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Nawuni River Faces Threat From Sand Winners

Tue, 26 Mar 2013 Source: Ziem, Joseph

By Joseph Ziem

The Nawuni River, the main production source of potable water for residents of the Tamale Metropolis, Savelugu/Nanton Municipality as well as the Tolon and Kumbungu Districts in the Northern Region of Ghana, has 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 metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), threatening the river’s future capacity to supply the required volume of water to about 500,000 people.

The shallowness of the river has also resulted into annual flooding of communities along its banks which sometimes have led to loss of life and property. In fact, this also reduces the amount of water the river feeds into the Akosombo Dam, the country’s major source of hydroelectric power.

A recent research conducted by the Ghanaian Developing Communities Association (GDCA) in 29 communities in the Northern Region, indicates that 190 hectares of land have already been destroyed through sand and gravel winning activities which has directly affected 177 families. In addition, 68 percent of all pits that were never reclaimed were dug by contractors and individual tipper-truck owners.

According to Sulemana Musah, GDCA’s climate change officer, the perpetrators of these negative environmental practices usually hire labour from young people in communities close to the Nawuni River where the sand is mined for monetary rewards.

Some of the communities that suffer from the debilitating effects of the sand and gravel winning include Datalon in the Tamale Metropolis and Ying, Kulidanaali, Kodugziegu and Dipali in the Savelugu/Nanton Municipality as well as Afayili, Golazoli, Yuni and Gbrimkabani all in the Tolon and Kumbungu Districts.

Other Looming Threats

Ghana has many water resources, but the amount of water available changes from season to season and from year to year. Also, the distribution within the country is far from uniform with the South-Western part better watered than the Coastal and Northern Regions, (WRC website).

However, availability of water is decreasing owing to rainfall variability, rapid population growth, increased environmental degradation, pollution of rivers and draining of wetlands.

Indeed, Ghana currently suffers from shortages in clean drinking water, particularly in the Northern Region, where 40% (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. In the Northern Region, 37.5% of people use unprotected ponds, lakes or streams for drinking water supply. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of safe sanitation, again particularly in the Northern Region where 92% lack access to improved sanitation (VanCalcar, 2006).

The population of Tamale alone is 371,351. Currently the Metropolis requires 7.5 million gallons of water daily. By 2013, according to the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), it would require about 10 million gallons (45,640 cubic meters) daily.

However, environmentalists’ fear that if sand winning coupled with other negative environmental practices such as open defaecation and bad farming practices on the banks of the Nawuni River continues at the rate at which it is going, the GWCL might not be able to meet its target and the people of Tamale and the adjoining districts will suffer for it. Besides, not only would the people be deprived of safe drinking water, but fish stocks and other aquatic life in the river would also deplete.

For instance, according to Assistant Communications Officer of GWCL Nii-Abbey Nicholas in a recent interview, 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.

He admitted to this writer that the activities of the sand winners definitely was affecting the production capacity of the Nawuni River which serves as the source of raw water for treatment hence, considering the fact that the sand winning was causing too much silting on the river bed.

Nii-Abbey also confirmed that GWCL had held several meetings with the sand winners to talk to them about the dangers their activities posed to the river and the company’s installations. However, none of such engagements has yielded results and if that persist, one day the whole of Tamale and its adjoining districts would be deprived of water because the tipper trucks run over the major transmission lines when they are going to fetch the sand at the river, he added.

Profile of Nawuni

Nawuni is a farming community situated about 40km Southwest of Tamale, the Northern Regional capital. The only way to access the community which is in the Kumbungu District is by a partly asphalted and dusty road and it takes about one and a half hours through public transport from Tamale. The community is situated close to the White Volta River also known by the locals as Nawuni River.

The White Volta River is the headstream of the Volta River in West Africa. It originates in Burkina Faso and flows into Lake Volta in Ghana. Its main tributaries are the Black Volta and the Red Volta. It is also the river that villagers have to cross to get into the village called Daboya which is situated in the Northern Region of Ghana.

Nawuni was originally an Ewe settlement, surrounded by an area mostly populated by the Dagomba people. Today, the community is populated with about half Ewe, traditionally fishermen and half Dagomba, mainly farmers.

The community's proximity to a river comes with both its advantages and disadvantages. It provides a source of water for the community. In fact, it is from Nawuni that the Savelugu Municipality, Tamale Metropolis as well as the Tolon and Kumbungu Districts pump most of their safe drinking water from.

The water is drawn from the Nawuni River (White Volta), sent to Dalun, a bigger community nearby for treatment before transmitting it to the capitals of the aforementioned MMDAs for residents’ use. A pipe of clean water is also transmitted back to Nawuni and is accessible to the community through public taps. The river is also used for fishing, which is the main livelihood of about half of the people in the community.

Tamale, the capital of Ghana's Northern Region, is the third largest metropolis in Ghana and the fastest growing city in West Africa. The water supply for Tamale as well as the other districts and their surrounding environs was established in 1972 with the construction of an intake on the Nawuni River and a Treatment Plant at Dalun.

The distribution system however suffered from acute water shortage decades later and the vast majority of inhabitants of Tamale did not have access to a reliable supply of potable water. Those that were connected were subject to a programme of water rationing. The most serviced zone in Tamale only received water for two and a half days a week.

Thus, the erstwhile NPP government in collaboration with Messer’s Biwater in 2006 initiated what was known as the Tamale Water Supply Expansion and Optimisation project to expand and rehabilitate the existing water treatment works to increase capacity from 4.5 to 10 million gallons per day; provide extensions to the distribution network; and a programme to reduce water losses through leak detection and pressure management.

The improvements included replacing the pumps in the existing water intake structure; 7 km of 600 mm raw water pipeline, installation of a new treatment plant, replacement of treated water pumps, installation of a new 22 km of 700/800 mm transmission pipeline, construction of a 20,000 m³ reservoir at Kukuo Yapalsi and 96 km of new distribution mains.

Brief Overview of National Water Situation

According to former Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing Alban Bagbin, statistics on water availability in Ghana from measurements taken on all river systems namely; Black Volta, White Volta, Oti, Tano, Pra, Ochi, Ayensu, Densu, Ankobra, and others have it that the average annual volume of water available is about 40 billion cubic meters (about 9 billion gallons) per year. This is the amount that is replenished to the river systems annually through rainfall. In addition to these surface water resources, the country also has groundwater which quality is generally good, except for some cases of localized pollution and areas with high levels of iron, fluoride and other minerals, he added.

Speaking to stakeholders in the water sector in the Upper East Regional capital town of Bolgatanga, Mr. Bagbin recalled that from 1960 to 2010, the amount of raw water available to Ghanaians has reduced by a factor of 3. He attributed this to increase in population. Ghana’s population according to him had grown from 6.5million in 1960 to the 24million now, adding, by the annual population growth rate, this reduction factor would double to 6 by the year 2050; that is, the water available to the country would have reduced by a factor of 6! By the above, it means that the water available to Ghanaians today is only 27% of what it was in the 1960s, and will be only 16% by 2050.

Aggravating the situation he said was the pollution of the water resources by human activities like bush burning thereby exposing the soil to extreme heat and evaporation and reducing the land to a dust bowl, cutting down of trees to burn charcoal, improper use of various agro-chemicals for farming, construction, car washing, dumping of waste into or near water courses and among others.

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