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Accelerating access to safe water for sustainable development

“Thousands Have Lived Without Love, Not One Without Water.” –W.H.Auden

The quote above clearly illustrates how relevant Water is, and the need to dedicate a Day (World Water Day) to commemorate this life saving and essential commodity.

As the UN Secretary-General Mr Antonio Gueterres put it during the commemoration of World Water Day in 2018, “We cannot continue to take water for granted and expect to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Water is vital in every phase of human life i e from birth to death to manufacturing, industry, construction, mining, farming among others. This further buttresses the point that without water, life is not possible. Yet, around 2 billion in the world continue to live in areas of severe scarcity, while some 1.8 billion of the 2 billion people depend on sources of drinking water that are contaminated with faecal waste, thus, putting these group of  people  at risk of contracting a number of deadly diseases such as cholera.

Lack of access to safe, sufficient and affordable water, health experts say has a devastating effect on the health, dignity and prosperity of billions of people, and has significant consequences for the realization of other human rights.

People are rights-holders and States are duty-bearers of providing water services. Rights-holders can claim their rights and duty-bearers must guarantee the rights to water equally and without discrimination.

As a human right and as an essential service, advocates have repeatedly emphasised the need for authorities in the Water sector to use all available means possible to fast-track access to safe, clear and affordable water for sustainable development, particularly in hard- to-reach areas in Ghana.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Experts have cautioned that if current trends of consumption and pollution continue, by 2050 that number will increase to 3 billion people.

It is to highlight these defects in the water sector that the United Nations (UN) dedicated March 22, of every year to observe World Water Day (WWD)

The observance, according to the UN, is an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of safe water, and take action to counter water-related crises arising around the world.

This year’s celebration would be held tomorrow, Thursday, March 22, 2019 on the theme, Leaving No One Behind “Water is a Human Right.”

The theme comes at the perfect and opportune time to highlight the key issues related to inequalities and also to identify factors and causes to enable in finding lasting solutions to bridging these sometimes-yawning inequality gaps mainly leaving more vulnerable and marginalized people behind in terms of access to safe water.

In Ghana, Coordinators of the occasion say the day would be used to highlight the various areas of disparities that exist in terms of access to water resources within the country. This will enable stakeholders to consciously make effort to address the issues and factors causing these disparities to bridge the gap.

This, they say, would be done mainly by analysis of existing data on various disparities and channelling them out to the public using appropriate and relevant communication tools. Some of the specific areas of focus on would be on the burden of water collection, particularly for women and time spent for water collection; Rural-Urban disparities, particularly in terms of accessibility, affordability, participation and accountability among others.

According to Water Resources Commission, Ghana has successfully and respectfully earned the admiration of all, by not only achieving the MDG target for water but also surpassing the milestones.

However, the Commission bemoaned, “Much more remains to be done as pockets of areas remain unserved and underserved with safe water. Also, various disparities and inequalities exist amongst the people who have access to water. More challenging now is the relatively more ambitious and transformational SDG target for water which is to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, by 2030.”

Data from the Joint Monitoring Programme (2015) show that urban dwellers in Ghana are 11% more likely to have access to improved water sources than rural populations, while Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) for Ghana (2014) also showed that the rate of access to improved water supply varied across the ten regions, from 77.5% in the Northern region to 98.1% in the Greater Accra region.

The survey pointed out that disparities in access to improved water services are however more pronounced between various socio-economic groups. Whereas 56.4% of persons in the poorest wealth quintile have access to improved water services, the rate of access to persons in the richest quintile is 92.1%. The level of education of the head of a household is also seen to have a considerable influence on use of improved water sources.

At the media launch of this year’s WWD in Accra recently A Sanitation Engineer, Mr Harrold Esseku, told Journalists that the last 10% to get universal access (100%) could be expensive because that segment of the population is hard-to-reach and would  require focusing resources in a more efficient and coordinated manner.

He noted that: “While the national total access to basic water stands at 79 percent, there are serious inequalities that must be quickly addressed, especially as only half of the poorest are getting water – which is likely to be highly contaminated, with the burden of water collection more on women and girls.”

Ing. Esseku stressed that: “To ensure that no one is left behind in water access, we need to seriously protect our watersheds and headwaters, provide sanitation and pursue sustainable water management.”

During a panel discussion at the launch Mrs. Vida Duti, Country Director of the International Resource Centre (IRC), observed that as a country, Ghana lacks universal access to water – such that most of the nation’s schools, institutions, health facilities, workplaces and public places like markets lack access to water. She expressed concern about this situation, stressing “These are the areas where people are very likely to pick up water-related infections”.

On his part, the Mr Mohammed Abdul-Nashiru, Country Director of WaterAid Ghana, indicated that while the National Water Policy recognises water as a finite resource that requires proper management to ensure sustainability, Ghana’s Constitution does not make provision for this basic human right. He advocated the explicit inclusion of water-rights in the Constitution, so that government can be taken on for non-delivery.

Activities for 2019 WWD is targeted at the general public, particularly policy makers, the media, advocacy groups, water institutions, water managers and practitioners whose work matter most in decision making processes to ensure that there is equity in the provision of basic but key national resource such as water in a transparent and accountable manner.

Identified partners in terms of coordination and collaboration to implement activities of this year’s WWD include the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources (MSWR), Community Water & Sanitation Agency, Water Resources Commission, Ghana Water Company Limited, GAMA Sanitation & Water Project, CONIWAS, Global Community and UNICEF.

It is time to work collectively towards a more sustainable world  and for Water for Sustainable Development.

 

By Mohammed Suleman   

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