Exactly two years ago, Nsawam Adoagyiri and many parts of Ghana were hit with acute water shortages, receiving nationwide publicity and awareness. Fast forward a year later, experts within the Water Resources Commission (WRC) and Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) warned Ghanaians of imminent danger if we continue to allow illegal small-scale mining to destroy and pollute our water bodies.
This was widely published by media as well. Today, as we deliver this statement, the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) is running a water rationing regime so as to ensure equal access to potable water available to the consuming populace.
In the case of the Nsawam Adoagyiri, the cause of the shortage was eventually traced to a low water flows caused by dry spells resulting from the harmattan. This facilitated the blockage of the Densu river channel by some sand and stone weaning individuals. The caution of WRC and CSIR, highlighted the wanton destruction of our natural water systems by illegal mining activities, farming and buffer zone vegetation removal.
Listening to the PRO for the GWCL these past weeks, the current crisis is as a result, again, of the dry spells brought on by the harmattan, illegal tree felling, and farming activities right into our streams and rivers.
In the last five years, the challenge of Ghana running a water deficit has never been so real in the face of widespread environmental destruction. In the cases cited above, and even now, the situation has been described as so critical that we risk having to import water from neighbouring countries. As to whether anyone will be willing to sell us a commodity that is increasingly becoming scarce with increasing environmental depletion is another matter for discussion, another day.
Currently, the Densu, Tano and Offin, major rivers providing water for three major cities in Ghana, that is Accra, Sunyani and Koforidua respectively are at their minimum flow due to the dry spells, resulting from loss of buffer vegetation, siltation from illegal mining, farming and unchecked run-off. Other rivers like the Birim, and Pra and many small streams flowing in many parts of the country may not be useful for drinking in their current state, in the wake of illegal mining activities which sought to destroy this beautiful homeland we call Ghana. Just last year, the Tano River dried up for the first time in 40 years, compelling the GWCL to shut down its treatment facility.
Clearly, aside the daunting challenge of extending the water distribution systems to inaccessible areas, and providing small town water processing facilities, towards global set timelines as in Sustainable Development Goal Six (6), the greatest threat to achieving water sufficiency for the consuming public and industries, is insufficient availability of good quality water in good quantities all through the year.
If we are paying critical attention to the trends, it is very clear that poor planning and management of our natural water systems poses dire consequences for water treatment and distribution companies like GWCL as they do not by themselves produce the raw water they require. To remind us all, if we have so soon forgotten, water for Weija, and the numerous treatment reservoirs and small town water processing facilities come from forests, surface water bodies, and underground wells, which are sustained by aquifers and ecological processes. Planning to ensure access to water and sanitation without a well laid down plan and strategy that recognises and deliberately safeguards the natural water systems, that make it all happen is just planning to fail big time. Unfortunately, we are sad to observe that the 2012-2025 Water Sector Strategic Development plan has one such big flaw.
Obviously, natural water systems provide crucial water provisioning services to Ghanaians in ways that we cannot overemphasize. If you are still in doubt, ask the GWCL about what became of the state of the art desalination plant installed in Teshie and the true reasons why it was shut down. Go to rural communities, whose sources of water from rivers and streams have been polluted by illegal small-scale mining activities and they have to rely on sachet or bottled water even when they get to their farms. Ask communities living close to River Pra and River Birim who can no longer just dip their buckets to meet their need for water. The caution by the CSIR and WRC were all based on the disregard and poor planning when it comes to the way we manage our natural water systems.
Unfortunately two years down the line, our posturing as a country, as evidenced in current government policy and development plans has not changed, while resting on small gains, we are taking advantage of the need for a seemingly economic emancipation to chart a bleaker future of achieving water access and sustainability for an increasing Ghanaian population.
Against this background, we are compelled to question the policy and development plan of government to turn Ghana’s hydrological gem, Atewa Forest, the source of water for 5 Million Ghanaians, into a low-grade bauxite mine pit. Bearing in mind that, bauxite mining, anywhere in the world, is one of the most energy and water intensive extractive industries. Again, bauxite mining, comes with attendant environmental impacts, in all phases of the mining process. This coming from red dust, and heavy metal pollution of the underground water table and surface water bodies. Have not learnt anything as a country from 50yrs of bauxite mining in Awaso?
The evidence around the world, from Guinea, Suriname, and Jamaica and to Australia is that bauxite mining can never co-exist with water provisioning services. The mix is just a recipe for a looming health disaster and untold water scarcity in the next five to 10 years. No amount of bauxite money can come close or replace the water provisioning services Atewa Forests and many other natural water systems provide for the people of Ghana.
As Dr Bawumia said, good health is better than riches. And that is why we ask, where lies the commitment of our President to secure our forests and water, as he solemnly swore in his investiture on January 7, 2017. If there is anything we can learn from the Cape Town experience, then that is, a city can run out of water.
What we also ask President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo and his Vice Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, is whether Ghanaians do not deserve to know the details of the agreement you have signed with the Chinese? Is the interest of China for metal more important to Ghana’s need for safe access to clean drinking water and good health?
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