Monday, March 22, 2010

World Water Day: Water, Water Nowhere, Nor any drop to drink

Water, water, every where,Nor any drop to drink.Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Today is World Water Day and to  mark this annual event, GhanaBlogging is making the noble effort of highlighting the problem of water in Ghana and the world.

I thought long and hard about the best way to explore water issues associated with Accra life. I thought about pictures of polluted water in choked gutters in my neighbourhood or perhaps a vivid description of the very pungent 'water' my nostrils encountered in the ironically nicknamed Lavender Hill last week. In the end, I have opted for a post on the essential everyday items one needs to tackle water shortage blues associated with living in urban Ghana from my perspective.

Item 1: The Polytank

Polytank is a brand name for a water storage tank that has become a generic term in Ghana. A bit like 'cellophane', 'aspirin' and (believe it or not!) 'heroin'. Polytanks are essential for all homes in Accra. First of all,  not every area in Accra is fortunate to have steady water flow and even in the very rare areas where water flows 24 hours, shortages are inevitable! Some years ago, my 'hood was supposedly such an area but my parents still had the foresight to get a polytank. Our polytank has multiplied into three and these have buffered us from recent water shortages. Interestingly, one problem we recently encountered is not realising that our neighbourhood was griped by water shortages until even our three polytanks finally emptied!
The water-tanks that buffer water shortages...well, until they also run out!

Item 2: When the Polytank fails, enter the yellow jerrycan

One of the must-have accessories in Accra at the moment is the bright yellow cooking oil jerrycan affectionately known as the Kufuor gallon. It was during the Kufuor administration that these oil gallons supposedly became synonymous with water shortages but are causing quite the stir lately. I must say they are perfect for water storage. Leaving work after dark, you are always bound to find someone outside nicodemusly filling a car boot full of gallons destined for a water-deficient part of town. During a dire  water shortage a few weeks ago EVERYONE at work had at least one gallon with them! 
Some water gallons I caught on my camera phone outside a mechanics workshop I visited today. We told him I was highlighting the problem of water shortages in Accra and he asked if we were journalists...citizen journalists perhaps?!

Item 3: The Water Sachet

When it hit the Ghanaian scene a few decades ago, water in a sachet seemed like the best thing since plantain and beans. Before the water sachet, water was available in traffic from recycled plastic cups filled by large gourds....apparently. The plastic water sachet is now more of a bane than a boon given the shocking masses  of plastic waste it generates! In fact, in one of my earliest posts I highlighted the work of an amazing company Trashy Bags on tackling the plastic waste problem in Ghana through innovative recycling.

Unfortunately, sachet water/bottled water is essential as a source of drinking water in any home. Even if you are lucky to have water flowing through your taps can you trust  where your water is coming from?  A friend of mine described how he discovered the dubious water delivered to his home by tanker was mysteriously hard and refused to  lather. In the end he had to wash in sachet water! Let's not even talk about drinking that hard water. 

Speaking of trust, do we actually know the source of water sachets? A few years ago, an undercover TV  report revealed how some water sachet companies advertising filtered mineral water were actually preparing sachets in people's bathrooms and were neither filtered nor hygienic!
 The humble water sachet
Indeed, unless you have your own private reservoir of chlorinated water, you are bound to be affected in some way or another by water shortages in Ghana. Sadly, solutions are nowhere in sight. Or do you have one you would like to share?


Maya Mame said...

Funny, I checked your blog before I started writing as I suspected you might use a similar title, et voila! As if I knew...

My parents house in Tema still (fingers crossed) manages without a polytank or even a Kuffour gallon, there's always water (except for three days in December 2007). You can imagine the disbelief I was met with whenever I told people we didn't have a tank!

Kwabena said...

I always wonder why we can't provide water in this country. Water resources are in abundance. I heard the minister of works, housing & water resources and an mce on radio today going on and on about 'plans'. We need to do a lot to provide water. I think the Ghana Water Company should be reorganized. I don't think it's difficult to build treatment plants and
Luckily, I don't have much of a problem with water in Sunyani. Water flows all the time except during the dry season and when they have to do maintenance works. Not sure it's the same in the other suburbs. I sometimes think we're probably on the same line with the residency of the regional minister.
In New Achimota, Accra, we had to dig up a well, buy a pump and some polytanks.
Some sachet water is just nasty. I think people should stick to trusted brands like voltic. I remember tasting smoke in one of those brands. I didn't know smoke had a taste till then.

Abena Serwaa said...

*wow* Maya Mame, that is actually amazing! I guess great minds do think alike! Your parents' area in Tema certainly sounds like one of those rare bright spots that we would all want to live in!

Abena Serwaa said...

@Kwabena: You are right, it does seem perplexing that access to water is not guaranteed. I think there may be water but clean, potable water is the problem. Actually, I think we need a public forum to be educated on why water delivery is so problematic. You are really lucky in Sunyani! Well, thinking about it, I can't remember water problems at our house in the big BA but then I think I never stay there long enough. As for sachet water, I did not even mention the geeko floating in a sachet I saw on TV3 some years ago. Btw, I hear some people actually like that smoky taste!

