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Ghanaians Must Protect Fresh Water Resources

Tue, 30 Apr 2013 Source: Ziem, Joseph

By Joseph Ziem

Water pollution can be defined as anything humans do to cause harmful effects to water bodies. This can include pollution of rivers, lakes, oceans, and ground water pollution. The causes of pollution in water are virtually endless.

Manufacturing plants are major causes of water pollution, using bodies of fresh water to carry away waste that can contain phosphates, nitrates, lead, mercury and other harmful and toxic substances. Hot water discharged into streams can raise the temperature of rivers to change the chemistry of water bodies causing what is termed as ?thermal pollution (Grill, 2007).

Mining is an activity classified as most polluting as well as a drain on the dwindling water resources in the World. A study conducted by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in 1999 on the water situation in African countries specifically cited Ghana as being one of the most water-stressed countries.

In Ghana, the effects of the activities of mining companies on water bodies through dewatering, ground water pollution, the free use of water for mining operations, pollution of streams through cyanide and other waste spillages, are contributing enormously to impoverishing the communities who live around their operational areas.

Thus, as Ghana joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Fresh Water Day Celebration which fell on 22nd March, stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector of the country’s economy, strongly urged government to deal with the problem of illegal small scale miners as well as other multinational companies or individuals engaged in the pollution of fresh water resources in many parts of the country.

This year’s event was under the theme: “International Year of Water Cooperation”. The day was set aside as a means of focusing attention on the importance of fresh water and advocating for the sustainable use and management of fresh water resources and this has been celebrated each year. The celebration was first recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The UN General Assembly responded by designating 22nd March 1993 as the first world fresh water day and since then, it had been celebrated each year highlighting on specific aspects of fresh water.

Recent studies on water situation in Northern Ghana showed that the region is endowed with surface water and much less of groundwater resources. The area is relatively dry, with a single rainy season that begins June or July and ends in October. Available surface water is about 1, 737 billion gallons per annum which is about 19 percent of the total annual national figure of 40 billion m3.

However, this amount is not available all year round as most of the rivers draining the region dwindle to hardly any or no flow in the dry season with only pockets of stagnant water remaining because of the high seasonal rainfall variation.

The region is underlain by mainly the voltaian sedimentary geological formation which is generally perceived as not a good source of groundwater with low borehole success rate of about 53 percent according to the Ghana Hydrological Service Department.

The region for instance, has an estimated population rate of 3 percent according to the 2010 population and housing census. The implication is that population is steadily increasing but the water resources are not available throughout the year. This results in water rationing, creates conflict for water among residents. This also implies that there is growing demand for clean drinking water which is exacerbating the degradation of land and water resources as well as increasing conflict in water use.

Now with the advent of climate change, the area is faced with severe water crisis. The rainfall patterns have changed and government would not have the privilege to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on water.

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.

According to the 2000 population census, Northern Region had 1,820,806 people and the daily water available at the time was 2,083 gallons per person. The estimated 2010 census is 2,468,557and the daily water available is now reduced to 1,659 gallons per person, a reduction of 20 percent within ten years according to the authorities of Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL).

Also, it is estimated that 500,000 people in five Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) in the region, could soon experience erratic supply of potable water to their homes by 2015 due to the inability of the water Treatment Plant at the Dalun Headworks to work beyond its optimum level.

The GWCL said the optimization of the plant capacity at the Dalun Headworks would be due in 2015. This is because, the last expansion and rehabilitation works at the Dalun Headworks by Messer’s Biwater BV in 2008, were expected to reach their final optimization by 2015 and thus would not be able to pump water beyond the required capacity from Nawuni or White Volta River for treatment and consumption by the populace.

The GWCL supply water from its production site at Dalun to almost half-a-million people spread across the Tamale Metropolis, Savelugu-Nanton Municipality, Sagnarigu, Tolon and Kumbungu Districts, with its larger clientele being residents of Tamale.

Currently, the GWCL daily production is about 7 million gallons or 39,000 cubic meters. Even though this figure is expected to increase due to population rise, GWCL officials dread the 7 million gallons daily production could become insufficient if another water expansion project that is expected to have been under construction by now to increase production levels is further delayed by government.

The Nawuni River, the main production source of potable water for residents of the five MMDAs in the region, has recently come under serious environmental threat.

Years of uncontrolled sand winning by building contractors and owners of tipper-trucks, has destroyed farmlands and the ecosystem along the river banks including economic and medicinal trees. As a result, the depth of the river has reduced drastically over the years due to silt which has incapacitated its water holding ability.

More worrying is the fact that the silting of the river is posing a great danger to residents of the aforementioned MMDAs, threatening the river’s future capacity to supply the required volume of water to about half a million people.

An official source at GWCL says it cost the company an amount of GH¢50,000.00 to procure chemicals such as alum and others to treat the water in order to ensure that it is safe for consumption. This means that the more the river is polluted, the more chemicals would be required to treat the water and the public could therefore pay more for it in future.

Indeed, the region currently suffers from shortages in clean drinking water and about 40 percent (CWSA, 2009) of people use unimproved sources of drinking water. As a result, incidences of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera and among others are common.

Waterborne diseases are spread through contaminated drinking water supply and through inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices. Also, 37.5 percent of people use unprotected ponds, lakes or streams as sources of potable water supply in the region. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of safe sanitation, especially when 92 percent of residents lack access to improved sanitation (VanCalcar, 2006).

Addressing a forum in Tamale to mark the recent celebration of the 2013 world fresh water day organized by World Vision Ghana, David Nunoo, Coordinator of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) of the NGO, called for cooperation of all Ghanaians to protect water resources in order to ensure their sustainability for future use, and I absolutely agree with him.

Like any serious environmentalist, he reckoned the fact that, government has a huge responsibility in making available potable water to its citizens as well as ensuring that those polluting fresh water resources put a stop to it by enforcing environmental laws and prosecuting those who breach such laws.

Mr. Nunoo also called on government to double up efforts to make available safe drinking water to a lot of Ghanaians particularly women and children in rural areas who still walk long distances in search of the precious commodity which most often affect their occupational and schooling hours.

Meanwhile, according to a World Health Organisation and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report on water and sanitation, Ghana currently has exceeded its 2015 target of 78 percent coverage for use of improved drinking water by 6 percent. The report however said a significant proportion of the population (about 3.5 million) still do not use improved sources of drinking water and more effort is still needed to extend coverage to these people. On sanitation, further analysis of available data indicates that for Ghana to reach its MDG target of 53 percent for use of improved sanitation by 2015, it will mean that as much as 1.2 million people need to use or have access to improved sanitary facilities every year till 2015 (from 2008).

The writer is a freelance journalist but regularly writes for The Daily Dispatch Newspaper. Views or comments may be sent to him via ziemjoseph@yahoo.com/ +233 207344104.

Columnist: Ziem, Joseph