A GNA feature by Albert Oppong-Ansah
A number of people at Sang, capital town of newly created Mion District in the Northern Region have expressed worry about the lack of potable water and very limited access to sanitation.
The situation is likely to aggravate during the coming harmattan season if swift and special attention is not given to the predominantly farming community. Water is so scarce that the people share the resource in the local dam with animals.
Ironical Sang with a population of about 900,000 and 71 kilometres away from Tamale the Northern Regional capital, has no success story to tell when it comes to the issue of potable water. The reason is simple- the people have no source of potable water.
The town is famous in the Northern Region for the mass production of a type of yam called ‘Laribako’ in Dagbani or ‘puna’ in the Akan dialect.
It holds an unenviable record of being part of about 71 per cent of people who practice Open Defecation (OD) in the region.
Naa Musah Abukari, Chief of Sang told the Ghana News Agency that the people depend on water from a dugout, throughout the year.
“UNICEF drilled a borehole and mechanised it for the town but we used it for two years and it dried up. Our access to water is not secured especially this year that the volume of rainfall has reduced.
“The situation is very sad especially as the town is expanding with the population increasing. Currently the water level has not even reached half and my fear is that we may not get water during the dry season to support our livelihood,” he said.
Another fear of Naa Abukari is that the town only has two public toilets, which only one functioning. Almost all the people especially women and children engage in OD, popularly known as free range.
The faeces are washed into the dugout, during rainfall.
Statistics made available by World Health Organisation and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, indicates that although Ghana has currently exceeded its 2015 target of 78 per cent coverage for use of improved drinking water by six per cent, a significant proportion of the population totalling about 3.5 million still do not use improved sources of drinking water and more effort is still needed to extend coverage.
It said the gap between the present national coverage on improved sanitation of 12.4 per cent and the 53 per cent target by 2015 indicates that there must be approximately five times increase in coverage to be able to achieve the set target.
The report confirms that residents of Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions are less likely than others to use improved facilities as only three per cent of the population in the Northern Region use improved sanitation facilities, which are not shared communally.
Mr John Aduakye, Chief Hydro geological Officer at Community Water and Sanitation Office in Tamale said even though available figures indicate that water coverage in the region has increased the situation is far from good.
“Through a joint effort of development partners such as the European Union, World Bank, UNICEF, CIDA and government the regional coverage has improved from 33 per cent in 2003 to 62 per cent in 2012 but the fact is that some of the schemes are not functioning due to unavailability of water, bad maintenance culture and its old nature.
“About 30 per cent of boreholes in the region are currently broken,” he said.
Mr Aduakye said out of the 20 districts as at 2012 only seven of them had up to 70 per cent water coverage while the remaining 13 had from 30 to 67 per cent coverage of available schemes, which includes; boreholes, hand dug well, small town pipe system, limited mechanised schemes and Ghana Water Company schemes.
Less than 50 per cent of the people in East Gonja, Tolon-Kumbungu, Central Gonja, Kpandai and Tamale Rural have access to potable water.
Mr Rex Jalepa Mumuni, Regional Environmental Health Officer said ideally, every household in Ghana especially those in the north must have access to potable water and sanitation to promote good health, reduce poverty and promote dignity.
“Although we don’t have comprehensive sanitation information to advice policy makers but as a matter of fact most people are engage in OD in this region and this is not the best. With the support of UNICEF we have started gathering data towards that,” he said.
Mr Mumuni said it is wrong to situate toilets at places either than recreational parks, offices, market, schools and lorry stations which, are for emergencies.
He said people should not depend on public toilets.
“It’s now clear from the trials of community led total sanitation approach that communities practicing OD can be stopped if they contribute to building house hold latrines while government used proceeds from the oil revenue to provide potable water.
“People should now be thinking of helping themselves but not what someone can do for the them,” he said.
Various studies showed that the region has enough underground water and would be able to serve people with potable water in the next 10 years if government and development partners make it a priority and invest hugely to tap it.
If this is not done then water will continue to be a life and death issue in the Northern Region.