Kwabena said...

@Abena really? how how can they like the smoky taste? It's water not a cigarette.
geeko in a sachet? did they sue? why am i even asking. this is Ghana. nobody will bother

Abena Serwaa said...

@Kwabena have no idea about suing case but as you said; this is Ghana. I heard some like the smoky water because it tastes exactly like cool water stored in a pot in rural areas..

Mike said...

Solutions? O I have one. But you would either have to make me the Chancellor of KNUST or send my comment to him.
Chancellor meets with heads of engineering, environmental & survey departments @ Tech.
Tell them we have 1 year to map out Upper East Region for water supply to every house plus future house in the entire region.
Mechanical engineering dept head will be responsible for mechanical stuff that includes specifying what pumps will be needed how they will be locally built. (fire him if he suggests that we import a pump). Mechanical dept will estimate amount of pressure needed for each house right now from
Survey dept will get the students out in the field and get the entire area mapped out. Civil engineering dept staff and students will also take up projects and soon, there will be a list of equipment needed for the entire job and a schedule of when they will be used.

You still with me right? This is something that can be done at the university level. Give the 3rd & 4th year students some real life experience. If the lecturers dont know what to do, fire them and have some real engineers that can teach, take up the positions.

Next step would be to talk to all the constrution companies to support the students' efforts by donating equipment time. They might even be kind enough and donate some expertise too.

Water resources will have to come up with some money to pay for materials needed, and then apply the work done for free by the university we keep saying is the best in Africa.

Make sure it works and then transfer this model to other regions.

I didnt want to write plenty but you get the general idea of how I think we can use our own resources to accomplish a lot. I cry a little when i hear of Tech graduates doing big things in other countries.

Abena Serwaa said...

@Mike excellent idea! Great ingenuity. I would modify it to make it an open competition for all Ghanaian engineers. Nothing like a cash prize to swing people into action. A wider call may also attract engineers outside?

Sankofa said...

Well I had happily avoided the water shortages that seem to plague Accra until last week when I went to take a shower and nothing came out! Since, like Maya, we don't seem to have a polytank either, I had to take a flannel bath with bottled water and sheepishly make my way to work.

In regards to sachet water, when I first came to GH, I swore blind that I would NEVER touch sachet water because I had no idea where it came from. I kept to this for a while but unfortunately I had no access to bottled water one day and I had to drink the sachet water. It was completely fine! It was voltic brand but I've also had some absolutely nasty water that tasted like it'd been sitting at the bottom of a metal tank for years. I've been advised to only drink Voltic and Ice Cool sachet water because they're the only ones with the correct filtration equipment. Any truth to that?

Abena Serwaa said...

@Sankofa *LOL* Flannel Bottled Water bath! That is hilarious and sounds kinda expensive!

Wouldn't be supprised about most sachet water companies being kinda dodgy. Personally, I think Voltic sachet is good but just recently had some that tasted exactly as you described so I'm quite skeptical. I think Mobile Water is not bad either but again, not sure where all these water sachets come from!

antique hand tools said...

Some years ago, my 'hood was supposedly such an area but my parents still had the foresight to get a polytank.

breastfeeding mastitis said...

Mechanical dept will estimate amount of pressure needed for each house right now.

Rob Maguire said...

Hi Guys,

My name is Rob and I am currently doing a masters in development in Dublin, Ireland. I have a big interest in urban water issues and am currently completing my thesis on water issues in Accra. I came across your blog and found it really interesting. I was wondering whether the sachet vendors were regulated in any way? Do the poor recieve any subsidies for these sachets? Is there a public endorsed supplier or is it run solely as a private business? Any info would be great - ps really hard luck in world guys were very unlucky...

Abena Serwaa said...

Hi Rob,
Thanks for stopping by.Some of the water sachets have a stamp saying they have been approved by the Ghana Standards Board but i'm not sure whether its a before sale requirement. You may be able to get that info from the Standards board.

The poor do not receive subsidies for these sachets.

Sachets are sold by several private companies.Sachets are different from water tankers that go around selling water in areas of Accra that do not have water.

Pity about the world club...we differently didn't have the 'Luck of the Irish' :) All the best with your Master's do let us know if you have any other questions.

Rob said...

Hi Abena,

You are a star for getting back to me. Thanks a mill for the info. I am probably about a week from pulling all the literature info together and it would be fantastic if i could throw some questions at ya then. It really would be beneficial and i would be very grateful.

It is incredible hearing all the stories on the ground about the water situation in Accra. we have it lucky over here....

ps - not sure about the luck of the irish - a blatant handball from thierry henry in the last game knocked us out of qualifying for the world cup ha ha

Abena Serwaa said...

No problem Rob! You can email me with any other questions at*LOL* The 'Curse of the Irish' certainly sorted out that French team at the World cup super-quick!

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