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Northern Ghana Water Situation

2007-08-03 00:43:55
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Water Shortage
The people of Tamale in the Northern part of Ghana are still grappling on accessing portable water in the part of the country.

In August of last year, the Ghana Water Company began its Government-approved, Dutch-financed (through a 45 million Euro conditional loan, 40 million of which will be spent offshore) Tamale Water Supply Expansion, Rehabilitation, and Optimisation project.

Tamale's current water capacity is about 20,000 cubic metres, which according to Edward Agyekum, Project Manager for this extension, "you could describe as woefully inadequate.”

Tamale, the 3rd largest city in Ghana suffered the most from water shortage, the system breakdown few weeks after the take-over of Ghana Water Company by Acqua Vitens Rand Limited, which took months to sort out.

The repercussion of this breakdown was the sharp increase in guinea-worm cases in Savelugu which rely on Tamale water system. Ghana this year would have negative percentage of infestation but rather between Jan to April 2007, Ghana has reported 2,518 cases of Guinea worm disease, a 22% increase in cases compared to 2,063 cases reported during the same period in 2006.

Savelugu Township alone recorded 507 cases. In an interview with The Statesman Mr Agyekum stated that the project will add 25,000 cubic metres per day to the capacity at the water treatment plant in Dalun, and thus more than double the current capacity to 45,000 cubic metres, or about 10 million gallons per day for the Tamale metropolis.

The source of water will remain the White Volta, according to the Tamale Regional Chief Manager H.D.K. Bansah, who also spoke with The Statesman about the project. From there it will travel through 30 kilometres of pipelines and then another 95 km of distribution pipes.

“We will still be dependent on good rainy seasons,” noted Mr Bansah.

The project work is being implemented by Biwater Contracting, a British multinational contractor that is responsible for laying the pipe-lines and valves for the Dalun Corridor. Biwater will contract labour to lay the piping.

The project has been on the drawing board for 20 years, during which time Belgian, Japanese, American, and British firms have been brought in, but Biwater has been the first to follow through and facilitate the financing from Holland.

He expects that when the project is completed the people of Tamale will be very happy. At that time every house will have daily access to running water, compared to the just over 30 percent of households that currently have running water.

The Tamale area, including the metropolis and surrounding 192 villages, has a current population of about 700,000 people, 10 times what the system was designed to serve. The area saw a marginal increase in capacity in 1997 when old pumps were refurbished, but closely resembles the original system.

Confounding the capacity program me is what water experts call non-revenue water, or NRW. Due to uncompensated water acquisition along the transmission line, only 30 percent of that capacity reaches Tamale.

Mr Ndebugri said that Tamale continues to grow rapidly, and that this expansion will make this growth more tenable, and allow for the creation of more jobs in the long-term. He explained that large soft-drink manufactures such as Schweppes and Coca-Cola have expressed interest in siting factories in Tamale, but the quantum of water supply did not meet their significant needs.

Such a factory would require 350 to 1,000 cubic metres of water per day, a full 20th of current capacity for one factory. With increased water supply will come increased business, more jobs, and more people coming in search of those jobs, predicted Ndebugri.

Mr Agyekum explained that a major restriction to the growth of urban water supply is people taking water from the system without paying for it. He said that villages on the transmission line take the greatest volume of water and is not paid or accounted for.

This situation causes loss and inefficiency, but the responsibility for the rural water supply that might deter such activity lies with another department: Community Water & Sanitation. These two departments used to be one, the Ghana Water and Sewerage Company, but they split in the late 1990s so that staff could better reach communities.

All village work was handed over to the new department, including production, distribution, maintenance of supply, standpipe and meter installation, and monitoring of water usage.

If every household had its water use monitored by a meter, the increased revenue could easily cover the development of more water infrastructure, perhaps without dependence on international loans. The meters that are in place are monitored by Ghana Water Company staff personnel, who are paid a commission of the total water price.

This system is difficult to cheat because it is automated and the meter is in plain view of the community for all to see. Paying for water by quantity also encourages conservation for cost-conscious customers.

When customers pay for what they use, revenue is generated to support those in financial need. Currently there are numerous people paying 6 to 10 times the standard price to receive water from private tanker suppliers, who draw water from the distribution site at Tamale Old Water Treatment Works.

As a result, some Ghanaians pay too little or not at all, and others pay far too much. According to Mr Agyekum, “60 percent of the water we produce is unaccounted for.” The Water Company has developed a Water Asset Management strategy in an attempt to coordinate its approach to reducing NRW from 60 percent to 33 percent.

So far, however, 5,237 of 8,961 domestic and private community connections and 131 government, local council, and municipal connections are not metered, or almost 60 percent.

In a Biwater report, it is stated that there is also a problem with over-consumption of water by those who are not metered. Those households pay a flat fee based on average household usage, but some take advantage of flat rates to sell their water to neighbours at inflated prices.

The report recommends installing a meter at each village connection to ascertain their usage and determine a strategy that includes measures of education, livestock troughs, pre-paid metering, and illegal connection management.

Non-payers often claim poverty as the cause of their inability to foot the bill. There is generally no penalty for non-payers and it is too expensive and time consuming to drag each case through the courts.

The usual recourse for GWC is to disconnect non-payers.

Mr Agyekum observed that paying the ¢100 per bucket of water is the most affordable option available, much cheaper than even pure water in a bag

He expected that, while 100 percent metering is a goal of GWC, it will take time for some Ghanaians to adjust to paying for what they have received for free. But that fee is necessary to maintain and enhance the system, he said.

source: The Statesman

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