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Feature Article of Sunday, 23 September 2012

Columnist: Darko, Charles Addo

Waiting For Water In Accra-Old Fadama

…Government, City Authorities Remain Adamant

Worse forms of Human Right Abuses, Denial of Basic Social Amenities, High Expenses on Water, Exposure of Residents to Communicable Diseases…

Special Investigations by: Charles Addo Darko (Ghana)

From London to Addis Ababa to Accra, water is a basic necessity of life. It is a commonly accepted fact, but unfortunately, access to water is not an equally enjoyed right in Ghana.

In Ghana today, the lack of portable water is a severe public health concern, and contributes to 70 percent of the country’s diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, according to OCED’s 2008 African Economic Outlook report.

In Accra today (Ghana’s capital), only a quarter of the residents receive a continuous supply of clean water. Consequently, communities without access to water are forced to use unhygienic sources or have to pay high prices for safe supplied by private companies.

One such community is Old Fadama, an area located in the centre of Accra and home to estimated 79,000 people. Sadly, community members say they are denied basic social amenities such as portable water, public toilet and other developmental projects because City Authorities such as Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) maintain that residents are illegally squatting on the land.

As part of my enthusiasm as a Journalist, joining forces with comrades elsewhere in fight against Human Right Abuses, I toured Old Fadama to assess access to water in the community. I made my way through narrow pathways, stepping over tangles of makeshift water pipes and dirty open gutters. Kia Trucks drove by, delivering hundreds of water sachets. Almost every person stockpiled their water jerry cans, buckets or storage containers, unsure of when taps would flow, or whether they could afford to pay private companies for more.

The water situation in Old Fadama has not improved over the years, largely due to residents efforts some community members who can afford it have paid the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to connect pipe lines to their houses at a very high cost. Those who cannot afford such arrangements resort to using contaminated water sources or sachet water for bathing, cooking and drinking.

Many people who do not have money also engage in illegal connection of pipe lines to tap water from other people’s lines or even close pipes that belong to GWCL. For people who engage in illegal connection do not really care about where they lay their pipes to tap water Wandering around the community to ascertain the situation came across this bare-chested gentleman who gave his name as Albert. He pointed to an old structure and said “that is my father’s house, I was born here and I have lived here till now”. Albert is 24 years of age and holds Professional Diploma and other two certificates in Information Technology.

To him he does not in turn to go back to the northern part of Ghana where he haul from but once he gets job he will move out of the community to rent at East Legon, where it is believed to be home for many politicians and high profile personalities in Ghana, where portable drinking water will not stop flowing for any reason.

In Albert’s hands is a short shovel, trying to distil a gutter full of pipe lines despite the stench coming from the gutter. Albert tells me the number of pipe lines buried in the gutter is more than those I see.

In an interview with another resident of Old Fadama, Sulleman Yussif observed “Is very difficult to get water here since all of us are not able to pay for water connection to our homes, so we buy sachet water for almost everything we do here which is expensive for most of us but there is nothing we can do”. Even the few residents who do have running water say the GWCL often lock their taps unannounced, sometimes for two weeks or more.

Madam Memunatu Abdellah is a 38 year-old, a food vendor and mother of three. Both her business and livelihood depends on water. Whenever there is shortage of water, she only has two options; close down her business or buy water from private water vendors which she says can not guarantee the safety and purity of it.

“As you can see I need a lot of water to run my business and when there is shortage, I buy a bucket of water as high as GHC 1”. She stated, adding that it’s a huge expense for her because she sells a plate of rice at GHC 1.

Some business-savvy residents like Alhassan Yakubu run private water distribution business and bathhouse in Old Fadama, ensuring the people have access to clean water. Yakubu has been running the business for the past five years, since he first moved to Accra from northern Ghana in search of better job opportunities.Yakubu has long-standing arrangements with the GWCL and does not tap his water illegally.

However, he indicated that water flow is inconsistent. This means that Yakubu must buy water privately, which he says runs him GHC 80 – GHC 100 to fill his concrete reservoir, whiles he can outmost sell a bucket of water for GHC 0.50. Even at this seemingly low price his water does not always sell, many people in Old Fadama cannot afford to patronize business like Yakubu’s.

Responding to this issue is Mr. Stanley Martey, Public Relations Officer for Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL), he acknowledges that they are aware many people connect and tap water illegally in Old Fadama. The company however connects paying residents with water to dissuade many from making more illegal connections.

However, AVRL is under a management contract with GWCL, and it operates in line with government orders. Mr. Martey affirmed, “If government decides to clear Old Fadama today we shall move in, remove all our pipe lines and seal the main lines.”

In the law books of Ghana, chapter five of the 1992 constitution of Ghana quotes “A person shall not be discriminated against any groups of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion and creed, social or economic status”.

This means that over 79,000 and even more people’s Fundamental Human Rights to basic social amenities like water have been trampled upon by City Authorities and government of Ghana, and yet still remain adamant to the situation at Old Fadama, in the centre of so-called Millennium City in Ghana’s capital Accra.

“Life is so uncomfortable and deadly here, we are citizens of this country and we deserve better living conditions” says Mr. Charles Akuffo, a middle-aged businessman and youth leader of Old Fadama, referring to water situation.

Although the Government of Ghana and City Authorities such as (AMA) have turned their back on the community, Mr. Akuffo believes the best way to solve Old Fadama’s numerous problems is by using their democratic right to vote to fight for their basic rights, holding government and leaders accountable.

Mr. Akuffo finally stated “The government only remembers us when it is time for election campaigns, seeking our mandates. But December 2012 election is just around the corner and we are watching and waiting for the politicians.”

Meanwhile, Nana Oye Lithur is a renowned Human Right Lawyer in Ghana, in an interview with this reporter commented “laws are meant to protect humanity and it is the responsibility of the state to provide security and basic services like water to every citizens of this country. This means that if Government and City Authorities claim they are squatters then the state must provide alternative location for them to settle there”.

She believes that force ejection is not the solution, “if the Government and City Authorities eject residents forcibly it means they do not respect the constitution of the land and they will be taking us to the era of darkness, where every body’s right will be trashed. Every listening government will provide alternative solutions to the people of Old Fadama and not force ejection”.

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