Opinions Wed, 12 Mar 2008

Thirsty @ 51

“The water shortage in Accra only highlights the urgent need for improving water supplies throughout the country, particularly in the rural areas”
If you thought the above statement was made by a politician sometime in 2008 as we celebrate 51 years of independence in the midst of a national water crisis, you may be forgiven for that.

In fact, the statement was made as far back as 1959 by Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah as he presented his government’s £350 million (about US$5.0 billion in today’s prices) 5-year development to Parliament.

Three years later, on August 24, 1962, the Daily Graphic reported that there was “Water for all Ghana.” Some 79 pipe-borne water supplies and some 4,000 wells, bore holes, and ponds had been provided throughout the country for a population of about 7 million.

In the CPP’s Seven-year Development Plan (7YDP, 1963/64-1970), more was to be done to develop water resources not only for human consumption but also for industrial and agricultural development, which together formed the bedrock of Nkrumah’s visionary agenda to transform Ghana into a high-income country in a single generation.

In 1962, Ghana had a per capita income of US$193, making it a middle-income country by today’s standards. South Korea had a per capita income of US$110 the same year. Today, middle-income South Korea has a per capita income of about US$25,000, while low-income Ghana’s has about US$500.00; South Korea in fact gives aid to Ghana.

In the 7YDP, the CPP government promised to “provide water supplies on a scale hitherto unpre­cedented in Ghana”. The plan stated:

“The Volta project will provide us with abundant light and water. In addition, a whole programme of irrigation and water development is engaging our attention very seriously.

“Major extensions to Ghana's water supplies are already under way. Further developments, such as the new Accra-Tema metropolitan system based on the Volta Lake, will be surveyed and their implementation commenced in the course of this plan period.

“In the savannah areas, especially in the north of Ghana, the single rainfall season from April till September deposits on the land a considerable amount of water (up to 40 inches in most places) which mostly washes away and is succeeded by a severe dry season during which crops will not grow and livestock deteriorate through hunger and thirst. It has been demonstrated that, with an adequate supply of water, most of the savannah lands could support two crops of food every year. Both human beings and livestock would also thrive much better if the water were conserved and used evenly throughout the year.

“During this plan period therefore it is intended to embark on an ambitious programme of water conservation and irrigation which will bring at least pond water to every village in the Northern and Upper Regions and some 80,000 acres of land under local irrigation. Should studies on the utilisation of Volta water prove that a large scale irrigation scheme is economical then these targets would be radically revised upwards.”
The perfidious coup of 1966 put an end to this ambitious stride for national greatness and thereafter Ghana’s infrastructure development, including the adequate provision of water, began a steady decline over decades into the crisis we face now. Indeed, our water systems have hardly been expanded to keep pace with the explosion in population from 7 million in 1962 to an estimated 24 million in 2008.
In a way, the current water crisis poses a paradox of higher tariffs and declining service quality. In May 2001, Ghana Water Company (GWC) raised water tariffs by as much as 95.0%, the first in a series of hikes that were supposed to restore the financial health of the company and ensure that we continued to have at least the same amounts of water as before.
In a memorandum to the IMF in 2003, the government assured the Fund that with a “second round of price increases (12.0%) … Ghana Water Company Limited should be able to cover their costs”, adding that “the rates of cost recovery will be maintained through the implementation of the established automatic adjustment formulas.”
In 2004, the government again told the IMF: “Water tariffs were raised by 15 percent to full cost recovery levels, in line with the formula, and the Ghana Water Company Limited has confirmed that the new tariffs are being charged to customers with effect from April 1, 2004.”
Amidst much controversy, the government later handed over GWC to Aqua-Vitens Rand Ltd. (AVRL), a Dutch-South African company. Though AVRL was only supposed to “manage” GWC, it has since replaced GWC with its own name at GWC facilities throughout the country, fuelling fears that its “management” contract was really a prelude to selling off another national asset to foreigners on the shameful assumption that Ghanaians are incapable of managing their own affairs.
But AVRL has proven remarkably inept at fixing our water problems, blaming the latest crisis on the dry season! Surely, we need solutions, not excuses.
And so it is that on our 51st independence anniversary, we find ourselves thirsting not only for water but for knowledge, knowledge that will empower us to confront our own problems and thus validate Nkrumah’s declaration that “the Black man is capable of managing his own affairs”.
The author is chairman of the CPP’s Research and Manifesto Committee and the Party’s spokesperson on economic affairs.

Nii Moi. "What others have done we can do." - Marcus Garvey.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Thompson, Nii-Moi
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