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03/22/2011

Dry taps and lost hope: Water politics in Ghana

Dry taps 009 EDITEDIn some parts of Accra, access to water is spotty—a reality for millions around the world, and the focus of World Water Day, celebrated today. Photo by Jenny Vaughan. 

By Angela Johnston

My heart sinks as I turn the kitchen tap at my home in Accra. It shrieks and nothing comes out.  It’s empty. 

For two weeks, my housemates and I have been living without water. We survive on buckets our landlady brings us, and I mentally calculate the amount of water needed for simple tasks.

Shower: one bucket.

Washing my hands: one yogurt container.

Laundry: well, that’s out of the question for now.

I have never obsessed so much about water. Where it comes from. Where I’m going to get it. How much is left. How long it might be until we have it again. These concerns will be on the minds of many today, World Water Day.  

Still, many cope with water problems far worse than mine in Accra. Water is rationed here, so your tank can overflow one day, and be dry the next.

I recently travelled to a Madina, a community in Accraand met Abdul Raheem Ninche, who says he has not had regular running water for more than a decade.

He installed a well in his yard to cope. He cleans with this water, but cannot do much else. 

He spends about five cedis a day ($3 CAD) on clean drinking and bathing water for the nine people in his home, a steep cost for him.

Ninche and his neighbours complained to the water company, but he says nothing came of it. Now, he’s losing hope his situation will improve. 

"We are neglected," he tells me. "I feel people at the top don’t care about people here.”

Water politics are complicated in Madina.

A local civic coalition has accused the water operator, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL), of running a new water line through Madina but not servicing the area, a claim AVRL denies.

AVRL says some residents illegally siphon water to sell to their neighbours, an accusation the civic coalition says is untrue.

Stanley Martey, a communications manager with the company, says Madina is at the end of a couple of water distribution lines, and rapid development in the area has compounded the problem.

“Development has been so, so fast that almost all the water is consumed before it gets to Madina,” Martey says.

He points to long-term plans to improve distribution, like sinking more boreholes and a multi-million dollar water treatment plant expansion plan. But a big-ticket item like that could take years.

Until then, there are no easy answers for people living in Madina.

“Most of us who work with the water company also live in the community and we also face the same challenges, so we know how bad the situation is,” says Martey. “So we are sorry, but under the circumstances, there is nothing we can do.”

Some are resourceful, making the best out of a bad situation. Eunice Lardjerh Dowuona has been buying water from tankers and selling it in the area for 20 years.

Her livelihood is based on the shortage, but she says she wants change.

“I’m benefitting, but if the tap is on, I like it,” she says.

Back at my house, the water eventually comes back on after a two-week dry spell. 

But we know it could run out again at any moment. Now, my housemates and I fill extra buckets when the water is flowing—just in case. We do small loads of laundry as frequently as possible. We monitor the water tank fanatically.

It’s a state of constant planning, but still, I realize we’re lucky water flows at all.

Listen to a radio report about access to water in Accra by Citi FM's Umaru Sanda Amadu and jhr's Angela Johnston:  Access to water in Accra

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