The Cost of Living Without Water


As the sun was setting, the girls and women picked up their water containers and started heading homeward.

They could see their neighbours inside the mosque just a few meters away from where they had queued waiting for the water selling vehicle.

Their neighbours were observing the sunset prayers. The water searchers would have been at the mosque with the other faithful had this water problem not arisen.

She stood still for a while and then started moving. She shook her head pensively and stood still again, as if to hatch another plan.

“Today, too, the water tanker failed to come. It is the fifth day in succession that it has failed to come,” says Memuna Adamansonya, a resident of Nima 441.

“Now it is almost nightfall and usually when the tanker does not come before this time, then it won’t come at all.

This means we have to go and look for water elsewhere; maybe from the Airport Residential Area or the Police or Customs Barracks near Airport,” she says, while holding her two yellow containers, popularly called “Kufuor gallons” in Ghana.

Going to look for water at those places would be expensive as she and the others would have to hire a taxi and pay between GH¢10 and GH¢12 per trip.

The 17-year old’s eyes well as she and her family experience their third week of living without water running through their faucets in her part of Accra called Nima, a vast sprawling world which is almost always in the news for all the wrong reasons.

“School is about to re-open and my mother needs money for our fees,” she says, explaining that her mum, a chop bar operator, nowadays had to either reduce the quantity of food to be cooked or not cook at all.

“In fact, her business is gradually collapsing because of this water problem,” says Memuna, who is no longer able to hold back her tears.

She blames government and vows to vote against the ruling party in the next general election by which time she will be 19 years old, a year after attaining her adult suffrage under Ghanaian law.

She likens the current water scarcity at Nima and other parts of Accra to when she lived in the village a few years ago. Memuna lived with her extended family in the village beyond Bongo in the Upper East region before coming to live at Nima three years ago.

Twice a day since she was a very small girl, Memuna had left her thatched homestead and set off down the hill to a nearby forest to fetch water.

She would fill a bucket with the precious liquid for her family to use for washing, cooking and drinking. It was a simple task as there was only one water source within a two-kilometre radius, which was shared by the whole community with their cattle, sheep and goats.

Memuna would step carefully on to a log bridging the stagnant green pool. She would clear a space between the thick algae, floating animal excrement, and hovering flies before plunging her calabash into the cloudy water. If she dipped her hand into the pool, it would emerge webbed with slime.

If she looked carefully at the pond’s surface, she would see bubbles emerging from the mass of parasites breeding beneath.

“You did not need any machine like a microscope to see those parasites. They were so clear to the naked eye,” she says.  

Sometimes, she and the other village children would see cattle led into the centre of the pool to lap up the water, defecating into it as they moved along.

The pool was the only place in the village where water could be obtained. “Our teacher told us at school that the water was unsafe to drink but we didn’t have any other, so we boiled it well before drinking”.

Though Memuna now lives in Ghana’s capital, the city’s constant water scarcity frequently reminds her of her native village up North – an irony in a country that has a vast supply of water.

The country’s massive lakes and rivers were previously replenished during the raining season, but nowadays people have no clean water to drink.

Across the country, a greater percentage of the population is forced to sip from rancid, infected sources or, die of thirst. Though government admits that water must be a priority, the usual excuse of limited resources is always given.

Experts say drinking from stagnant sources is the major cause of cholera, intestinal worms, skin diseases, hacking coughs, diarrhoea, dysentery, guinea worm and most of all, malaria; from ingesting the larvae of mosquitoes which breed in stagnant pools.

According to Memuna, “When we heated the water from the pool, a thick foam came to the surface, like the lather on a soap”. Though Nima’s water situation is not as bad as her village’s, she wants the problem addressed as soon as possible.

“Water is so essential in the household, everything we do, including ablution before we go to the mosque, is centered around water and without clean water, we would not survive here in Nima,” she explains.

Commenting on the Nima water situation in the June 2010 issue of the Africawatch magazine, Mr. Kwame Pianim, a renowned economist and politician who once chaired the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission said: 

“I live in the Airport Residential Area (a plush residential area) just about a kilometer away from Nima (mostly a relatively poor neighbourhood) where most of the people obtain water through secondary sources ; people go to water reservoirs and other river sources  with tankers and get the water which they then sell to the residents  of Nima.”

“The people of Nima pay three times what I pay for water in Airport Residential Area. I believe this state of affairs is not right and is unsustainable. So I wanted President Kufuor to support a move to increase these tariffs to realistic levels.”

According to 2009 UN statistics, one billion people worldwide, especially women and children, have no access to safe drinking water, while 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation services.

Ghana, a signatory to the UN Millennium Development Goals, will not meet goal number 7 which is ensuring environmental sustainability, including the provision of safe drinking water and good sanitation services.

“We are off-track as far as goal number 7 is concerned. For example, we still have individuals who use pan latrines and those who still go to the seaside to ease themselves,” observes Leonard Ackon of the Ghana MDGs/GCAP Campaign Secretariat in Accra.

Wearing a blue T’shirt with the inscription “Global Call to Action Against Poverty Worldwide Campaign,” Leonard, a former journalist, says “about six million Ghanaians (about a quarter of the whole country’s population) don’t have drinkable water.

Urban water poverty is increasing as a result of the pressure on accessibility of water, lack of funding and mismanagement of water.”      

Ghana’s Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing, Alban Bagbin, expresses worry about the fact that the country will soon run out of sufficient sources to provide potable water if the sector is not properly managed.

Water conservation is a great challenge in Ghana as efforts to sensitize citizens on the wise use of water have not been successful.

“It is regrettable that in the face of these challenges, many of us still splash our lawns and gardens and also wash our cars with expensively treated water that others queue and fight to get.

“Today, the quantity of water available to us per person has reduced to about a third compared to what pertained in 1960 and will further shrink to a sixth by 2050.

“I have come to the conclusion that we need to act decisively to implement certain proactive measures to ensure we do not mortgage the future of this country on the altar of expediency,” said Bagbin, who has been a Member of Parliament for the past 18 years.

An obviously exasperated President J.E.A Mills told BBC’s Bilikisu Labaran on Friday, June 4, 2010 on “Focus On Africa” that the criticisms against his government’s slowness in providing social amenities like water was misplaced because “people are talking as if I am carrying water and have refused to give them.”

He criticized the opposition saying, “Are they suggesting that I am moving at 10mph instead of 90mph? If water had been available when they (opposition party) were in power, we would not have been concerned with this problem today.”

According to Bagbin, a water quality monitoring and classification between 2005 and 2008 show that the water quality of some water bodies which serve as the main source of water supply for most Ghanaians has dwindled. The rivers Densu and Offin are amongst those of poor quality according to the 2008 report.

As part of measures to guarantee the quality of water bodies, government has announced its intentions to establish water quality monitoring units in all districts throughout the nation.

This, government says, will help to address some of the difficulties associated with accessing water nationwide.

 “We need no statistics to demonstrate the difficulties that many in urban communities face in accessing water on a daily basis,” said Bagbin during his Ministry’s turn at the monthly “Meet-the-Press” on Thursday, June 3, 2010.

By Sylvanus Nana Kumi

Business Guide, Ghana

West Africa Media Network for MDGs

The network is a group of journalists in West Africa who have committed themselves to promoting the livelihoods of the poor and marginalised groups especially women, children and the disable for the accelerated achievements of the MDGs.  

To learn more about how to create Global Change with a mission to provide access to water and basic sanitation to global communities living in extreme poverty.

The Cost of Living Without Water 

~ by on August 18, 2010.

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