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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: A thirsty nation

I don’t like losing friends because I don’t make them that easily. But I’m afraid circumstances beyond my control will cause me to lose quite a number of them in the not too distant future.

I have started telling my friends that they should brace up for a sustained assault on their olfactory nerves (which control the sense of smell). If the severe water shortage I’m experiencing (along with millions of my compatriots) doesn’t end anytime soon (i.e. like right now) I’m going to stop bathing as regularly as I do (i.e. once a day).

And that’s what is going to help me lose friends. I have decided that, perhaps, I should be bathing once every three days. If I start with my new personal hygiene regime, my body is going to stink so bad some of my friends will desert me. I expect my co-workers to start re-arranging our common workspace so that they won’t have to sit so close to me.

Different people have different ways of dealing with the water supply crisis we are currently facing. For some, dealing with the problem means little or no sleep. They are those who stage all night vigils just to be able to fill up a few gallons. Those who don’t like to lose sleep over water, often report late for work or do not show up at all. Even when they do, they are too tired to contribute meaningfully to the productivity of the enterprise. These are the people who wake up and the first thing they think about is: how am I going to get water to wash my bodily nooks? They spend the best part of the morning carting water from far off distances to their homes. I fall in this category and after almost a month of waking up early to look for water, I’m tired. I can’t do it anymore and so I’ve decided I’m going to preserve the little that I have. And that means, bathing once in 72 hours. It would cost me a few friends (and companions) but I take consolation in the fact that I’m better off than millions of my fellow citizens who have endured water shortages for years.

Let’s face it, the problem is getting worse. Ten years ago, I was staying in Adenta and water was a big problem there. Add that to the traffic congestion and I decided that Adenta was not the place for me. So I moved out to a chamber-and-hall apartment in Labone, where, until recently, water used to flow constantly. After all these years, one would have expected that the water problems in places like Adenta would have been resolved. They persist. Areas which used to enjoy uninterrupted water supply are now facing the same problems people in suburbs like Teshie and Adenta have been grappling with for decades. Did we go or did we come?

Now, look at the problem from the perspective that Accra is the national capital and all that is good usually spreads out to other parts of the country from this city. So if Accra is facing these severe water shortages just think about the people of Walewale and Worawora. They’ve had the problem for so long that on the few (very rare) occasions they have water flowing through their taps they think the gods are crazy.

We have a national crisis on our hands. It’s been with us for years. But we’ve not been complaining bitterly about it because water is not like electricity. You can carry water in bottles, gallons, buckets and basins from one end of town to another. You can’t do the same for electricity. That’s why when we faced the power crisis last year, we all got so agitated and our only delight was in threatening the politicians with our thumbs. With water, you can always try to find a way to get by until you get your next gallon. With the frequency and dependability of supply getting scantier by the minute, I think it’s time we started threatening the politicians with our thumbs again. Water is life, remember? And the longer they deprive us of water the more I get the impression that they are telling to go and die off.

Last week, the minister for water resources, works and housing, Boniface Abubakr Siddique, unveiled a new ‘national water policy’. I wasn’t impressed. We need water and he’s giving us a policy? Is it the policy we are going to drink? Can we cook or bath with it?

At this moment, I thought what we needed was an emergency action plan – not another policy document, which – if history is anything to go by – will at best be used to tell us to shut up when we complain. Try asking any politician about when we are going to start enjoying regular (not to mention uninterrupted) water supply. The most likely response will be: “We’ve launched a new national water policy and so we are doing something about it.” In other words: “Shut the hell up. You will get water when it comes to you.”

I don’t think Alhaji Siddique and his fellow ministers as well as the other ‘big men’ in this country have water problems. I’m very sure they all have water storage tanks in their homes and they get them filled as and when they want. They have too much of it they can even afford to cultivate lawns and wash their cars. If only I can get some of that water, I wouldn’t be thinking of bathing once in three days. If some of my compatriots could get that some of that water, they would be saved from a lot of diseases. I think the government has to see this water problem from the angle of “the urgency of the now” (to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and recently, Barack Obama). It might be unfair to suggest that those who are supposed to be seeing to it that we get water don’t care because they don’t have to struggle for it. But with the problem worsening by the day, it increasingly seems like they don’t give a rat’s behind about us. Either that or they are just plain incompetent. I don’t know.

What I know is that we need an emergency action plan to resolve this crisis within the shortest possible time. Solve the water problem and a whole lot of other problems will be resolved. Lack of clean drinking water translates into diseases, which deprive the nation of useful man-hours and place a strain on the health system. Solve the water problem and our children will go to their classrooms, refreshed and ready to learn – not to doze off because they spend the early hours of the day carting water from one end of town to another.

Government should approach the water crisis like it did the energy crisis. We don’t need a policy. Not again. Just go right ahead and do what has to be done. I’ve already heard excuses bordering on the usual “lack of funds” chorus. We have money. A lot of it. If we managed to raise money to stage a football tournament I don’t see why we can’t raise the funds required to provide our people with the most basic of life’s necessities.

I’ve also heard a lot of talk about management contracts between the Ghana Water Company and some foreign firm. Look, the man on the street doesn’t care about who produces the water he drinks. I don’t care if the water flowing through my tap is coming from a colony of monkeys. The most important thing is that the water should flow. Give us the water first and we’d talk about who’s producing it later.