The Real Cost of Procrastinating

Sat, 21 Nov 2009 Source: Berko, George

Providing A Full National Water and Sewage Infrastructure.

An Article appearing on the Ghanaweb.com on November 18, 2009, captioned “Government targets provision of 60 percent portable water”, seems to offer a bit of hope to the long-waiting Rural folks that their Water needs are now going to be more seriously attended to. But this hopeful sentiment seems realistic only to those people living in the few areas that the Article listed as having some Projects already under way or ready to take off. What isn’t clear in the Article is, exactly, what that 60 percent really means, and when the other 40 percent would be catered for. Is the 60 percent referring to a proportion of the entire National Population, or the Geographical area that would be covered?

Whilst I would not like to dampen the spirits of the Public or denude the efforts of the Government in this vital aspect of human need, I cannot help highlighting the urgency of making our Water and Sewage and Waste Management Infrastructure a first priority in moving the Nation forward. In that regard, I would like to assert that the Provision of portable Clean Water and proper, modern Sewage and Waste Management System throughout the whole Country is well overdue and the Government must, in fact, expand its target to a 100-percent coverage of the entire Nation.

You see, folks, in the estimation of most of our Politicians, our Water and Sewage and Waste Management needs do not deserve to be anywhere close to the top of their list of priorities; and the impact of these needs on our general Health and Economic productivity comes only as a secondary concern to them. Our Political leaders, all these years, have, in most part, practically prioritized almost all other projects ahead of Water and Sewage Infrastructure. We see mountains of garbage still piling up close to our living spaces. Our Wells and Streams are increasingly drying up. People have to resort to all kinds of filthy sources of Water, some of which takes hours of our time to fetch enough from.

A closer examination of the phenomenon reveals that our Politicians have had a very shallow understanding of the real importance of these two needs of our Society to the ultimate growth of our Economy. It must be noted that a major reason why the Politicians could get away with such inattention to these two Utility needs is that our folks have always found, on their own, the means to cope with the lack of these utilities in their nick of the woods. It could be found out that the Politicians have been unduly taking advantage of this uncomplaining self-reliant attitude of our rural folks to procrastinate the provision of these two Utilities to all.

We, all, admittedly, have been taking for granted the abundance of Water, since ages. In addition, the wide expanse of Space, that we used to enjoy, provided the cheap convenience of leaving our gastronomical discharge and garbage all over the place, without even caring to cover them up well enough to preempt possible Health hazards.

However, we now seem to have run out of Nature’s goodwill and are facing real galloping pace of desiccation of our land, and increasing Population pressures that have accentuated our need to plan and act immediately in addressing these basic infrastructure, without anymore feet dragging.

Many of our Aquifers are depleted and not adequately replenished due to the desiccation resulting from the loss of Forest cover and the general change in Climatic conditions for the worse. For a long time, we have been downplaying the effect of the Sahelian Drought and Drift and the gross misuse of our Vegetation cover. The illegal cheap disorganized Timber exploitation and wanton destruction of our Forests for Clear-Felling Farming, coupled with "Galamsay" have much to do with the vanishing Water resources. Farmers no more leave strips of forest along the Streams that run through their farmlands, as our forefathers and –mothers used to do in preserving the Waters in the Streams.

People in the Rural Areas would testify that many of the Streams that used to exist and supply them with abundant Water at close proximity just some 10-15 years ago do not have Water running through them any more. They have all dried up. A few of these Streams may have running Water only for some part of the year, losing their perennial nature. This vanishing of the Water forces people to wander farther in search for any quality of Water they can get. The accompanying uncontrolled rampant Wildfires deprives the land surface of enough buffering organic layering to break the flow of rainwater, thereby resulting in runoffs that cause flooding all over the place and massive erosion in some areas.

Most of the areas suffering such drastic scouring of the surface soil degenerate in fertility and reduce the quantity of arable agricultural lands people can farm and live on. Not only do the people lose the ability to sustain their food crop production, but also the Wildlife sharing the land that, besides forming a crucial link in the ecosystem, provides an immediate source of protein in the form of meat to the people becomes largely capitulated.

This growing scarcity of Water resources exacerbates the problem of having to use unhygienic sources of Water, a situation that makes it all the more critical that the people are provided Portable and Processed Water infrastructure. Waiting any further in providing these urgent needs to the People endangers their Health and ultimately our Economy in general.

The cost of waiting too long is not restricted to only the bulging fiscal encumbrance in providing the Utilities later, but also includes the cost of poor Health manifested in importation of more Medicines, and the loss in productivity due to sickness and total loss of labor from deaths. Added to this entangling problem of lack of good drinking Water and decent modern Sewage and Waste Management Infrastructure is the dropping rate of children going to School and the repulsion of Tourism.

What our leaders sadly missed is the insight into providing these Utilities earlier and more cheaply. They could have constructed such infrastructure earlier at a time that the Sahelian Drift and loss of our Natural Sources of Water had not set in. The amount of money the Politicians thought they were saving for putting off such Projects because the People were getting by on their own, pales in contrast to what it would cost today to build them. It would cost even much more if we deferred these Water and Sewage Projects further into the future; it might even become almost impossible to find the funds to undertake them.

So, the time is now for the full and complete provision of these vital basic systems of infrastructure all over the Country. I would even prioritize these two Utilities over the 100-percent Electrification of the Country. Because, whilst the sources of energy to embark on the Electrification would still be available to harness in the future, the Aquifers may not be recoverable and the Vegetation and Soil lost may never be regenerated. And more, people’s lives that depend on the availability of good drinking Water and good Health cannot be shoved into hibernation or frozen to stop deterioration and wait indefinitely, in the absence of these.

As it turns out now, it used to be lack of Clean Pipe-borne Water that the Politicians thought we were crying for. Nowadays, it is not as much for the Cleanliness of the Water as it is for the sheer availability of the product. Moreover, we cannot risk much further an outbreak of an epidemic by constantly procrastinating fixing our Sewage and Waste Management and Sanitary problems all around the Nation. It is also not enough to just cater for the needs of the Cities and protract the delay in providing for the rural areas, because leaving the rural areas to languish in insanitary conditions would create incubation cites for possible epidemics that the Cities cannot escape from.

Therefore, it makes much Economic, Social and Moral sense to undertake the provision of Portable Water and decent modern Sewage and Waste Management Infrastructure in all parts of the Country, now. A continuous National effort in this regard must be embarked upon. No short stops!! No 60 percent now, and the other 40 percent in the next decade. It ought to be a 100 percent target Project, beginning with what is now being considered. Given that such a National crusade and Project would extend over a number of years, a complete assessment of the cost now and invitation to the Public to help in any other way possible to ensure its success, would cut down the cost in the long run and keep us on our toes in working hard to accomplish the ultimate goal. The People have waited for far too long and the risk of an epidemic is looming daily. We are running out of time.

Long Live Ghana!!!

Columnist: Berko, George