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Opinions of Sunday, 27 May 2018

Columnist: Kaakyire Yaw Obiri Yeboah

Sachet water in the sun, a social menace, but who is to say?

This is the second time tackling this social menace. I think the first one fell on death ears for which I firmly believe that a little noise can erect an impotent ear. I am passionate about this subject because am passionate about the health and well-being of my people. Without good health, there is no productivity and where would our present and coming generations be without a vibrant, robust productive activities in the country?

Water is medicine; and rightly said. No one can underestimate the indispensable value of water to the human body. People may have taste and preference with food but not the same with water. You cannot choose to like water. Water is essential for everyday living thing. Next to air, it is most necessary to sustaining man’s life. Without food, man can live for more than a month. Without water or water-containing food or drink, he would die in a week. If the body losses more than 20% of it’s normal water content, he would die a painful death.

This is so because water is vital for keeping the body at a normal temperature as well as keeping the bloodstream liquid enough to flow through the blood vessels. Again, water flushes out waste in the body. Toxins and bodily waste are dissolved in water and carried to the kidneys to be eliminated from the body. These are just a few of the dozens of essence of water to life.

Indeed the priceless value of water dates into centuries. Throughout man’s history, there have been a violent quest for water. Wars has been fought for control of it. Men have killed one another over muddy oasis in a desert. Towns, cities, and empires have risen where water was plentiful.

Some were abandoned where water supply failed. Men have made idols to water and worshipped them as gods. They have been prayed to by means of great rituals and sacrifices when water was scared and given the credit when water was found. Indeed that’s the power of water!

Over the last few years, crisis in the urban water sector in Ghana has resulted in increased use of sachet water, which is water bagged in small polythene bags, usually of 500 ml. Sachet water business has become one of the most lucrative in the country with thousands as producers and millions as vendors providing both large and medium scale enterprises to them. In fact, in 2016, Mr. James Lartey of the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) revealed that, there are 1,238 registered companies producing sachet water in Ghana. Obviously the numbers do not stand the same today.

Mr. Stanley Martey of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) reported in the same year (2016) that 43% urban dwellers and 11.8% of rural folks rely on sachet water while 23% of Ghanaians resort to public tap or stand pipe for water. The report did not end there; “the most notable change in access to drinking water sources between 2008 and 2014 is in the increase in households using sachet water from 8% to 29% in the past years”, the report said. From the report, it is transparent how sachet water consumption confidently overrides the government mandated agency to provide water into households in the country.

Mr. Martey made another startling remarks about the conditions under which sachet waters are produced: “more than 90% of sachet water producers use water from GWCL………They rather devalue the water because if you look at the conditions under which some of these sachet water producers provide their water, it is rather pathetic. The conditions under which they work are terrible and even with the reputable companies, all they do is to filter. It is a matter of packaging but it doesn’t mean they add any value to the water they ate producing”.

Do you think the situation has changed now? I leave it to your conscience but obviously not the one you can confidently say yes. The sources of the water and their treatments is a huge topic to discuss but let me focus on its storage for now.

The sachet water business has grown in every country since it’s inception in 1994. Like a craft, it’s expectation is to become perfect and sharpens with time but only when strict conformity to standards are in use and maintained. With such a booming business and the number involved both producers and buyers, one would have thought that there would be proper, strict and punitive regulations to check the purity and storage of these productions, yet it leaves much to be desired.

When one buys a sachet water and looks on the pack, it is boldly written something like, “do not store in the sun” or “do not expose to direct sunlight “. In fact these words are not for fun. One vendor said she taught is a design to make it attractive to buyers way out from its intended purpose.

Many scientific studies conducted around the world show a direct link between water exposed to sunlight and cancer when the heat is beyond room temperature. The heat melts some of the substances used in making the polythene bag into the water making it contaminated. The polythene bags are made of synthetic petroleum; and for that matter weather-sensitive.

The properties in these synthetic petroleum materials melt into the water after exposure to sun rays or heat. Thus carcinogenic materials then enters the water making it unsafe for drinking. The poly bags also develops micro organisms and germs which enters the water through the deterioration of the polythene bags.

If water does not come from a safe source or is not stored correctly, it can cause parasite infections, as well as cholera, life-threatening diarrhea, typhoid, hepatitis, and other infections. It is reported in 2015 that “unsafe drinking water was one of the causes of an estimated 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal diseases every year”.

The FDA and the Ghana Standard Authority must wake and sit up since it is their core mandate to ensure that anything edible and drinkable that enters the market meets the highest standard that it deserves. In fact, these are regulatory bodies set by an act of parliament and taken care by the tax payer. Nothing but the best is expected from them. I will buy the FDA slogan any day at any rate: ‘Working For Public Health And Safety’. But is the public safe under this menace of sachet water storage?

The producing companies must also stop providing cubicles for the retailers which they may not get any suitable place to keep it unless in the open for the sun and rain to beat it.

The bottom line is that water is a medicine and every medicine must be stored in a cool dry place. With our water bodies being contaminated by man made activities every day, one would have thought the upsurge of sachet water to be an indispensable alternative. However, it seems all- producer, vendor, regulator, consumer – have been infected with the menace of storing it in the open.

My question: Who Is To Say? ASem Sebe!