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Opinions of Thursday, 10 April 2008

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Water, Water, Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Drink

Protecting our water bodies and rivers—a good investment we can afford.

THERE IS A PRICE for everything we do or refuse to do. In this case, what we refuse to do is the cause of most, if not all of our problems.

There are two basic choices of actions in any human endeavor. One is proactive - which puts you on offensive. Proactive somehow gives one a lot of leverage over events. The other is reaction or reactive. This puts you on a defensive mode. It also gives one a position of weakness. Trying to control events from reaction position is very difficult to do because it allows someone or some other force to control all the tools one needs to work with. Most Ghanaians always operate in reaction mode because in my opinion they are lazy.

We most often react after the events have taken place. That is why we have the tendency to resist any change no matter how good it is. Change is a proactive element which puts you ahead of the game by all margins. Case in point is the water crisis that has struck the nation.

In recent past, anytime I visit home I spent some time in Achimota but the erratic water supply to that part of Accra has made it uninhabitable now. To live there one has to buy water from private water vendors who offer the commodity at cut throat price.

Water is one of the most essential commodities apart from air but we tend to take it for granted. That is why we don’t seem to have enough even though we have more than we needed in our mother land.

When we talk about water scarcity; it raises the age-old philosophical question: “Why do we have to worry about water at all when we have so many big rivers and streams in Ghana”? The last time I checked the Physical Map of Ghana, I did not see the vegetation as Sahel or desert. It is still a tropical country with enough trees and vegetation to protect the streams and rivers. Why do we have shortage of water when the same people had to swim like crocodile some few months ago? How did that happen?

Is water really scarce in Ghana or we just don’t want to harvest and mange our water resources? This takes us back to my previous statement of operating in the “reactive mode.” Finding a permanent solution to a problem requires work—a lot of hard work which we are not prepared to do. That is why we always react to events instead of taking initiative.

Currently, more than half of Ghana’s rivers and streams are polluted out of reckless mining activities by both local and International extractive companies. Other age old activities such as farming and timber logging are also contributing factors. Most of our rivers are saturated with chemicals and debris which make them unfit for human consumption. Some of these small rivers die prematurely because of over grazing.

Abomosu is a small town sited between Anyinam and Asuom in the Kwaebribrim District. You cannot find it on Ghana’s Political Map because there is not much going on there other than gold mining. River Birim flows through the town as well as others in adjoining four districts in the Eastern Region.

The depressing story is that Newmont Company and other illegal miners have polluted the Brim River and its tributaries so much so that the river is permanently muddy and can’t be used for anything. I got to know of this mess when I last went to Kukubi—a village in the catchment areas of the River for fishing. I was literally shocked to the born to find dead fish along the banks of the river. The river was so impregnated with toxic elements such that fish and other aquatic species could not survive. It is disheartening to note that Birim is the only source of water for the inhabitants of Kukubi.

I wonder how many people have lost their lives or acquired incurable diseases as a result of these reckless practices. You see, this is what normally happens when a society is composed of “reactionists.”

Tapping the pipe lines illegally (illegal connection as we call it) for water is a common practice which is even championed by most the employees of the same Water Company that is to ensure proper distribution and utilization of water.

Akosombo Dam’s water level is a matter of national security concern. We have still not found how best we can get our empty “reservoirs” filled to maximum. We have rather opted to build more dams— dams which depend on climate for their survival. We have good rainfall each year, but what do we do with all that much of rain? Nothing, absolutely nothing! The rains just rush down the drains into our streams and rivers which eventually empty into the Atlantic Ocean.

I visited a Caribbean Island in last summer and found out that water is the most important commodity there. The reason is that the inhabitants of the Island have no major rivers. In addition, the topography is very rugged and mountainous. Just like any human venture, the Islanders found a way around their problem. Every house is designed to collect every inch of rain that falls on the Island. Water is collected by special designed gutters and stored in reservoir underneath each house. These Islanders with little effort have been able to harvest and stored water for year-long consumption.

To have enough water in Ghana we only do not have to harvest it but we have to protect our sources of water as much as possible.

Perhaps these options will help: 1. The parliament should enact “Water Conservation Laws with heavy penalties.

2. There should be law enforcement agents like park Rangers who will patrol our rivers and streams.

3. The citizenry should be educated about the need to preserve and conserve water resources.

4. Our real estate industry should learn how to design water harvesting houses. Individuals could consider harvesting tons of water that fall on their roof each year. It does not matter if the house is made up of “atakpame technology”

5. Water resources protection should be part of nation’s priority - there should be a special department with its main responsibility of finding ways and means to maintain and protect our water resources.

6. Water resources management should be taught in our secondary schools and colleges to emphasize the importance of water conservation and proper utilization.

7. Governemrnt should give small loans to help home owners to build reservoirs which can hold enough water all year around.

8. Water waste recycling plant should be built to process waste water from the kitchen sinks and bathtubs.

I know all these suggestions are meaningless to the average politician, policy maker or Ghanaian because the rain is almost here. But when the dry season comes we will as usual start behaving like a punch- drunk-boxer throwing blows at everyone even including those in the ring to rescue him.

When that time comes I’ll not blame it on ignorance and arrogance. Our refusal to find solutions to our problems until we feel the pains is the sign of what we don’t do.

In 2006 for example, all the government could do to fix the water problem was by privatizing the water sector with the World Bank’s loan. Our system needs surgery not bandaging or massaging. May be it is a curse, maybe it is some outside force working against us. We can even blame it all on (“Osaman’’) Osama – the man noted for every evil in the world.

We can also start the whining process because we’re the “victims” of an unexpected event. “We need that and want that”; yada, yada! That’s not fair. It’s not our faults that we sleep in darkness when the rains stop.

Baloney!

We are in the election season, I am sure the politicians will talk about it again for votes. But trust me; the dry season will still bring “evil darkness” to the nation.

Why find the solution when we can easily blame it on someone or something?

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.