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Special Report | 27 August 2015 13:14 CET

Water For Death: Sad Story Of How Over 4 Million Ghanaians Survive On Highly Polluted Densu River

By Kwabena Adu Koranteng

Investigations conducted on the daily activities of individuals and groups of people along the banks of the Densu River have revealed massive and indescribable pollution of the water with human excreta as well as liquid and toxic waste, which are extremely harmful to human health.

River Densu forms part of the Densu Basin which flows from the thick Atiwa Forest in the Eastern Region and serves as a source of drinking water for more than four million people living in the Greater Accra, Central and Eastern Regions of Ghana.

A stroll along the banks of River Densu from Nsawam Adoagyiri in the Eastern Region to Weija in Accra, reveals a change in the colour and quality of the water, compared to the quality of the same water flowing from the source.

The existence of the river is under serious threat due to the dumping of human excreta and other domestic and industrial wastes into it by residents in the communities along its course.

The massive pollution is undoubtedly infringing on the right of Ghanaians to quality drinking water, which is guaranteed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the laws of Ghana.

Frankly speaking, it is threatening the lives of a large number of people, including some foreign nationals, whose main source of drinking water is the River Densu.

At Nsawam where the investigative team was stationed, we uncovered some houses that had connected plastic pipes into the river and channeled liquid waste into it. The entire liquid waste from the main Nsawam lorry park has been directed into the river. We saw people who had erected urinals on the bank of the river and charging money from people who patronize the facility. The urine flows directly into the river.

Another shocking development is the liquid waste from the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons - the only medium security prison in Ghana with a population of about 15,000 - flowing into the Mahoma River which runs along the prison yard. The Mahoma River drains into the Doboro River which flows directly into River Densu. This has also been confirmed by the Water Resource Commission. On the trip along the Densu at Adoagyiri and Nsawam, my team discovered that aquatic life was actually not a thing to write home about. We couldn’t find single specie of fish in the water, an indication of the harm caused by human and industrial waste.

Aside connecting tubes and dumping refuse into River Densu, some people living in communities along its bank also enter it to attend nature’s call.

Alhaji Usmanu is a 30-year-old scrap dealer and a Moslem youth leader at Adoagyiri who operates his business on the bank of the river between two huge gutters that run from the Adoagyiri township into the river downstream.

He confirmed in his interview with us on 17 July, 2015 that some people ease themselves openly along the banks. “People defecate here haphazardly. I sometimes find it difficult to stay here with all this human excreta scatted all over. I try to drive them away when they come but they continue to come, especially in the night when I am not here. It is the duty of the government and the local authorities to bring security officials to erect fences to stop people from further dumping refuse or attending nature’s call here,” he opined.

In the course of our findings, we captured a scene where an old lady came to fetch water at a place where some young men believed to be butchers, had killed goats and sheep and were washing the blood and the feaces of the carcasses into the river. At the same time and place, some commercial drivers were seen fetching water to wash their vehicles on the road and the dirty water was returning into the river - that flows into the dam at Weija, near Accra. (Our documentary captures the scene).

Fifty-eight-year-old Josephine Oni, who was captured in the video footage fetching water, told me in an interview that the water from River Densu is what she drinks untreated when the boreholes constructed by the community water and sanitation department become dysfunctional. Aside the drinking, Ms Oni said the water is used for washing clothes, cooking, bathing, among other domestic uses.

“I have depended on this river all my life. I came to meet my family using it and it was very clean until ten years ago when human activities began to pollute it and threatened its existence. As you can see, they defecate here, wash their cloths and pour the dirty water back into the river. It’s very unfortunate. Others also dump refuse here and all these have contributed to the change in the quality and colour of the water. We used to catch fish in the river years back but all the species are dead due to the high rate of pollution. Sometimes as you fetch the water, you will see used condoms and diapers in the river. It’s horrible. We need help from government to help us tackle this problem and save the river and human lives,” Oni bemoaned.

Brother Narh is a 40-year-old roller mechanic who also operates a spare parts shop close to the river at the Nsawam main lorry park. In an interview with Mr Adu Koranteng, he said state authorities, the district assembly and the environmental health officials were not doing anything to help stop the mess that is threatening the existence of the river.

“Some people have built urinals here and collect monies from patrons, especially travelers, and the urine flows directly into the river. I have managed to seal off one of these structures, but there are others there and we need the authorities to come and demolish them. All the illegal structures here need be cleared and those who have been polluting the river arrested and prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others,” Brother Narh said.

From Nsawam, the team got to Weija – where the water is treated for consumption in parts of Accra and other places - to assess the situation there. The Weija dam is in the valley of the Weija hills which serve as a boundary between the Greater Accra and the Central Regions of Ghana. Several buildings have sprung up on the hills.

At Weija open defecation was very rampant. Since there are no public toilets in the area, the inhabitants go to the banks of the dam to carry on with the offensive act. Houses with toilets reportedly open the outlets and the stuff is carried into the dam whenever it rains.

