The Water ‘Wahala’: Shooting ourselves in the foot?

The Water ‘Wahala’: Shooting ourselves in the foot?

Water, especially treated water, is vital for a healthy and prosperous nation. After all, the good old adage says “water is life”; that is, and will remain, true forever. However, in an era when we are building a “Better Ghana” (which is long overdue, anyway), clean water is turning out to be a mirage and a source of, well, “not life”.

There are reports of areas in Ghana where doctors are having to welcome new born babies with “pure water” ( the purity of which is doubtful) and households queuing at dawn just to get this commodity of life, that alone exposing especially women to danger of being raped and mugged by ruthless miscreants and leaving children either dozing in class – because they woke up too early to ‘hunt’ water- or dodging the latter part of school hours in order to get home early to fetch water before all their colleagues get home (early bird catches the worm).

The problem is, these challenges have been around since “when the Pope was an altar boy” (just quoting Lucky Dube) and governments have come and gone, and will continue to come and go, but these challenges persist. Interestingly, we all (politicians and non-politicians alike) know, in part, what the problem is but we are waiting for “ the government(s) to do something about it”.

I say we know the problem because we live in communities where people siphon water from the pipelines and use for “free” and no one dares to report them to the appropriate authorities for action. We are the same ones who either do “galamsey” or aid and abet foreigners to do so in our water sources where water is treated for us to use, thereby disrupting water treatment facilities and increasing cost of treatment, as such reduce supply of treated water.

We know the problem because we have been around since time immemorial when our pipelines have dilapidated and are spilling more treated water than they carry to our homes and little has been done to replace them. The cost of the water that is spilled could have replaced so many of these leaking pipelines.

We know the problem because we want water to be continuously subsidised for us to use or waste. It is ridiculous to see washing bays (or rather ‘wasting’ bays) splashing treated water on cars (which will be driven on the dusty roads again) and motorbike or even bicycles in Ghana. The cost is so cheap that people can actually pay to waste it. No one wants to pay realistic prices and so resources that could have been used to expand and improve water infrastructure is used to pay subsidies. The rural poor (myself inclusive), who probably have never seen any tap pay these subsidies for the urban folks to use or waste.

If we know all these, why are we still in dire need of water for daily use? Is it the case that we are shooting ourselves in the foot?

As the climate changes and the rainfall patterns become more erratic as is predicted, these water bodies will become less reliable as sources of water and the water table will go lower. I wonder how we can manage then, if in the abundance of water we cannot supply everyone with clean, potable and life saving water.

The fact of the matter is, if water supply is to be improved, there must be an overhaul of the management of the water company (not necessarily changing the name) and a total overhaul of the infrastructure to make them intelligent (we are in the age of technology), so that leaks and illegal siphoning is detected easily. The technology is there and so, thankfully, we do not have to re-invent the wheel. And for ones let us deal with the “galamseyers” who have only caused Ghana tremendous loses much to their personal gain. And that includes the Chinese (whether they give us loans or not).

Finally, let us put the politicisation of the price water aside and let the market determine the prices for us. You use more, you pay more. I think this will make us use water more efficiently and relieve the poor of the burden of paying for some people. After all, all the politicians know by now that it does not serve any ones good to continue “making a meal” out of pricing water and other utilities. The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) must be allowed to work to come out with innovative ways of pricing water in a way that will ensure access and affordability to all Ghanaians.

All inefficiencies in the system must be plugged (and we have the men to that), so that we don’t pay for any waste. Then we can welcome our new born babies not with sachet water and our families will cease carrying “Kuffour gallons” (apologies) and waking up at dawn to chase water. We can do this, Yes we can.

K. D. Luke
Msc Climate Change and Policy,
University of Sussex, UK.
[email protected]