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Opinions of Sunday, 2 October 2011

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

From Tema to the president.

By George Sydney Abugri

Running a republic is apparently far much more of an excruciating tooth ache than we ever reckoned, Jomo: It gets even trickier if you are the Chief Executive Officer of a state where the level of civic education has reduced general understanding of the responsibilities of the president to cover everything from the running of water pumping machines to the distribution of wages among the national work force.

On second thought, why not? Only one man ever gets elected president, so when the chips are down, where does the darned buck stop if not with him?

So it came to pass that while he was away in New York this week, the popularity ratings of President Mills and his administration appeared to take quite a dip among voters in Tema and scores of communities to the east of Accra, in a way only his own honest intelligence operatives will confirm.

It had something to do with that most precious fluid of life called water. Two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen make up a molecule of water. That is what the chemistry teacher taught us at school. She did not need to add that no one can create a molecule of water let alone a drop of it, because the fact was only too apparent to us from constant experience:

“Going to Congo” was a common expression on boarding schools campuses across the northern Savanna in 1960s. You only went to Congo if there was an acute shortage of water on the campus or the extreme chill of the harmattan at dawn made it impossible to take an ice-cold bath before class lessons.

Going to Congo meant washing the head, arms and legs. You then combed your hair, smeared your skin with shea butter and came out all groomed, fresh looking and spruced up like the smartest dude in town, while in fact, you were all smelly armpits and sweaty skin under the outer garments.

With our mighty republic sometimes appearing to be marching backwards into Time and the clock of progress appearing to be ticking anti-clockwise, it is not surprising that in the year 2011, residents of Tema and scores of communities found themselves back in the1960s and trekking one and all to the Congo.

President Mills told the UN General Assembly how back at home, his government was shifting focus from “national security” to “human security” and went on to tell the Assembly how his administration is seeking to develop and harness the nation’s natural resources including water resources, for development.

If all that sounds unbelievably familiar, it is probably because you heard National Security Chief Colonel Gbevlo-Lartey stating not long ago, that the concept of national security was being shifted to human security. As a result, he added, the national security establishment was now concerned with issues like water supply, because problems relating to this most indispensable fluid of our existence could disrupt life and lead to instability in communities and affect national security. “With the right investment in infrastructure, institutions and technology by both the international community and nation states, we can unleash the potential of agriculture, harness the multiple benefits of water resources, expand access to modern energy, step up the fight against diseases and conserve tropical forest.” Those were the president’s precise words. Never mind that his was more of a general statement of obvious fact than a definite policy-related statement of intent on the part of his government. We might also dispense with any examination of the other economic sectors he mentioned and concentrate on his pledge to invest in the harnessing of the multiple benefits of water: How uncanny that even while he spoke, the port and industrial city of Tema was going through hell with a capital “H’ and four exclamation marks on account of an acute shortage of water. For nearly two weeks, the vast expanse of the Tema metropolis, Kpone, Spintex Road, Batsonna, Lashibi, Ashaiman, Lebanon, Zenu, Gbetsile, Sakumono, Batsonaa, Michelle Camp and scores of other communities remained without water supply. When it began, residents bearing the now too familiar yellow plastic cans could be seen combing neighbourhoods from dawn till dusk like lost refugees in search of water. Soon there was not a drop of water anywhere and the real nightmare began: For more than a week, residents had no water to flush waste from water closets or wash used cook ware and utensils. Wash rooms and toilets in offices and homes stank like grave yards for the long-decayed carcasses of marine creatures of unknown species. You need to note that Tema is not just any city: it is home to one of West Africa’s largest sea ports and to more than 75 percent of the country's manufacturing industries. In the wake of the water shortage, restaurants, hotels and manufacturing industries which rely mainly on water for their operations, including two of the nation's largest food and beverage producers, the Coca Cola Company and UNILEVER, stopped or reduced production and sent their workers home. It got to a point where people bought bags of sachet water and went through the very labourious and cumbersome process of empting water from the palm-sized sachets into buckets to bath and wash linen!

You can imagine what the situation was like in hospital wards. In the absence of water supply to surgical theaters, some hospitals deferred surgical operations. Potential patrons were suspicious of the few operators of traditional eateries who sold cooked food. Where the hell did they get the water from to cook food when there was literally not a drop anywhere? It was speculated that water tanker drivers were filling up from contaminated sources for sale to the eateries: That is why water shortages on such a scale in highly populated urban communities is the prefect recipe for cholera epidemics and outbreaks of other virulent pestilences. Here is the puzzle to beat all puzzles, Jomo: While the crisis raged on day after day, the Water Company did not seem to think the public deserved an explanation and an alternative means of supply. In the absence of any explanation, thirsty and sweaty residents traded speculations: A malfunctioning water pumping machine, a broken pipeline, the laying of new pipelines, cuts in electricity supply to water pumping stations, political sabotage etc. These things are far less complicated than our silent persecutors make them appear to be: So much money is spent on so many projects of dubious priority status, so you wonder why building water storage tanks at strategic locations in the metropolises to supply water in emergency situations should be a big deal.

Nah, Jomo, this rank nonsense cannot go on. If it will take a protest march by consumers to get it done, let us do it with or without the help of Kofi Kapito and his band of consumer protection activists.

The company must be compelled by the Public Utilities Regulatory Services Commission to build community water storage tanks immediately and serve consumers by water tankers during such emergencies! Website: www.sydneyabugri.com Email: georgeabu@hotmail.com