Last weekend, I found myself standing in a backyard queue, down the road from my house, along with several other Ghanaians in need.
Mild panic set in, as the midday sun bore down on my shoulders, showing no immediate signs of mercy. There was still one more body ahead of me, getting his fill of all the good stuff that this private proprietor could dispense. We were all there, desperate for one thing: water.
I needed a fix – bad. I didn’t think I would make it to evening otherwise.
It’s times like these that remind me where I am. It’s possible to forget, at times, because my routine is essentially the same on this side of the globe. I get up. I make something resembling a breakfast, brush my teeth, wash my face, take a shower, get dressed, head to work, leave, enjoy some activities that I’ve deemed amusing or at least essential to my greater well-being, sleep – on a good night, or not sleep – on an even better night, wake up, repeat.
As much as I say I hate routine, I have to admit, my ongoing relationship with it gives me much comfort in this foreign environment. So nothing is a more disturbing wake-up call then the proverbial wrench in said routine. Today, as I turned the kitchen tap, one such wrench appeared – when water did not.
Unfortunately, this is something I’ll have to get used to.
More than nine million people in Ghana have no access to safe drinking water. In Accra, it’s estimated that only one quarter of the residents receive a continuous water supply and the situation is even bleaker in urban slums, which are often not even legally recognized as communities by municipal authorities.
Squatters in these forgotten pockets of society, usually have no access to water facilities of any kind. In rural areas, people are often forced to walk painfully long distances, with cumbersome and heavy jugs and buckets, seeking water for their domestic needs. Considering water, a basic human need, constitutes about 70 percent of the human body and upon reflection, about 70 percent of my morning routine alone, these numbers are upsetting.
They’re also quite surprising because Ghana is a country full of water resources, with the Volta river system basin covering a majority of the nation. So why are Ghanaians crying over every drop of spilt water?
According to Jesse Kofi Danku, Head of Programs at international NGO Water Aid, there are several reasons for recent water shortages, aside from seasonal climate changes.
“First of all, there’s been a population explosion within the last few years,” says Danku. “The (water) distribution system that was created in urban centres like Accra, wasn’t designed to deal with this demand, which has affected the pressure.”
Ghana’s water system has two sectors, the community water sector, which deals with rural communities and small towns, and the urban water sector, which is comprised of the about 87 cities and towns where the state water utility, Ghana Water Company Limited owns and manages water supply. Since the 1990s, private distributors have also gotten in on the hydraulic hawking, with private citizens, like the one filling my 25-litre jug, buying their own tanks and selling water, often at inflated prices. This practice, says Danku, along with illegal tapping, also contributes to the water shortages.
“There are instances where private tank operators use high-powered pumps to divert water flow, which creates artificial shortages, thereby increasing their profits.”
Yet, after walking past a small river, where citizens were scooping up drinking water, a few feet away from a man bathing and another defecating, paying $0.45 CAD for two full jugs of liquid gold, seemed a far better alternative.
Many of Ghana’s problems with preventative diseases, such as polio and guinea worm (a disease, of which, Ghana ranks second worldwide, behind Sudan) could be prevented with provisions of safe water and the simple promotion of safe hygiene practices.
It’s a frustrating scenario. It left a really bad taste in my mouth–one that I wish I could simply wash away with a cold glass of water, if I only had one to spare.