Friday, 21 February 2014

Farage, can we have some of your water please?

Hello All,

Given the recent weather in the UK, we thought it would be appropriate to talk about one of the most pressing issues facing many in the developing world today: water scarcity. Across all 6 inhabited continents, roughly 2.8 billion people experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year[1]. Of the 1.3 billion km3 of water on earth, less than 0.5% is available for human use as accessible freshwater.

A group of women carrying water from a well
“Demographic pressures, the rate of economic development, urbanisation and pollution are all putting unprecedented pressure on [water]”[2]. The increase in the global population (projected to reach 8 billion by 2025) is putting greater stress on food supplies, and therefore water supplies: 70% of global freshwater withdrawals and 90% of consumptive use (water not returned to the local water cycle) is used in agriculture[3]. In the last few decades, unprecedented numbers of people have been lifted out of poverty, improving the standard of living for millions of people. The lifting of millions into the global middle class is causing a shift in eating habits to more water intensive foods placing further stress on water supplies[4].

Water is the most fundamental requirement for life and lack of access “cause[s] social hardship and impede[s] development” [5] (Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General). The impact of this is starting to be seen in Ghana, where a shocking 86% people live without adequate sanitation[6] - 20% higher than the Sub-Saharan average. Ghana has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies over the past decade and its 8% growth in 2013 outpaced the Sub-Saharan African average for a sixth straight year, but this cannot continue without significant investment in the country’s creaking water system. According to the World Bank investments infrastructure for water supply yields a greater economic return than that for farm irrigation, power generation, road building or railway rehabilitation[7]. Given that some of the country’s network of water pipes dates back to 1914, and investment has been stagnant for 40-50 years the situation is now holding back Ghana’s stellar economic performance.

A reservoir in Ghana showing the low level of water
Ghana may seem to us in the west fairly well developed compared to many other Sub-Saharan African countries, but 37% of the population do not have access to water from a tap, let alone to water in their homes. This is more than visible here in Tamale with frequent water shortages in all sectors of the city. Tamale has experienced sensational growth over the past decade (over 7% since 2008) and it is clear at times that the infrastructure is still catching up with the additional 200,000 people who have moved to the city this millennium. The Ghanaian Government does recognise that there is a problem, and will be investing $700 million through 2014 on 30 projects to expand access to clean water[8], but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to prevent the issue affecting economic growth.

Sophie's waterless feet...
Since arriving in Tamale all three of the International Service houses in the city have experienced days without water from the mains. The Resource Centre Team have not had the luxury of running water now for three weeks. All the housemates miss different things about having sufficient water: Meriame “just wants to mop the floor” whilst Sophie misses “having a flushing toilet and clean feet”. Living in such conditions has given the team a greater appreciation of the difficulties of life for many in the Northern Region. Shaibu, our National Volunteer, explains “the water problem in Tamale for the past three weeks has been erratic, as distribution is not done evenly to all part of the metropolis.” For some it would seem, a shortage of water is simply a fact of life.

So whilst you are all underwater in the UK, spare a thought for your brothers and sisters in Northern Ghana, we would gladly take some of your surplus.

This week’s blog brought to you by Jon

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