Is Ghana making progress toward universal access to clean water?

According to UNICEF, there is a strong link between poverty and access to clean water. Poorer people are over 20 times more likely to spend more than 30 minutes collecting water than wealthier people. Human existence, whether in urban or rural areas, is heavily dependent on water and its availability. Water remains fundamental to human existence and quality of life, from domestic activities such as cooking, farming, cleaning, and washing to industrial endeavours such as food and medicine production. Thus, it is incumbent on any government to take adequate steps to make water accessible to its people.

In the past decade, Ghana has made significant progress in providing basic water services nationally. However, quality or clean water access has seen minor to moderate improvements. Only 36% of the population have access to a safely managed water source, while only 18% have access to at least basic sanitation. Seventy-six per cent of Ghanaian households drink contaminated water with faecal matter. Regional inequities exist even when a national aggregate shows improvement in clean water supply. Access to water, especially clean water, is very limited in the Northern regions compared to the Ashanti, Central, and Greater Accra regions.

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) converted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Goal six (6) of the SDGs – access to clean water and sanitation for all, ensures that all member countries of the UN prioritize the accessibility of clean water and sanitation facilities to all citizens as a fundamental human right. As such, it is inescapable for the government of Ghana to ensure universal access to clean water for all citizens of Ghana by 2030.

According to Ghana’s 2022 Voluntary National Review (VNR) report, which is a comprehensive UN-government progress report on SDGs in Ghana, approximately 92.2 per cent of homes have access to improved drinking water sources in 2021. This percentage represents a 7% increase from 2010. Also, Ghana’s 2022 VNR report indicates that a greater proportion of urban households had access to improved drinking water sources and basic drinking water services than rural households. In urban areas, sachet water (51.5%) and pipe-borne water (33.6%) are the two primary water sources, whereas, in rural areas, borehole/tube well water (33.6%) and pipe-borne water (33.6%) are the two primary water sources (28.8 %). Most of the country’s major regions had access to clean water; however, more than one-fifth of the population in four regions, namely Northern, Oti, Northeast, and Savannah regions, lacked access to clean water sources.

Whereas the results from the VNR report indicate a possibility that 100% of the population will have access to safe drinking water by 2025, there is a need to improve water infrastructure in rural areas. The Ghana 2022 VNR report promises that Ghana is on track to achieve its national objective of providing equitable access to basic drinking water services by 2025. Although this promise is welcomed, the government must prioritize taking preventive steps to protect clean water sources and corrective measures to repair damaged infrastructure to reduce the 7.8% of people who still lack access to clean water.

These interventions include investments in private water production companies for expansion into remote areas to provide clean drinking water, the extension of pipe-borne water networks to developing and remote areas, and the use of local water resources to establish water treatment plants within these communities. The government must prioritize providing clean water to the Northern, Oti, Northeast, and Savannah regions, as they are the regions that significantly lack access to clean water.

A significant constraint of Ghana’s water provision efforts is water pollution, with illegal mining (Galamsey) being the primary cause. Illegal mining activities have destroyed many water sources and continually hamper the achievement of the “clean water for all” goal. According to the VNR report, despite minor improvements, the freshwater sources continue to be negatively affected by illegal mining, uncontrolled pollution, and waste disposal into river bodies.

The government must increase its efforts to prevent illegal mining, uncontrolled pollution, and waste disposal in rivers. These steps, among others, include the continued arrest of illegal miners and their financiers, empowering the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Minerals Commission, and the EPA to monitor legal mining activities. Water pollution prevention is an emergency measure, primarily because of the limited availability of functioning water filters. The government plans to replace these defective filters, but the costs can run to an estimated $35 million – a significant constraint with the country’s economic challenges.

Ghana has made significant strides in providing access to water nationally. However, the quality of water supply has seen limited improvements. The government has made only marginal improvements in providing access to clean water. The situation can be improved with private and state investments in the water production department and strict monitoring of our water basins. The provision of clean water for all is an achievable objective, as demonstrated by the 2022 VNR Report, but it requires greater commitment from all stakeholders, particularly the government.

The government must install a robust illegal mining control system and equip law enforcement and environmental protection institutions to monitor and control freshwater systems. Also, as clean water is made accessible, the state must not neglect the already deprived Northern, Oti, Northeast, and Savannah regions. They must continue to provide water to many communities through projects and investigate modern sustainable ways to ensure access to water for other remote communities. With the measures suggested, I will have high expectations that universal access to clean water for all Ghanaians will be possible by 2030.


The writer is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development (CenSuD) at Koforidua Technical University, Ghana. You can reach him on simon.ametepey@ktu.edu.gh

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