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Opinions of Friday, 22 January 2010

Columnist: Adjomah, Xorse Joshua

Overcoming The Challenges Of Water Resource Management

....And Utilization In Ghana

Water is very necessary both for sustainable human development and for the healthy functioning of the planet’s ecosystem. The 21st century is witnessing the emergence of many approaches to the management and utilization of water resources. This makes it necessary to reflect upon the long term viability of some of the approaches advocated and their challenges.

Water resource management has a long history going back to attempts in prehistoric times, in response to seasonal changes in water availability. Until then it was all about using water just to satisfy their needs without taking into consideration how it can be sustainably managed and utilized. Water resources management was therefore crucial during the transition from hunting-gathering to farming and became more important with the emergence of cities, industrial and administrative centers. The issue of water management has never been solely a matter of technical intervention, but was rather embedded within cultural, social and religious arrangement of great diversity. Water resources management was therefore important to ensure water supply to places where it was needed as well as getting rid of excess and polluted water. Not only was it involved in protecting fields, cities and sacred places but also in catering for domestic, agricultural and industrial needs.

Water resources in Ghana can be basically categorized into fresh water, marine water, ground water, estuarine and lacustrine. These include rivers, lakes (natural/man-made), lagoons and the sea (gulf of guinea). The country’s main river is the Volta, which is located almost in the center of the country and formed by a confluence of the Black and White Volta Rivers and enters the Gulf of Guinea at Ada. Beginning in 1961, the construction of the Akosombo dam formed the Lake Volta which is one of the largest manmade lakes in the world with an area of 8,482 sq. km. Ghana’s other significant river systems include the Densu, Pra and Ankobra (they all empty into the gulf of guinea). The Ashanti region has the only natural lake in Ghana - Bosumtwi. These water resources basically serve domestic, agricultural, social, economic and industrial needs in Ghana.

Ghana has ratified so many international agreements to protect its biodiversity endangered species, tropical forest, ozone layer and wetlands (including all natural water resources). Ghana was supposed to have an elaborate and concrete national programme on water resources management and its utilization based upon coherent institutional structures and legislation. This led to the establishment of Ministry of water resources, works & housing, Ministry of Fisheries, Water Research Institute (WRI), Water Resource Commission (WRC), Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), Volta River Authority (VRA), Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other governmental and non-governmental agencies that are directly or indirectly related with water resources and its usage e.g. Ghana Ports & Harbors (GHAPOHA),Ghana Navy, Water Aid, Geological Survey department etc. Some of these have been mandated by legislative instruments to perform certain functions; WRI has been mandated for instance to research into water and its related resources. They are also to provide scientific information towards utilization and management of water resources of Ghana in support of socio economic advancement, especially in the agricultural, health, industry, energy, transportation, education, environment, and tourism sectors. CWSA was created by the act of parliament, Act 564 in December 1998 to facilitate the provision of safe drinking water and related sanitation services to rural communities. GWCL supplies water to urban centers (Aqua Vitens & Rand Limited-AVRL a private sector operator-PSO has taken over the management of the utility provider due to alleged mismanagement and poor services to consumers). VRA produces and distributes hydro electric power (HEP) from its Akosombo and Kpong plants. Its Kpong plant also serves as a source of water to some parts of Accra and Tema. These bodies are to perform their functions based on the natural basins of the water resources rather than political, administrative boundaries and making sure it meets local and economic needs.

In recent years, the management and utilization of water resources have been characterized by so many challenges ranging from political, economical, socio-cultural and ecological. Some of these challenges have erased gains made by the nation in its quest to manage and utilize its water resources sustainably and have led to water problems such as scarcity, shortage, pollution, disaster in households, agriculture and industry. The Government tends to influence the management and utility of water resources at the expense of its impact on its ecology by satisfying the needs of the people in the short term. This is to make them popular, but then in the long run most of these policies, programs and decisions rather tend to increase the government’s expenditure and to a large extent lead to more debts Government’s financial support to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) involved in the management and utilization of water resources has declined over the years. For instance in the 2004 fiscal year, government’s budgetary allocation to CWSA was ¢12.5bn out of the ¢18bn requested, in 2005, ¢5.7bn was approved out of ¢13.6bn, while only ¢4.7bn was approved out of the ¢11.0bn requested for the 2006 fiscal year. This is also occurring in other organizations and agencies, thus rendering them handicapped. There is also lack of baseline data and monitoring of Ghana’s water resources by MDAs due to inadequate funds, trained personnel, bureaucracy and harsh environment.

