NB: This post is part of a GhanaBlogging event to commemorate World Water Day (March 22)
The word floating around in Ghanaian circles these days is oil. Since ‘the great find’ the hopes of numerous Ghanaians have been buoyed and politicians are having quite the field day using the ‘expected oil revenues’ as bargaining chips for one thing or the other. I don’t share in that optimism, hence my delay in writing about Ghana’s “oil miracle”. Instead, I’m focused on another precious resource, one that has unfortunately become more of a commodity than a right. Water.
Science tells us that water and oil don’t mesh together. They just don’t. But if what the analysts are saying is correct, the two might have more in common than we think. At the rate things are going, water is becoming increasingly scarce. So much to the point where it’s expected that water could be the next oil: a precious element in the hands of few. Unless Ghana realigns its efforts into ensuring water access, we won’t even have the necessary human capital to manage or reap the benefits of our current oil find.
Every Drop of Water…
You can complete the subheading above however you want, but one thing is clear: water is essential to life. And I’m not just saying that to sound cliche and go along with the “Water is Life” saying. It really is life.
Theology: According to the Holy Bible (Genesis 1:6) God created (liquid) water on the second day, only after he created light – which could be interpreted as establishing his presence, since many religions refer to God as “the light”.
In Surah 11:7 (Prophet Hood), the Holy Qu’ran states the presence of water before anything else in the universe, with the exception of Allah’s throne (presence). In Surah 21:30 (The Prophets) it emphasizes the fact that life wouldn’t be possible without water .
Daily Living:It is general knowledge that humans can live without food for a relatively longer time [weeks] than without water. The life span for an individual without a drop of water is 2 to 3 days.
Water: A Right or Privilege?
This topic is a controversial one in numerous circles. On the one hand, water existed before any of us came into being, so technically, nobody should be dictating who can or cannot have access to water. On the other hand, like all resources, water needs to be managed effectively in order to ensure equal access and use. While some think this should be in the hands of the government, others believe private corporations will manage it more effectively.
Whatever the case, our current situations are far from the ideal. An estimated 1 billion people – mainly in developing countries – lack access to water. Although 70% of the earth is covered with water, and the most advanced technology can make undrinkable water consumable, climate change (global warming especially), environmental degradation and so on are threatening the world’s water bodies. Result: the already scarce element is on the verge of even more scarcity. Some experts have already dubbed it “The Water Wars”.
The Case for Water: Ghana’s “Forgotten Oil”
The scary thing about being denied a right for so long is that we begin to think that not having that right is the norm. I’m certain most Ghanaians have experienced the water situation in Ghana to some degree. Whether you’re the richest man on the block or the shoe shine boy across the street, you have either seen or experienced the dire circumstances in Ghana when it comes to water. Until summer 2008, I was conditioned to not having access to water. As far as I knew, it was normal. Sometimes you have water, other times you don’t. And when you don’t, everything else comes second place. But do you realize that this is rather the absurdity?
In summer 2008 I participated in an institute and I literally saw the blinds open when I realized this fact. Looking back at my life in Ghana, I saw how the water issue was not only a nuisance, but a deterrent for economic productivity. I decided to focus my economic development seminar paper on privatization in Ghana. After conducting the necessary research and writing the paper, I was fuming mad. Bit by bit, Ghana let go of something it should have conserved and managed for both the current and future populations. Unfortunately, with the privatization of the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation, things have only gone downhill.
Ghana’s [Non-Existent] Water Policy
I won’t bore you guys with the details of my findings. If you’re so inclined, you can read the entire research paper here. Instead, let’s talk about a few reasons why the Ghanaian government should redouble its efforts to ensure water access and in so doing, turn our economy around.
Health, Sanitation & Nutrition: Water comes into play in all areas of health and nutrition. In order to grow food, water is needed. In order to cook, water is needed. In order to eat, water is needed (washing your hands before eating). In the long run, water helps provide the body with the necessary nutrients which in turn keeps an individual healthy. Should someone fall sick, water is needed to keep their fever down, keep them hydrated (especially in the hot African sun!), keep them in good sanitary conditions, have them take their medicines and so on. A healthy, clean and well-fed populace = a healthy + more productive work force. Enough said.
Education: As fate would have it, the water crisis in Ghana tends to hit just as senior high school students are preparing for the big SSSCE. There have been many instances (too many!) where students have to go home as their respective educational institution cannot provide for their water needs. Without the right amount and type of water, the incidence of diseases (cholera anyone?) is high. As anybody knows, studying at home is practically next to impossible — unless you’re just disciplined like that. Such disruptions in student educational schedules not only plays on their psyche, but could potentially affect their future and ours (Ghana’s). Personally, I definitely know I skipped many a ‘prep-session’ because we had to go in search of water. More access to affordable water = more time for studying and developing human capital (Ghana’s most valuable resource).
Electricity/Power: The water issue in Ghana is closely linked to the “lights off” situation. It is quite sad that Ghana is still running on a plant built about 50 years ago for a population way less than the current one. This is where Ghana’s leadership has failed seriously. Sure, there are talks about adding the Weija and Bui Dams to the Akosombo Dam in order to generate electricity and what-not, but for heavens sake, when shall we actually see these ‘plans’ come to fruition. I cannot believe it has even taken us this long. As far as I’m concerned, the president/ government that finally solves Ghana’s water and electricity situation will go down as one of the best – if not the best – in my book. Anyway, better water management + access = increased hydroelectricity = increased productivity (through the use of technology especially).
Development of Industries: All of Ghana’s major industries – cocoa, gold and so on – require water. Even the upcoming oil industry would require millions of gallons of water in order to work. Think it’s just the primary sector that needs water? Think about the burning sun. Unless people are hydrated, the financial, tourism, manufacturing etc industries would literally die of thirst.
Human Rights: Women and girls suffer disproportionally when it comes to the water crisis as they are the ones who go hours in search of this essential element. Making the necessary investments in equal access to potable water is an investment in human rights.
Play Your Part: Little Drops of Water Make A Mighty Ocean
The Earth 2100 project points out that if the world were to end due to climate change, the developed world wouldn’t notice until they try opening their taps one morning without retrieving a single drop. Even if our government(s) aren’t putting the right policies in place, there are some simple things we as global citizens can do to help conserve water and increase awareness about the issues. In addition to doing little things like turning off the tap when brushing my teeth – or better yet, using a cup – I’m working on “The Water Chronicles” – a series of short stories aimed at depicting the struggles and nuances of lack of water access.
With each of us chipping in, we can help turn this absurdity around. Not sure where to start? Share this blog post with friends, family, acquaintances and let’s awaken ourselves to reality!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.