Some tanker drivers also draw the untreated water and sell it to food vendors in the area for cooking. Besides all these, farmers along the Weija dam apply chemicals like fertilizer, and DDT on their crops to enhance their growth; and the chemical is often washed into the dam when it rains. Some fishermen, who do not adhere to good fishing practices, were reportedly using DDT and other dangerous chemicals to catch fingerlings in the dam. All these add up to the risk posed to the health and lives of people who drink water from River Densu.

Inputs Of the Nsawam-Adoagyiri Municipal Environmental Health Directors

Mr Joseph Nanor is the Environmental Health Director of the Nsawam-Adoagyiri Municipal Assembly. In an interview with this writer at the office of the municipal coordinating director, Mr Amoako Kwateng, he, together with Mr D.M. Aboagye, his predecessor, corroborated the pollution and reiterated that it is caused by the activities of some recalcitrant residents who refuse to respect the environmental by-laws. He also blamed ex-convicts from the Nsawam Prisons who refuse to return to where they came from after their release from prison. Mr Nanor said the ex-convicts are usually the ones who on the banks of the river and engage in unhealthy activities that end up polluting river.

The Environmental Health Director said. Asked why nothing had been done to stop all the wastes from the Nsawam and Adoagyiri townships flowing into the river, the Environmental Health Director said by the geographical location of the two towns with a population of about 800,000 people, it is obvious that the waste would flow from the settlements on the hills into the valley where the water is flowing. “There is little that we can do about it. It will require the construction of a waste treatment plant and a tunnel to connect all the drains and convey the waste matter into that treatment plant. This is a huge investment involving millions of dollars that will require the involvement of government in partnership with foreign donors and organizations; otherwise, the problem will continue to persist.

Ghana Water Company

Stanley Martey, the Corporate Affairs manager of Ghana Water Company Limited, talked to this writer about the situation.

He disclosed that 25% of operating expenditure of the company goes into the purchase of chemicals to treat water from River Densu. He admitted that the river is the most polluted source of drinking water in Ghana.

According to Mr Martey, it is wrong to farm along the dam as the chemicals applied on the seedlings end up in the river during rainfall. “We have to apply more than necessary chemicals far beyond the standard required to treat the water in a bid to get the filth out of it,” he underscored.

Then this writer asked him whether the water would not be polluted further if more chemicals - beyond the required amount - are applied to treat the water. His answer was, “Hmm! You know, not really. There are two standards for drinking water. We have that of the World Health Organization and the Ghana standards approved by the Ghana Standards Authority. When we apply the chemicals to treat the water, we have other chemicals to reduce the strength and power of the chlorine and the alum to make it safe for drinking. They are acceptable chemicals for consumption.” he stated.

I also told him that in spite of the application of these chemicals, we still see filth in the water when we open our taps. He said the filth is rather from the rusty pipelines that were laid many years ago and have not been changed. It also happens when the pipelines burst and dirty materials enter the water.

“These pipelines are mended by individuals and if they are not done well then the water is likely going to pick filth and carry it along to the final destinations,” Mr Martey explained further.

Deployment Of Military & Police Personnel

The Executive Secretary of the Water Resource Commission , Mr Ben Ampomah, disclosed that his office would soon deploy military and police personnel along the banks of River Densu to the Weija dam to expel encroachers and arrest those who pollute the water.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Ampomah said the decision forms part of the integrated water resource management plan for the restoration and protection of River Densu. He said, “I believe that we need to initiate and conduct more programmes to educate and enlighten the general public about the importance of water to life and the effect of water pollution to human health, the environment and aquatic life. We also need to educate the people about what should be done to restore and preserve the quality of the water.

“However, I am of the view that the education should be done alongside law enforcement. We are currently training police and military personnel who will patrol the banks of the river from the source to the dam site to enforce the laws. They will be charged to facilitate the prosecution of people whose activities pollute the water and threaten its existence.”

Even though the executive director declined to comment on possible demolition of illegal structures along the banks of the river, his posture signaled that that exercise would be carried out in due course.

Mr Ampomah debunked assertion that the Water Resource Commission had been dormant for years and that its lackadaisical attitude towards preserving water bodies had culminated in massive pollution of a number of water bodies. He said the decision to establish the Densu Basin office and management board situated in Koforidua in the Eastern Region, was to help mobilize all the stakeholders in communities along River Densu to get involved in the protection and reservation or the river and other adjoining water bodies.

According to Mr Ronald Abrahams, Basin officer in-charge of management of River Densu at the Water Resource Commission, there is massive logging of trees along the river, despite the educational campaigns to enlighten the citizenry. “Several educational campaigns have been held in all the 200 communities in and around the Densu Basin catchment area but little result is being realized,” Mr Abrahams said, adding that some people defy all odds and go to the buffer zones and forest reserves along the basin to fell trees that have been carefully preserved for the protection of the basin.

“They run into the bush when they hear we are bringing security personnel to arrest them. It’s a worrying situation but we are doing our best; and believe that it will soon yield positive results. I believe that when the military and the police are deployed to the site it will help curb the menace,” he averred.

Special Report By Kwabena Adu Koranteng

Sponsored by Funds for Investigative Journalism

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