Most of our planners and managers also attempt to solve complex, “wicked” problems by using one dimensional solution, even though natural resources are not static but dynamic. This is due to inability of managers and leaders to think across disciplinary boundaries and lack of inter disciplinary training. For instance a geologist and a hydrologist should have be trained in other areas/sectors which are not directly related their area of specialty. Furthermore, the managers of our water resources tend to emulate or copy the western world in their approach and methodology in the management of our resources forgetting that we differ in term of hydrology, ecology etc. thus water shortage for instance in Ghana can be solved by rainfall harvesting but not in other countries. This does not come through western models of institutional reforms e.g. The case of Aqua Vitens & Rand Ltd. in Ghana (unfortunately rainfall harvesting is not given the needed attention it deserves) Lack of local/community participation in the management of water resources. Management of water resources is more like a “top down” model, where policies and programmes are formulated by the central government and relayed down to the local people without incorporating their views and ideas. The sustainability of the Korle lagoon restoration project and the Alajo Drain especially will depend to a large extent on how the “local” people are “schooled” on the importance of these projects and their role as stake holders in its sustainability. Most of Ghana’s water resources in recent times have come under the threat of pollution from industrial, solid, liquid and chemical wastes. Underground and surface water intrusions are contaminated by very harmful chemicals. This has affected water quality, fishing and other uses of water resources.

In recent years, the development of water resources has posed socio-cultural challenges to various governments from the colonial days through to the days of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and to the present Atta Mills government. This has led to the displacement of indigenous people in terms of their occupation and location. For instance, the construction of the Akosombo and Kpong dam to generate H.E.P, Keta sea defense project, Ada sea defense project (in the pipeline),Bui Dam(in progress),oil exploration at cape three point by Cosmos Energy/GNPC & co are living testimonies to this truth.

Finally the development of some water resources has also led to some health problems especially for people living in and around those projects/water resources. These include the outbreak of filariasis, malaria, diarrhea, bilharzias and onchocerciasis (river blindness). Communities living in and around the lower Volta precisely in the Volta and eastern region are living testimonies to the health problems associated with the development of the Volta River.

These challenges to Ghana’s management and utilization of its water resources are mostly caused by the activities of Man and as such can be solved totally or reduced to an appreciable level by Man if the following are considered. The description of conditions, trend, spatial location and variability of water resources is a fundamental tool for its proper management and utilization. Therefore there is the need to create a detailed national natural data bank and inventory which will be made available to all MDAs and NGOs for the proper planning. The provision of this information will form a first step in understanding the conditions of our water resources on which sound judgment can be made. It can also be used to monitor the state of our water basins through time and will also form a feedback loop to the decision making process. A geographic information system (GIS) can be developed from this data to be owned and operated by MDAs involved in the management and utilization of our water resources.

All polluted water whether by households, industry and agriculture returns back in one way or the other to the environment and may cause damage to human health and the environment. There is the need for increased monitoring by the necessary agencies to ensure that industries abide by the laid down environmental regulations and ensure prudent punishment for offenders. Floods can also not be eradicated but managed since it is a common feature and their co existence poses a potent threat to the environment. Flood hazard mapping and forecasting should be considered to quell the incidence of flood in Ghana.

There is the need for the use of multi disciplinary approach in the training and capacity building of planners and managers of water resources. This will ensure that projects adapt to local, regional needs and flexible enough to cope with unforeseen problems. Planners and managers must also ensure that community participation is incorporated in the planning and implementation stage of the project cycle. MDAs concerned with water and its management and utilization must also establish extension services unit within their organization to ensure that people in and around project areas or water resources are well informed and educated on their role as stakeholders in the proper management and utilization of water resources. Government should allocate more funds to MDAs and show more support to NGOs involved in water resources management to ensure that they are able to carry out their mandated functions. For instance the EPA cannot carry out any proper Environment Impact Assessment on any project that will adversely affect the life of any water resources if they are cash trapped. Government should have the political will to implement certain policies and programmes to ensure that our water resources are well managed and utilized especially in areas liable to flood.

Alternative livelihood activities should be provided to people who have been displaced as a result of water resource projects. This will prevent situations whereby people displaced occupationally tend to indulge in activities that will threaten the success of those projects e.g. the continued felling of trees along water bodies and the recent reported case of continued fishing at Cape three point (where oil exploration is going on), tilapia fishing along the lower Volta lake/river especially is becoming a threat to the ecology of the lake/river. Also the continued fishing near the turbines of the hydro electric power plant of the Akosombo dam is very dangerous.

There is also the need to coordinate the activities of all stakeholders involved in the management and utilization of water resources to prevent the duplication of functions and reduce government’s expenditure. For instance gender issues should be incorporated into policies, programmes and projects in managing the country’s water resources since they are the basic collectors and utilizers of water in Ghana.

Water is essential to life, community welfare and functioning of the nation’s economy and has become completely interrelated with all other activities in human’s sphere of life. Therefore for the over 2 billion people that are affected by water shortage in over 4o countries to be minimized, there is the need for water resources to be well managed and utilized properly and sustainably for future generations. Two-third(2/3) of Ghana’s landmass endowed with natural water resources can only be referred to as such if only we as country men and women do all we can to make sure they meet all our needs and that of future generations.