens have access to water.

Concentrating on Accra for the purposes of this article does not mean that the situation is not prevalent in other parts of the country. In fact the mere presence of non-governmental organizations such as Water Aid and DANIDA attest to the fact that it is a nationwide problem. With Accra being the seat of government and after fifty years of independence, we simply cannot be proud of our water infrastructure.

The situation has become more complicated and heartbreaking for the ordinary citizen.

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