As Ghana Grows, Demand for Water Follows

January 3, 2011

  • Though Ghana has reached middle-income status, the country struggles with a water deficit and widespread lack of sanitation
  • Despite challenges, Ghana is one of only four countries in sub-Saharan Africa on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for water by 2015.
  • Government estimates it will need to invest about $1.6 billion a year over 10 years for adequate infrastructure

January 3, 2011 — In Accra, Ghana’s bustling capital city of close to two million people, urban growing pains are evident:  traffic-clogged roads, sprawling neighborhoods, and water taps that sometimes run dry.

While 90% of the capital city’s residents have access to safe water, only about one-third have drinking water piped into their homes—and even among that group, many get only an irregular supply.

Many households must buy water for flushing and washing from private tankers, and drinking water from private producers. Those with no room to store water—mainly the poor—pay more for it, says resident Beatrix Allah-Mensah, a World Bank social development specialist whose portfolio  includes water-related projects.

“It’s very expensive to buy it this way, one day at a time,” she says. “Water flow into homes is a big challenge, even in Accra.”

In the capital, supply simply doesn’t meet demand. “You can still improve a lot of things in order to have better distribution of water,” adds Ventura Bengoechea, a World Bank water and sanitation expert. “But at the end of the day, more water is needed to supply water 24/7 to everybody.”

Reaching Middle Income Status

Ghana was recently declared a middle-income country, based mainly on a rebasing of its economic indicators. Support from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, and other donors has helped the country reduce poverty and modernize over the last decade.

But many people remain poor, and important development goals still must be met.

Ghana’s water deficit, among other factors, has led the government to estimate it will need to invest about $1.6 billion a year over 10 years for infrastructure, to help the country develop the level of services appropriate for a middle-income country.

In the water sector, plans are under way to meet that benchmark. Ghana’s government plans to double the capacity of the Kpong intake and water treatment plant to deliver another 40 million gallons of water a day to the Accra metropolitan area. Officials recently signed an agreement with Export-Import Bank of China for a $270 million concessionary loan for the project.  And Ghana has partnered with the World Bank to implement a new, $75 million water and sanitation project that would help distribute water, with a special focus on the most vulnerable residents.

Safe Water to 1.6 Million

The World Bank and other partners, including the African Development Bank, the Netherlands, and the Canadian International Development Agency, have been working with the Ghanaian government to increase access to safe water and “improved” sanitation such as toilets, sewerage and septic systems, and latrines, in rural and urban areas.

Through such efforts, Ghana is making steady progress toward the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for safe drinking water.  According to a 2009 World Bank study, Transforming Africa’s Infrastructure, the country is one of only four (and one of two low-income) countries in sub-Saharan Africa on track to meet the goal by 2015.

Access to safe water rose from only about half of the population in 1990 to 82% in 2008, according to the World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

Ongoing and recently closed World Bank-supported projects are on track to deliver safe water to 1.6 million people; all have used IDA’s highly concessional financing or grants.

Such projects include the Small Towns Water and Sanitation project, which brought safe water—mostly from underground─ to 550,000 people, as well as sanitation to 50,000 people. The recently approved Sustainable Rural Water and Sanitation project is expected to provide access to safe water and sanitation to 600,000 people in rural areas and small towns, and the ongoing  Urban Water Project is expected to bring access to safe water to 500,000 poor people in urban areas and increase the  number of low-income households connected to Accra’s piped water system.

Sanitation: A New Challenge

The picture is less hopeful for sanitation in Ghana– access has risen from 7% to only 13% in nearly 20 years and is one of the lowest rates of access in Africa, according to the Joint Monitoring Programme.

“The priority in the past has been water. The new challenge is sanitation, which is even more important as people move from rural areas to the cities,” says the World Bank’s Bengoechea.

In rural areas, there is usually land to build latrines and other sanitation facilities. But “in urban areas and particularly in slums, this isn’t often the case,” says Bengoechea.

Due to land constraints, community toilets of about 20 cubicles have been constructed in many urban areas.  Although they help reduce the problem a little, they aren’t considered improved sanitation under MDG guidelines because they are shared by several families--one reason Ghana’s sanitation rating is so low.

“In urban areas, you might need to have sewerage in some high density zones, which in Ghana is almost non-existent, and you need to improve the operation and maintenance of public treatment plants, on-site household facilities and the communal toilet facilities,” says Bengoechea.