How Ghana Is Wasting Its Abundant Water Resources

The Lake Volta: It is a large reservoir or man made lake in terms of surface area contained behind the Akosombo Dam. It is completely located in Ghana. The lake has a surface area of 8,502 square kilometres

Accra,  February 5, 2018//-The availability of water resources in Ghana has never  been in doubt. But its management of these abundant resources is not the best. The water resources management quagmire in the West African country is as old Adam.

Ghana is well endowed with water resources to the extent that many communities and individuals are named after rivers and lakes. It is common to hear or see some Ghanaians bearing names such as Oti, Afram, Ankobrah, Ayensu, Densu, Bonsomtwi and Chare.

These names are some of the big rivers and lakes which serve as major sources of water for the 27 million Ghanaian population.

In addition to the surface water found in almost every part of Ghana, experts believe there is also abundant of water stored underground. The country has over 148 cubic kilometres (km3) per year of available surface water. This is a lot higher than many African countries, especially those in the northern and southern regions of the continent.

For instance, South Africa whose second-most populous city-Cape Town is currently facing water crisis as a result of a four year drought, has about 49 km3 a year.

However, it is amazing that many Ghanaians have no clean water to drink in a country which possesses these abundant water resources.

Currently, an estimated 10 million Ghanaians do not have access to potable water, the District Environmental Health Officer of the Ashiedu Keteke sub-Metro in Accra, Rev. Chris J. E. Y. Gawugbe revealed.

While 24 percent of urban dwellers have no access to portable drinking water, a latest report released by Ghana’s Parliamentary Select Committee on Works and Housing also disclosed.

The report added: “Currently, urban water coverage stands at 76%.This is a significant improvement from the initial 64% in 2015.This means that about 24% of the urban dwellers are yet to be covered.

Though the Committee views the 76% coverage in 2016 as commendable, it strongly believes that the 24% of the population without access to water supply is unacceptable as it also affects their human rights.”

In the rural areas only 41% have access to portable drinking water. Looking at the statistics, it is clear that there is an uneven distribution of safe and clean water in the country.

Furthermore, wealth also dictates access to portable water in Ghana.  According to the 2014 Demographic and Health Survey report by the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Statistical Service, 43% of Ghana’s urban dwellers depend on sachet water as a source of drinking water. But majority of rural dwellers depend on tube wells, streams, rivers, dams, boreholes among others for their daily water supply.

A truck load of sachet water on the street of Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city 

The lack of accessible, reliable and safe drinking water, coupled with poor sanitation and hygiene, is estimated to cost the country billions of dollars.

As put out by, a leading water nonprofit organisation: ” In Ghana, close to six million people (nearly 22 percent) rely on surface water to meet their daily water needs, leaving them vulnerable to water-related illness and disease. Further, 67 percent of Ghanaians lack access to improved sanitation or are entirely without toilet facilities”.

Similarly, a new report released by UNICEF revealed that the country loses over $290 million  annually due to poor sanitation. This whopping amount is spent on clearing huge refuse in the cities and treatment on sanitation related diseases.

Rural dwellers in some part of Northern Ghana fetching water from a dam

Researchers have insisted that the lack of portable drinking water and sanitation systems is a severe public health concern in Ghana, contributing to 70% of diseases in the country.

Due to unsafe and unclean  water and poor sanitation, the country has 3,600 children under five die annually from diarrhoea.

Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1,000 people in Ghana, Nigeria and other countries in West African die each day from illnesses related to unsafe water.

Why the water resources management malaise

 Why is this taking place in a country with abundant water resources ? Ghana which is currently rationing portable drinking water its urban areas suffers from “economic water scarcity”.

Incessant  Pollution

Most of the sources of water from Ankobra, Ayensu, Densu to Pra are all terribly polluted due to illegal mining popularly known in Ghana as ‘galamsey’.

Pra River or River Pra is another river in Ghana. It is the easternmost and the largest of the three principal rivers that drain the area south of the Volta divide

According to Wikipedia, a galamsey is a local artisanal gold miner in Ghana, West Africa; such workers are known as orpailleurs in neighboring francophone nations.

These young unprofessional gold miners engage in gold mining in small scale. They usually don’t have mining permit but their activities are one of the major causes of water pollution and environmental degradation in the country. Because of the lucrative nature of the business, the illegal miners hire bulldozers, excavators and other heavy earth-moving equipment to dig deep into the ground in search of gold.

In this process, rivers, streams and other water bodies get polluted by them. They also use chemicals including mercury and cyanide in mining activities which pollute the water bodies. When communities downstream or along galamsey pits drink the water containing the chemical residuals they result into health complications, according to health experts.

