The Right To Safe Water

An individual drinking from a source of water

Access to safe water and proper sanitation are human rights. And these rights must be ensured for everyone, everywhere to live a dignified and healthy life.

A life free of preventable deadly diseases, children having to walk for miles in search of dirty water, assault on girls and women because they defecate in the open, sick children missing school and the continuous cycle of extreme poverty.

Thus, without clean water and proper sanitation, which are the rights of all humans, inequalities will grow, children’s development will be hindered, mothers will continue to die due to infections because midwives are unable to wash their hands and the entire 2030 Development Agenda will be held back.

“Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene … together form an essential platform for progress in health, education, nutrition, work and economic development without which the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will fail,” a new WaterAid document states.

Titled ‘How to reach everyone with safe water and sanitation by 2030’, the document opines that 31 percent of the world’s population still do not have access to basic sanitation and more than three in ten people lack safe water.

Moreover, 35 percent of healthcare centres in low and middle-income countries have no water and soap for handwashing, indicating billions of the most marginalised are being left behind.

“The global community is doing too little, too slowly, to fix it, urgent global and national level action on finance, integration and sustainability will change all this,” states the WaterAid document.

Ghana’s Situation

Globally, 844 million people lack access to safe water and over 6 million people in Ghana representing 22 percent are part of this number.

George Cobbinah Yorke, Head of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns, WaterAid Ghana office, says Ghana is struggling to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) standards on safe water.

He explains that the country is performing poorly on indicators like water source available at the premises when needed and regularly tested to make sure it is safe and proper management of water sources.

“Only 27 percent of Ghanaians meet this standard,” he adds.

Mr Yorke further notes that 78 percent of Ghanaians have basic access to an improved source of water within 30 minutes round trip to collect.

However, the country is faced with the daunting challenge of basic sanitation, with 86 percent of the country’s population not having a decent sanitation facility.

The Country Director of WaterAid Ghana, Abdul Nashiru Mohammed, says Ghana is in critical juncture in the fight to get clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene to its people.

“We know that if everyone, everywhere was able to access clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, then we could help end the scourge of extreme poverty and create a more sustainable future. But we have to act now to make this a reality,” he says.

Mr Nashiru indicates the need for government to prioritize water, sanitation and hygiene ensuring proper financing is put in place to build a more sustainable country today and for future generations.

“It is estimated that for every $1 spent on water and sanitation, on average $4 is returned in economic benefits. Water, sanitation and hygiene are a great investment,” he adds.

WaterAid warns that without access to these basic amenities, men, women and children in Ghana will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease, while being denied their basic human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Financing Safe Water and Sanitation  

Mr Yorke says about $386 million is required annually to improve WASH access in the country but the Ministry of Sanitation & Water Resources received GH¢255 million as its approved budget.

He points out that looking at the investment being made in the WASH sector, the country will be able to deliver a community source of clean water within a 30-minute round trip to everyone by 2040.

“At this rate, universal access to water may be achieved by 2115 in Ghana. We all need to act now to get WASH to everyone, everywhere by 2030,” he says.

Protecting Sources of Water

The Water Resources Commission (WRC), an agency under the Ministry of Sanitation & Water Resources, has commenced activities to help communities situated along water bodies to protect their source of water.

One community at a time, WRC is ensuring the implementation of their mandate of protecting the country’s water bodies.

The WRC recently held a community engagement with the chief, elders and fishermen of Ngleshie Amanfrom Township on protecting the Weija water source which serves part of the Greater Accra Region.

Madam Adwoa Dako, chairperson of the planning committee of the World Water Day to be marked on March 22, 2018 says the outreach is necessary for the sustained protection of water sources in the country.

She says the WRC is limited in resources and therefore needs communities to own the responsibility of protecting their water sources.

Madam Darko explains that water provides numerous ecosystem services and people can continue to enjoy the benefits if the ecosystems are healthy and functioning well.

“Failure to account for, invest in, protect and sustain ecosystem services undermines water security and sustainable development,” she adds.

The chairperson of the 2018 WWD planning committee further explains that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030.

“Target six also states: by 2020 protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes,” Madam Darko opines.

She expresses optimism that through the community outreach, community leaders will be empowered to take actions that will protect their sources of water.

Jonas Kpakpa Quartey of the Department of Animal Biology & Conservation Science, University of Ghana, says the effect of unhealthy freshwater ecosystem brings about numerous interrelated issues, including food insecurity, risk of health of people, related natural disasters, drought, flood, tropical storms and retardation of economic growth.

He, however, urges that should communities take up the challenge and undertake activities to protect their freshwater sources like creating buffer zones or ‘green corridor’ along the banks of water bodies, avoid the use of chemicals in fishing, practice organic cropping, avoid deforestation, recycle materials obtained from freshwater ecosystems and avoid conversion of wetlands to dry lands, the country will be able to preserve its freshwater sources for future generations.

Community Involvement

It is one thing sensitizing the community and other thing having the community to buy into the idea and take initiatives on their own towards solving a challenge.

Thus, it was comforting to hear the chief of Ngleshie Amonfrom, Nii Kwashie Gborlor IV, calling for stringent actions to be taken by his subject to immediately address the issue.

He says stiffer punishment for people who dump refuse and other waste products into water bodies and open gutters is one of the ways the issue could be solved.

Nii Gborlor IV says his community has been faced with the challenge of ensuring the water body in their traditional jurisdiction is not polluted.

But he says the influence of individuals in higher authorities, most of whom are not directly affected by the consequences of water pollution, is the area interferes with rules and regulations set to protect the source of water.

“People put both liquid and solid waste disposal into drains and water bodies and when you arrest them and take them to the police station they will call and he will be release,” he mentions.

The chief, thus, directed his subjects, especially the fishermen who live close to the water body, to be vigilant and ensure they stand up and protect their livelihood and the future of their children.

Michael Ocansey, special aid to the chief fisherman of the Ngleshie Amanfrom fishing community, says the fishermen are willing to work with local authorities to ensure a coordinated approach to ensuring the Weija is kept free from pollution.

“We don’t have a problem at all because we live there and we know what the water does for us, all we need is for you to give the order and we will do it,” he states.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri