As an optimist, I waited (for about 3 weeks) to hear an improvement in the water rationing upshot announced in earlier weeks by the Ghana Water Company Limited (Graphic Online, 28th January 2018), however; things seem to be growing worse. How do we find ourselves in the wake of this burgeoning issue? Are we playing a waiting game (waiting on God for rains to return and reservoirs to be replenished)? Is the government and other stakeholders taking steps in this mess? In this article, I present some questions concerning the increasing water resource insecurity in Ghana and proffer arguments on the need to revolutionise our thoughts on how we value, manage and prioritise water.
Access to clean drinking water is more fragile than at any time in our recent history. The diminishing potable water sources from drought, water pollution is growing at a pace which contributes to the looming water crisis [importing water by 2030]. Scarier is the fact that there would be no treatable water source, either surface or ground water by 2030, should the rate at which the country’s water sources are being polluted continue.
Just like Cape Town (South Africa), more and more Ghanaians confront water problems in their everyday lives. The distinguishing argument is that, we (Ghana) have not yet come to the point of declaring “Day Zero” (A day in which the tap will run dry for all residents). However, many citizens are “already in Day Zero” due to the tragedy from water pollution (mostly through illegal mining), high cost of supplying urban water, increasing leakages in urban water mains and the increasing cost of accessing water. Even the health risk posed by private water tankers seems to have captured public attention and driven concern with renewed urgency. However, institutions charged with the mandate of preventing this risk seems not to be performing up to expectation. Even in our urban areas, population growth, changing weather pattern and growing income inequality are threatening to overwhelm both the physical infrastructure and management systems that have previously provided for our water needs as a country.
Ghana is certainly at a crossroad. Are we going to commit to a future where everyone can count on reliable and safe water service? Will we truly value water and prioritize investment in the world’s most precious resource? Will we come together as a nation to protect public health and safety in the provision of water? Of course, changing how we view, value, and manage water is not a simple task. Our challenges vary from place to place, and our laws and regulations can constrain innovative approaches to integrating water policy either horizontally (across water sectors) or vertically (aligned with other investments in infrastructure, agriculture, environmental protection, and social equity). And our legal frameworks for water predate modern challenges like climate change or growing income disparity. In the face of these issues, how do we create a new era of water management in Ghana—one that secures economic, environmental, and community well-being?
It appears to me that, institutional stakeholders and the Ghanaian citizenry have not made conscious efforts to prioritise the value of water. When public awareness is high, there is the possibility of political willingness. Public perception should be in harmony with institutional measures and political will. Garrick et al (2017) on valuing water for sustainable development argued that, to get the best out of water, countries need to value water by valuing institutions. There is no need waiting for crisis to hit us before we act. Instead of coming out with short term engineering and sociological solutions in the face of water crisis, the country should make efforts to prevent the occurrence at the onset. In the foregoing, for our dear country (Ghana) to avoid future apocalypse in water needs just like what Cape Town is going through, we should embrace efforts to value and prioritise water. This might sound hazy, however; moving towards this lens through advance measurement and governance of water resources is apt and holds great prospects in solving our water challenges. With good water governance, the adoption of smart water systems will be the path to tread in this agonizingly difficult tightrope of water insecurity.
At the same time, we need the right science and water management policies. Improving the operational efficiency of GWCL through the new cloud-based system “E-billing” should be given wider acceptance by all Ghanaians. The company through this system can reduce leakages, prevent water theft and ensure cost recovery. Similarly, unregulated water Tanker services can be “mobile- tracked” (using up-to -date mobile applications) and can further be decentralised. Stakeholders should put in place strict measures to regulate the urban water market to reduce the increasing poverty penalty among the urban poor. Maybe, the time has come for the country to embrace water reuse (recycling wastewater) and relying on alternative sources such as solar desalination (might be costly but it is worth it). If governments can undertake meagre projects at unprecedented amounts, why not invest it the world’s most precious resource. Also, the galamsey fight which is noteworthy must continue without fear of favour
Obviously, one hopes that we will take the road of long term planning, but such idealism should not blind us to the temptations that could lead us wayward. The future for water management is now and everyone is required to help value and prioritise water before the country face a potential water war. In the realm of this water insecurity in Ghana, the issue of “smart water” and valuation should take a centre stage. Ultimately, we (Ghanaians) must change our ways in order to answer the questions posed in this article.
The author is a student of Water Science, Policy and Management at the Oxford Centre for the Environment- Oxford University
Email: [email protected]