Water body polluted by galamsey miners. Picture credit:

Recently Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), a state-owned company responsible for potable water supply to all urban communities in the country announced that it is spending too much money on the processing of water at its various water treatment plants due to the galamsey activities.

The Director of Communications of GWCL, Stanley Martey added the company also uses four to five times more chemicals for treatment than it should be using, due to pollution from illegal mining activities.

To this end,  some water treatment plants in some parts of the country have been shut down.

This development officials at the GWCL and water resources experts have warned that the country would import water for consumption in the future, if the illegal mining activities are not checked.

Although there is an operation vanguard, a taskforce set up to enforce the government’s campaign against illegal mining activities in the country, upon its dissolution, the problem will crop up again.  So, the campaign on illegal mining is an ad hoc one.

Also, it is sad to see people dumping waste into rivers and streams without being sanctioned by the law enforcement bodies. In the cities, plastic materials and other non-biodegradable containers are washed by rains into  water bodies thereby making the water unsafe for drinking.

Bad farming practice is also having a toll effect on the country’s water bodies. In the past, it was a taboo to farm on the banks of rivers, streams, lakes, among others.  But with the advent of Christianity and Islamic religions together with modernity that old taboo has been thrown to the gutters.

Now, it is common to see farmers farming on the banks of water bodies. Anytime, it rains the rainwater washes the soil into the water bodies, causing them to get polluted and dried.

Sheer mismanagement

In Ghana like many developing countries, sheer mismanagement of water resources by water production and supplying companies is still a problem in this era technological.

To add up, about 42 percent of the water produced by the GWCL is lost to illegal connections, depriving the company of needed resources to cover costs and improve its services.

Water that is treated for domestic use is being used to wash vehicles in Ghana. This goes to confirm the long-held view that some people in the country are misusing the water .

Unfair water pricing 

Sometimes, communities of extreme poverty have to pay exorbitant rates in order to purchase clean water. While those who have no money or little money have to depend on unhygienic water sources for their domestic needs.

In Ghana, the cost of water production is very high and does not reflect the tariffs approved by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) for the GWCL to charge its customers.

The low water tariff regime has been blamed on the under-development of the water company which eventually affects its ability to undertake major water supply expansion projects in the country.

 Inadequate infrastructure

The GWCL and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) which is responsible for the provision of rural and small town water in the country, have been battling with infrastructure challenges since their creations.

 Loss of groundwater

At the time of going to the press, Ghana’s Parliament has summoned the management of the GWCL and the Minister for Water Resources and Sanitation, Kofi Adda over the ongoing water rationing programme began two weeks ago.

The company blamed the rationing programme on the dry season and the pollution of water bodies as the major causes of the current water shortages in the country.

However, the Ranking Member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Works and Housing, Sampson Ahi and his members of the committee are probing for more answers.

It is important to know that due to climate change, human expansion and development is leading to loss of groundwater globally and Ghana is no exception.

The rate of evaporation of water bodies across the country is also alarming. This struck experts to warn that unless there is rainfall, if not there will be severe water crisis in the country.

Institutional weaknesses and policy non-implementations

 Developing countries including Ghana have weak institutions to advise them on water treatment and management and implement policies to manage their abundant water resources.

 For instance, Ghana’s National Water Policy which is supported by the principles articulated in the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS), the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Africa Water Vision of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), is still gathering dust at the Ministry of Water Resources and Sanitation after years of formulation.

What should Ghana do to arrest the situation

Ghana cannot continue this way. There must be a new paradigm shift. They should be a greater and wider range of stakeholder consultations in the management of the country’s rich water resources. These are the views expressed by members of the Ghana Coalition Of NGO’s In The Water & Sanitation Sector (CONIWAS).

They noted at one of their workshops held in Accra: “Providing potable water involves science, policy and practice. All these must be considered in developing the proper management system for water in Ghana. Such a system needs more flexible, adaptive and responsible institutions”.

The government, Metropolitan, Municipality and District Assemblies (MMDAs) and water supply companies should work together to update and tighten regulations controlling water quality in the West African country.

Community by-laws should be enforced to compel new homeowners to construct reservoirs that can hold a specified volume of rainwater for use, Salam Abdul-Rahmani, a development expert said.

He added that incentives should also be given to existing homeowners to encourage them to collect and store rainwater for other forms of domestic use.

The apparent threat of water scarcity as a result of climate change, pollution of water bodies, human activities must wake Ghanaians to embark on water harvesting revolution in the country.

By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, African Eye Report




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