In-depth: Running Dry: the humanitarian impact of the global water crisis
GHANA: To protect or not to protect water resources – Cape Coast learns the hard way
Water operator Ekow Addae at one of Cape Coast's water treatment sites
CAPE COAST, 8 September 2006 (IRIN) - Water shortages during the annual dry season in this city of 100,000 people have become so acute in the last six years that schools have temporarily shut down, sanitation has deteriorated and waterborne diseases such as cholera have proliferated. For an area blessed with abundant freshwater sources, it is an irony that stings.
As Ghanaian water scientists and environmentalists have warned for years, it is only when taps run dry that people start taking water supply seriously. However, it will take more than an annual awakening for Cape Coast in particular and Ghana in general to overcome its water crises.
Ghana’s water resources are stressed, as they are in much of the developing world. Increasing population and pollution, inefficient water management and people’s ambivalent attitudes have all contributed, experts said.
Monitoring is sparse and accurate statistics are unavailable, but according to Ghana’s Water Research Institute, at least seven of the country’s 16 major river systems are classified as “poor quality” as a result of pollution. There has also been widespread deforestation on the banks of rivers and lakes. This vegetation forms a protective shield around natural water bodies, without which water evaporates much more quickly. The lack of vegetation also leaves water bodies more susceptible to silting materials and pollutants, which then promote the growth of aquatic weeds and reduce the amount of water held in the system.
Photo: Justin Moresco/IRIN
|Adisadel club moderator and physics teacher John Majorm grabs one of the 6,000 tree seedlings the club has planted along streams feeding Kakum River
As global attention has focused on the provision of clean water - through mega waterworks projects or community-based solutions - some experts argue that the long-term sustainability of water resources has been overlooked.
“We have emphasised water and sanitation [provision] to the detriment of looking at the total water resource, including forestry and pollution,” said Abdul-Nashiru Mohammed, policy director for WaterAid Ghana.
About 50 percent of Ghanaians have access to clean water. The rest depend on water from lakes, streams or hand-dug wells that is often unsafe for human consumption. For this West African country of 21 million to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal for water, coverage will need to increase to about 75 percent by 2015.
The Ghana government has chosen to be more ambitious and aims to reach 85 percent by 2015, at an estimated cost of US $4.2 billion over the next 10 years. This pricetag could increase if the country’s water resources are not protected. More infrastructure will have to be built to collect, treat and distribute water. Three hours east of Cape Coast, in the capital, Accra, water from a heavily polluted reservoir costs three times more to treat than water from a cleaner site.
Photo: Justin Moresco/IRIN
|A woman plants a tree seedling during one of Green Earth Organization's tree planting exercises in the Songor Wetland, about an hour from Ghana's capital, Accra
The country should focus on bringing clean water to homes, but there also must be an equal emphasis on education, improved management of water resources and law enforcement, said Yaw Opoku-Ankomah, deputy director of the Water Research Institute,
Ghana’s Water Resources Commission was formed in 1998 with these goals in mind. It regulates water-resource use and licenses water abstraction and wastewater discharges. The commission’s impact and political muscle, however, is still uncertain.
“We need capacity building at the local level to have effective water-resource management,” said Opoku-Ankomah. “You can’t enforce the laws from Accra. You need local people, the stakeholders, involved. Let them know that they derive maximum benefit from it.”
Green Earth Clubs
In an effort to take environmental conservation to the local level, the Ghana-based Green Earth Organization has formed 175 environmental clubs in schools around the country. There are now eight of these Green Earth Clubs in Cape Coast alone.
The club at Adisadel secondary school in Cape Coast has 60 members and meets weekly to discuss environmental issues and plan activities, such as tree planting, garbage clean-ups, awareness building and park visits.
Photo: Justin Moresco/IRIN
|Cape Coast, the former capital of the Gold Coast, is a city of 100,000 people set on the Gulf of Guinea about three hours west of Ghana's capital, Accra
“I’ve learned to conserve the environment,” said club president Vincent Osam, 17. “It’s important because if we conserve what we have now it will benefit us and the next generation to come.”
One of the club’s most successful efforts, said club moderator and physics teacher John Majorm, has been the planting of more than 6,000 tree seedlings along streams feeding Kakum River, from which Cape Coast’s water-treatment plants take their water. Deforestation around the Kakum River basin has been a major problem. Farmers clear the forests near streams, where the richest soil is found. Laws are in place to deter this practice, but they rarely are enforced.
“If the trees were there, water shortages would not be as much of a problem,” said Majorm.
The club, in conjunction with the forestry service, has helped educate local farmers on the importance of protecting the ecosystem around water sources. The education, however, was too late for the Kakum reservoir. It became clogged and was not deep enough to collect sufficient water to sustain Cape Coast through its dry seasons. As a result, $2 million was spent last year in a Dutch-funded project to dredge the dam of 350,000 cubic metres of waste materials and silt.
“If the resources are not maintained,” said Kwesi Anderson of the Green Earth Organisation, “it doesn’t matter how many millions of dollars you invest in [water infrastructure].”