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Opinions of Sunday, 20 March 2011

Columnist: Acheampong, Steve Y.

Water Resources Management and Water Supply in Ghana

Water Resources Management and Water Supply in Ghana – A Paradigm Shift

Introduction

As the world’s population continues to grow, water resources are under siege. According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people today do not have access to safe drinking water. With increasing demand and finite resources, better management of our water resources is urgent if we are to avoid an even more severe national crisis. After fifty four years of independence we are still thirsty as a nation. Water shortage in Accra and other urban areas has become the norm and not the exception. Water problems are not confined to the urban centers only; the rural areas are also feeling the pinch and there is a little doubt that the future will bring increasing stresses on water supplies across the nation. If after 54 years of independence we still cannot manage our own water supplies and have to rely on outsiders to do it for us then God save Ghana.

We have contracted with South Korea to put up about 200,000 houses, a majority of which are going to be in the Accra-Tema area and other regional capitals. What efforts are being made to expand the water treatment facilities in Kpong, Weija and the other capital cities to meet the potential increase in population in those areas? The Weija and Kpong facilities were constructed in the 1970s to meet the demands of about a million people in the Accra-Tema metropolitan area. The population of the area has since increased about four-fold but there has not been a corresponding expansion of the treatment facilities to meet the increased population so there is no wonder water is rationed in Accra on a daily or weekly basis. All the governments have played politics and lip-service with water distribution and the solution for most of the leaders and “big men” in the society to the water crisis is to purchase and install big “poly tanks” in their homes. Solution indeed!

Paradigm Shift

Our water resources and water supply policies have been along the lines of the one inherited from the colonial administration and these have failed to adequately meet our national demands over the years and it is time now to have a paradigm shift from the status quo. In 2003, during the debates on “the privatization of the public water system”, I stated in an article entitled “Privatization of the water supply – My two cents” that privatization was not the solution. While many readers agreed with me, a few others disagreed and I had a couple of them writing to me sometimes bothering on insults (typical Ghanaian practice) but what do we see now? At that time I enumerated some of the problems in our water supply system as:

1. lack of vision and integrated comprehensive planning on the part of city and utility planning managers to meet increasing demand

2. mass corruption in the award of contracts and procurement of materials

3. lack of fiscal discipline and proper management in the water supply sector

4. lack of maintenance culture in our system,

5. water wastage from leaking pipes

6. unauthorized tapping of water from transmission pipes in certain neighborhoods

7. poor bill paying culture

8. poor address system that makes it very difficult for bill collection from defaulters.

I believe most of these problems still exist but it is about time that utility executives, scientists, engineers, environmentalists, business leaders, farmers and politicians began discussing how to cope with the inevitable shortages of fresh water supplies nationwide. We must have a frank discussion for a solution devoid of any politics and insults. I believe the current system whereby public water supply and management are centralized in Accra should be done away with and decentralization of the public water supply system be embarked on.

The Ghana Water Company currently operates about 82 urban water supply systems covering approximately 8 million or 40% of the country’s population. The water supplies for the remaining 60% of the population are by default catered for by the Ghana Community Water and Sanitation Agency. Water resources issues like politics, are local in nature, and so to address the issue of sustainable water supply in the various communities in the country, it is imperative that the communities are given the power to control the planning, development, and management of the water resources in their areas to meet their daily demands. A new direction in our water resources management and water supply policy is sorely needed. There should be a paradigm shift from the centralized way of water resources management to a decentralized one involving the municipalities, cities, districts and localities.

Decentralization of Water Resources and Water Supply Management

Based on my personal observation, I would like to make these suggestions which are by no means exhaustive and can be modified, changed or discarded. I suggest that the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing continue to formulate the water policy of the country with inputs from the various municipalities, cities, districts, and localities. The Water Resources Commission will continue to be the repository for all water resources information while the Hydrological Division of the Architectural Engineering Services Limited (AESL) and the Water Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) continue with research and gathering of national water resources information.

The various municipalities and cities should be given autonomy to form their own water supply companies and board of directors to oversee the running of their water systems. For example, Accra and Tema municipalities should form their own board of directors who will have the power to hire, and fire the General Manager of the Accra-Tema Municipal Water System which will supply water from the Kpong and Weija reservoirs to the areas they currently serve. The General Manager will have his/her staff comprising the deputies (2) for Finance and Administration, and Engineering and Operations, and possibly a General Counsel. The Deputies will then have Directors/Managers and staff as they have at the moment. A similar set up can be created for Sekondi/Takoradi, Ho, Cape Coast, Koforidua, Kumasi, and all the regional capitals, municipalities, districts and localities and communities. The Board of Directors should be people who live in those cities, municipalities or urban areas and have first hand knowledge of the water issues in the area. (Remember, water issues like politics are local) They can be voted by the inhabitants or selected by the various District or Municipal Assemblies. The General Manager should be accountable to the Board of Directors who will meet once a month (not as and when they like as it pertains in a lot of organizations now in Ghana) to discuss any water issues at stake. (Currently, I understand the Board of Directors for the various government organizations meet as frequently as they deem fit and drink tea and collect their (big) allowances. How do you budget for such a board if you don’t have any defined times for their meetings throughout the year? It opens up for corruption. They should meet at most once a month or bimonthly.)

Similar boards and local public water supply agencies can be formed at the district, community and local levels with the members of the Board of Directors being voted for or appointed by the various district assemblies, communities, and localities for people living in those communities. (Remember, water issues, like politics, are local).

Economic Considerations and Efficiency

The decentralization of the water resources management and supply requires interdisciplinary knowledge of many aspects of engineering, science, business, technology, and institutional issues. The decentralization will open the opportunity to hire professionals from many fields including planners, economists, engineers, chemists, geologists, hydrologists, accountants, microbiologists and a host of technicians. This will undoubtedly help ease to some extent, the unemployment problem of the numerous graduates and technicians churned out by the various universities, polytechnics and trade schools in the country.

If the day to day management of the water system is performed by people in the locality, there will be some efficiency in the water delivery in the area. This is due to the fact that decision-making will be left in the hands of the local general manager and the board of directors. Non-performing general managers cannot defer decisions on shortages of any kind and water supply to the “headquarters” for any reason. Procurement and acquisition of equipment will be done by local staff who will always know the budget and when and how many of particular parts or any equipment are needed. Generally the checks and balances are all at the local level and this will go a long way to reduce the corruption in the system. Again, accountability will be enhanced and there will be efficiency in the bill collection as the local water supply company will rely to some degree on the locally generated revenue for their day-to-day running. There will be pride and a sense of ownership among the people and they will know who to contact if there was a problem.

Challenges

I acknowledge that there is no simple solution to the nation’s growing water problems. Although the decentralization may help improve the water management problems, it also poses its own set of challenges which may need to be addressed through careful planning. Each of these new entities will inherit the assets and liabilities of the regional or district offices of the Ghana Water Company Limited and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, and the government may have to step in and provide the initial capital and equipment. Water resources development has historically been characterized by substantial subsidies from the national government so the initial decentralization will put political and economic pressure on the government to invest in new technologies and infrastructure but this will pay for itself after some time. As I stated earlier, this is just a suggestion and by no means the blue print for water resources and water supply management. It is just meant to initiate a discussion on our search for a sustainable water supply in our country.

Steve Y. Acheampong, Ph.D. Can be reached at jawara@cox.net