Ensure Access To Safe Drinking Water For All


Elaine Tweneboah Lawson

Socio-economic inequalities make it difficult for many people to afford safe drinking water. Poverty is widespread. Ghana’s labour market is dominated by low-wage earners working in the informal sector. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey Round Seven (GLSS 7), two-thirds of currently employed people are engaged in what is described as “vulnerable employment”. The proportion is higher in rural areas.

The vulnerably employed have difficulty paying more for basic water, sanitation and hygiene services. What’s more, there are no social safety nets to ensure adequate supply of clean water to the poor and vulnerable. The prevailing focus on market-driven approaches and cost-recovery mechanisms is also standing in the way of providing access to all. There are marked regional differences in access to safe drinking water as well. According to the 2021 Population and Housing Census, there is a glaring rural-urban divide in the quality of water distribution and infrastructure, with urban households more likely to have access to safe drinking water.

However, GWCL is also unable to meet the demand for water in urban areas, resulting in a chronically irregular water supply and a high reliance on informal water sources. The two main sources of drinking water in urban areas are sachet water (51.5 per cent) and pipe-borne water (33.6 per cent). Rural areas rely on borehole/tube wells (33.6 per cent) as well as pipe-borne water (28.8 per cent).

The average time households without water on their premises need to access any source of drinking water is 19 minutes. People in rural areas generally need longer (22 minutes) than in urban areas (13 minutes). In rural areas, there are also comparatively more households more than 30 minutes away from a drinking-water source. Girls and women are primarily responsible for fetching water, which affects girls’ school attendance and women’s ability to engage in meaningful employment. It is important to note that these statistics do not adequately cover the growing number of peri-urban and informal settlements with highly irregular and insecure access to drinking water.

For many rural communities, surface water abstraction (such as from rivers, streams and ponds) remains a substantial source of water for drinking and domestic use. This water is most likely polluted. The increase in illegal mining activities (also called “galamsey”, derived from the phrase “gather them and sell”) continues to pollute streams and rivers, disrupting water availability and leading to high treatment costs. Other factors affecting surface water volumes and quality include deforestation, improper agricultural practices, poor sanitation and solid waste-management practices, environmental pollution and climate change. 

Obstacles to achieving safe drinking water for Ghanaians include poor enforcement of existing laws; a lack of affordability and access, especially among the poor and vulnerable; inadequate infrastructure; and a low capacity to manage water systems, especially at the local level. Water provisioning and governance institutions, as well as the legal framework, need to be updated to address the complex issues challenging water security in Ghana today. These include climate change, illegal mining, biodiversity loss, increasing poverty and the rising number of self-supply points and vendors. The climate crisis especially threatens the water infrastructure system’s ability to supply services. It causes extreme events such as floods and droughts, which reduce the efficiency of dams and reservoirs.

-- Development And Cooperation

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