Historically, Ghanaians have been depending on chilled water most times of the day for only God knows how long. The cruel condition of the 'Ghanaian sun' coupled with global warming has made ice water the comforter and redemption song for thirsty throats on the busy streets of Ghana.
Years back, iced water was sold from rubber cups for people at lorry parks, market places, schools, etc. to buy and drink. But health stakeholders played a major role in creating awareness about how fast that initiative transmitted infectious diseases like tuberculosis to consumers. Eventually, the mantle fell on water vendors who tied their chilled water in plain rubbers—'panyin de panyin'—for the Ghanaian market. Over time, consumers' severe criticism of the unhygienic conditions and impurities in panyin de panyin led to the birth of sachet water—pure water—and bottled water to improve standards in Ghana. Nevertheless, the pure water we once vouched for is no longer pure enough for human consumption.
If at all possible, before a company is approved and registered with the Food and Drugs Board (FDB) to produce water commercially, the company should have submitted a completed-application form with supporting documents that include a business registration certificate, a site master plan of the factory, an environmental permit from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and health certificates for all workers showing test results for tuberculosis, hepatitis A and E, typhoid and other communicable diseases. The registration goes through another phase where general information on interior surfaces, drainage system, ventilation, water and electrical systems, standard operating procedures, equipment validation, calibration information, and water quality analysis is carried out on samples of sachet water. Once the Food and Drugs is satisfied with the requirement, the company being vetted is free to approach the Ghana Standard Board (GSB) for the “Quality Mark” and details on brand name, the net volume, address of manufacture, the batch code and the expiry date indicated by the words “BEST BEFORE” (Ghana Standards Board, 1998).
Truth be told, what most pure water-producing companies are bagging is simply tap water sealed without thorough treatment which they sell on the markets with a faked enborsement of Ghana Standard Board seal so consumers are persuaded to consume the water without suspicion. But a mere assessment of the colour, odor and taste of some of these so called pure waters makes you wonder whether the manufacturers know the offices of the Food and Drugs Board and the Ghana Standards Board. Don't I just love this country?
The situation gets even worse by way of some recognised water producers joining the bad nuts to kill us more with sachet water that is contaminated through exposure to sunlight in the course of transporting it from the warehouse to the market. In worse scenarios, packing water under fluorescent lighting for who knows how many weeks or months in our homes, shops, churches, and communities, is a major headache we are unknowingly creating by ourselves. I am just scared for this nation!
Interestingly, the FDB, by the power vested in it, is expected to institute random checks on registered sachet-water samples to maintain standards. But due to the numerous mishaps in the system, vigilantes wouldn't be wrong if they complain the Ghana Standards Board has not done enough in keeping citizens free from diseases such as cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases. I also want to believe that those who lobbied for the introduction of pure water to solve the panyin de panyin disaster did not have a proper plan to deliver us from the impurities we are drinking today.
It is at this stage that you and I contribute our quota in breaking the silence on 'impure water' and this “fama nyame” attitude of my country folks. As a matter of urgency, we all, in our own small way, should partner in the change we want to see by taking note of sachet water companies operating under unhygienic conditions and notifying the police, the Food and Drugs Board and local authourities to kick them out of business. Because if we remain unconcerned for too long, a get-rich-soon water producer would produce water that will kill your parent, sibling, relative or a dear friend of yours. And until that is done, we all should expect the quacks to multiply and kill Ghanaians faster and on a larger scale than AIDS or malaria.
The time to end the talk shops and the scratching of the surface of the problem is now.
It is show time.
Paa Kwesi Forson