With a bucket in hand, Zubaida Abduliah (pseudonym) and three other teenage girls from a senior high school in Tamale begin their journey of several kilometres in search of potable water.
“We go to the dam every day after classes to fetch water,” she says and heads towards the nearest source of water in her community.
The dam, which is located at Kukuo, a suburb of Tamale, is several kilometres away from Zubaida’s secondary school, but this is the alternative source of water for the students since the taps in their school run dry weeks ago.
Although school authorities have tried addressing the lack of potable water supply to the school by procuring water tankers in addition to the one borehole for the daily activities of the students, it is inadequate to meet the sanitary needs of the hundreds of students.
“The situation is not good, some of our friends who do not want to go for the water in the dam manage what they get from the tankers for the week but it is difficult for us females,” Zubaida narrates.
Owing to the situation, boarding students sacrifice their time to get additional water.
Zubaida says the unpleasant situation is having a huge impact on their studies.
“This is a boarding school and there is time for everything. When we leave like this, it takes some time for us to get to the dam and back to school. By the time we get back we are tired and cannot study at night,” she laments.
As Zubaida gets closer to the dam, other students from other senior high schools facing a similar water problem are seen on their way to fetch water.
But the students are not the only users of the dam; cattle have also found their way to the dam to quench their thirst. The students are, therefore, forced to share the only source of water with the animals.
Another student, Kareem Mahama, indicates that the dam water is normally mixed with chemicals before they consume it.
But he was quick to add that sometimes when it becomes critical, they use the water in its raw state to prepare their food at the dormitory, although it poses health risks to them.
Zubiada’s school is not the only educational facility affected by the inadequate potable water supply. Two other senior high schools in the capital of the Northern Region are experiencing the same fate.
Vittin Senior High School and Dabokpa Technical School, all in the Northern Region, have their students going out in search of potable water.
The students have abandoned their toilet facility due to the water shortage.
The two manual boreholes are faulty, with the mechanised one connected to the kitchen for the preparation of their meals.
The Northern School of Business in Tamale is not spared in the crisis. Information gathered shows that the situation has persisted for almost a month.
Just like Zubaida, most of the students have to travel for about three kilometres sometimes to places like the Tamale Technical University campus and areas like Agric, Gumani in search of water.
According to some students, due to the lack of water, most of their washrooms have not been washed for weeks, thereby, posing sanitation-related health problems to them.
“We have to gather our clothes for weeks and sometimes we just pick our pants and other important ones and wash them leaving the rest of the dirty clothes,” Halima Yahaya, a student says.
She hints that normally when it becomes critical, they get access to water from a manhole in the school, which is not clean for consumption.
Halima says female students are the most affected by the situation, as they find it difficult, especially when they are in their menstruation, to keep clean because they are forced to take their bath once a day due to the lack of water.
“Some of us bath once a day due to lack of water because we struggle to get the water and we have to manage it to do a lot of things,” Halima says.
Where Ghana Stands
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) VI, which Ghana is a signatory to, talks about ensuring available and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
The global effort to achieve sanitation and water for all by 2030 is extending beyond the household to include institutional settings, such as schools, healthcare facilities and workplaces.
This has been reinforced by global education for all strategies highlighting how water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools improve access to education and learning outcomes, particularly for girls, by providing a safe, inclusive and equitable learning environment for all.
But data shows that the country’s progress towards achieving that goal is very slow, especially in schools.
In Ghana, close to six million people (nearly 22 percent) rely on surface water to meet their daily water needs, leaving them vulnerable to water-related illness and disease, according to WaterAid, Ghana.
Further, 67 percent of Ghanaians lack access to improved sanitation or are entirely without toilet facilities.
The Northern Regional Ghana Water Company Public Relations Officer (PRO), Nii Abbey, attributes the shortage of treated water to a couple of problems, including increased population and erratic power supply.
He indicates that the demand for water in the region is more than what the company could supply.
“Mostly districts and municipalities are not supposed to be within the Ghana Water Company but due to the bad groundwater situation in the north, they are forced to join because even if they dig boreholes they cannot get access to water,” he explains.
According to him, as far back as 2016, the company had a deficit of about 38,267, 2017-41,170 cubic meters which rose to 44,178 cubic metres in 2018 and currently about 60,000 cubic metres deficit because of the substantial population increase.
Mr. Abbey, however, explains that the company is working on establishing a new treatment plant worth about $250 million to be built at Buipe on the White Volta, which will take care of the deficits the company is facing currently.
He adds that the Water Company had its own electricity line in the past but due to the continuous population growth, other communities have been hooked on the line, which has reduced the percentage of voltage the water treatment plant at Dalun uses to treat water.
“When the plant gets the high voltage, it’s a problem to the communities and when they reduce the voltage it’s a low voltage to power the plant so you see the challenge. But we are looking at creating an alternative station at Nyankpala for the Dalun treatment plant,” he adds.
Mr. Abbey says the activities of illegal sand winners around the Ghana Water Company plant in Dalun have greatly affected their operations.
He reveals that the sand winners use excavators in their activities, thereby, creating a huge problem for the company, as well as polluting the water bodies.
The Ghana Water Company spends huge sums of monies to treat the raw water before it gets to the consumer.
He calls for the sand winners to abide by the Buffer Zone Policy by conducting their activities about 100 metres away from the river.
A total of 450 communities across four regions are due to benefit from a peri-urban and rural water supply project, government announced recently.
The Minister in-charge of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, indicates that the project “will provide clean drinking water to these peri-urban and rural locations across the following regions: Ashanti, Volta, Eastern and Greater Accra regions using an advanced UK technology.”
“The Ministry of Sanitation & Water Resources and the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, in conjunction with Aqua Africa Limited, a UK private sector entity, has been working together on a market-based approach to provide sustainable clean, sterile drinking water to peri-urban and rural communities in Ghana,” he says.
He adds, “Government is embarking on this project as part of measures to attain the Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation for all and to cater for the underserved hard-to-reach rural population.”
“The implementation of this project will maximise social and health benefits such as clean, safe and reliable water supply, improvement in school attendance and reduction in water-borne diseases,” Mr. Oppong Nkrumah hints.
“It will also improve access to reliable potable water supply throughout the year, with 225,000 people taken out of water poverty from the first project,” he states.
So while the peri-urban areas get improved access to water, students will have to continue fetching water kilometres away from their school.