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What’s the use of a flush toilet, a veronica bucket without water?


“We shall not defeat any of the infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care,” Fmr. UN Sec. General-Kofi Annan.

It’s again said, “no strategy for poverty reduction can ignore people’s vital requirements for safe drinking water.”

On this note, I find it strange the lackadaisical attitude of duty bearers towards the provision of safe water, especially to the most vulnerable communities.

Every year, the 22nd of March is set aside to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

World leaders, relevant organisations, and other participants will convene for the first time in 46 years to review progress toward ensuring access to water and sanitation for all during the United Nations (UN) 2023 Water Conference, taking place in New York from March 22–24.

The government of Ghana, through its actors, local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and developing partners, has been advocating for every household to own a toilet facility and hand hygiene management tools like Veronica buckets, etc. The current designs of toilet facilities come in the form of full or semi-flush toilets, which require constant water supply, likewise the hand hygiene management tools.

However, the basic need for water to achieve this is missing in many communities across Ghana. So I ask, what is the essence of having a toilet in the house which cannot be of good use due to the absence of water?

Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between access to sustainable Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services and poverty levels.

In Ghana, the three threats of water-related crises pose a significant risk, particularly for children and other vulnerable segments of the population. According to the available data, an estimated 18% of households regularly practice open defecation, with more (50% of households) doing so in the five northern regions. While 12% of households in Ghana (25% in rural areas) do not have access to basic water services.

In fact, in Ghana, the regions with the lowest access to WASH services are also the poorest.

Ghana’s actual total renewable water resources are estimated to be 53.2 billion m3 per year. The quality of water resources has deteriorated over the years due to illegal mining “Galamsey” and other unchecked human activities.

Although Ghana is said to have made remarkable progress in the delivery of safe drinking water and that we are on track to achieving basic access targets, the situation on the ground does not wholly support it.

Today, a whopping 3.8 million people, approximately, still lack access to safe drinking water. And the most worrisome of it all is that 25% of public basic schools in Ghana lack safe drinking water.

There are a large number of both public and private basic schools in which toilet facilities are under lock and key due to the nonavailability of water, thus forcing pupils to practice open defecation.

According to a new analysis done by UNICEF ahead of the UN 2023 Water Conference, 190 million children in 10 African countries are at the highest risk of being impacted by three water-related threats: inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene, related diseases, and climate hazards.

The triple threat was found to be most acute in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia, making West and Central Africa one of the world’s most water-insecure and climate-impacted regions, the analysis revealed.

Per Ghana’s Population and Housing Census (PHC) 2021, the national water average remained at 80% between 2011 and 2017, but access to safe water declined in three (3) Northern Regions between 10% and 27%.

However, all five regions in Northern Ghana fell below the national average of 87.7%, according to the PHC 2021 report. Again, safe water access in the five Northern Regions is below all other regions except the newly created regions of Oti, Western North, Bono East, and Ahafo.

According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2018, the rich and urban dwellers are more likely to have access than the poor and rural dwellers.

For instance, there are wide disparities between Greater Accra (97.7%), Ashanti (94.5%), and North-East 54.8%. while 25% and 26% of public basic schools lack safe drinking water and improved toilets, respectively.

The majority of the water sources in these areas are boreholes with hand pumps, which are increasingly difficult to operate due to depleting groundwater. In many areas, the groundwater is also challenged by its high fluoride content, forcing people to rely on surface water.

My recent visit to the Savannah, North East, and Northern regions revealed how devastating storms, floods, and historic droughts are already destroying water facilities and homes, contaminating water resources, creating hunger crises, and spreading disease. But as challenging as the current conditions are, without urgent action to address this eminent danger, the future could be much bleaker.

The new analysis by UNICEF has it that nearly one-third of children in ten African countries do not have access to at least basic water at home, and two-thirds do not have basic sanitation services. A quarter of children have no choice but to practice open defecation. Hand hygiene is also limited, with three-quarters of children unable to wash their hands because of a lack of water and soap at home.

This is how UNICEF Director of Programmes- Sanjay Wijesekera described the water situation in Africa: “Africa is facing a water catastrophe. While the climate and water-related shocks are escalating globally, nowhere else in the world do the risks compound as severely for children.”

It is on this note that I join UNICEF to call on various governments as the world marks World Water Day to put into immediate action the following to reverse the current negative trends:

  • vRapid scale-up of investment in the sector, including from global climate financing.
  • vStrengthening climate resilience in the WASH sector and communities.
  • vPrioritizing the most vulnerable communities in WASH programmes and policies.
  • vIncreasing effective and accountable systems, coordination, and capacities to provide water and sanitation services.
  • vImplementing the UN-Water SDG6 Global Acceleration Framework and investing in the key accelerators.

“The loss of a child’s life is shattering for families. But the pain is intensified when it is preventable and caused by the lack of basic necessities many take for granted like safe drinking water, toilets, and soap,” said Wijesekera.

“Investing in climate-resilient water, sanitation, and hygiene services is not only a matter of protecting children’s health today but also ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.”

The easiest way to deny people social and economic opportunities and trap them in a perpetual cycle of poverty is to deny them access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.

We will not be able to achieve any of the Global Goals if we fail to achieve SDG 6, which states governments should “ensure availability and sustainable water and sanitation for all by 2030.”

The call for households to own toilets and the practice of regular hand washing with soap under running water will be meaningless if there is a lack of safe and affordable water for all.

Article by Franklin ASARE-DONKOH, a journalist and National Organiser for Ghana WASH Journalists Network

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