A GNA feature by Godwill Arthur-Mensah
Accra, March 10, GNA – Freshwater is undoubtedly the most essential commodity in the 21st century and it is being used for domestic, commercial and industrial purposes.
However, over the years various socio-economic activities of man have destroyed such a valuable resource, which plays a pivotal role in human survival.
The menace of illegal mining popularly called galamsey had polluted the country’s major rivers, streams, lakes and underground water sources.
Mrs Margaret Macauley, the Chief Manager of the Water Quality Assurance Department of the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), told journalists at the launch of this year’s World Water Day in Accra that most of the Company’s water treatment plants had come under threat in recent years as a result of societal pressures.
Some of these key drivers and societal pressures that impacted negatively on the water resources included rapid population growth, bad economic policies and unregulated agricultural practices.
Others are rapid urbanisation, climate variability and change, indiscriminating discharge of wastewater into the environment and ineffective enforcement of environmental and sanitation laws, as well as encroachment on water bodies and discharge of untreated industrial waste.
According to her, these societal pressures affected the Company’s ability to discharge its core mandate effectively.
She said the GWCL currently operated 93 water supply systems with an average production of 874,496m3/day with potable water demand estimated at 1,131,818m3/day, while the demand shortfall estimated at 257,322.18m3/day.
With regard to access to drinking water in the country, Mrs Macauley indicated that the urban water supply coverage was estimated at 85 per cent and the rural water coverage estimated at 76 per cent while the national water supply coverage was pegged at 80 per cent.
Moreover, she said, the Company had to grapple with numerous operational challenges as a result of inadequate management of water and wastewater in the country.
According to her, these challenges had deteriorated raw water quality and water sources resulting in high chemical consumption for water treatment and operational losses, as well as frequent unscheduled shut downs, high maintenance cost, reduction in life span of water treatment plants, low revenue generation to recover cost and threat to public health.
Currently, she said, some water treatment plants such as Kibi, Osino and Anyinam on the Birim River in the Eastern Region, Abesim on the Tano River in the Brong -Ahafo Region and Daboase on River Pra in the Western Region, had been suspended in view of the activities of illegal mining, while water supply to the coverage areas affected.
According to her, a number of other water treatment plants are under similar threats and at the verge of shutting down to protect plants installation and public health.
Mrs Macauley said if these threats were not checked and addressed holistically, it would jeopardise the Company’s quest to attain the economic freedom desired as a nation.
Due to rapid global growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the quantity of wastewater generated and its overall pollution load had increased globally.
She said wastewater management had been seriously neglected, adding that wastewater management had been grossly undervalued as a potentially affordable and sustainable resources.
The 2017 United Nations Water Factsheet indicates that, globally, more than 80 per cent of the wastewater generated flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or re-used.
It is also estimated that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faecal maters, putting them at the risk of contracting diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene caused 842,000 deaths each year.
According to her, the opportunities for exploiting wastewater as a resource were enormous because safely managed wastewater could serve as an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.
As a nation, we must ensure systematic reduction in the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increase recycling and safe re-use of both liquid and solid waste.
A large proportion of wastewater generated was discharged directly into the environment without or with very little treatment because the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies that were responsible for waste management lacked the capacity to manage them effectively.
There must be pragmatic steps to improve the sources of water by reducing pollution, eliminate dumping of liquid and solid waste as well as minimise the release of hazardous chemicals and materials into water bodies.
Mr Macauley said most of the wastewater treatment plants were dysfunctional therefore partially treated wastewater were discharged back to the environment, which could negatively affect the ecosystem and pose a health risk to the surrounding communities.
Water has to be carefully managed throughout the various paths of the water cycle from fresh water abstraction, pre-treatment, treatment, distribution, use, collection of grey water, post-treatment, re-use of the treated wastewater, and its ultimate return to the environment, ready to be abstracted to start the cycle again, she stated.
The United Nations General Assembly in 2010 explicitly recognised universal access to water as a human right and considered it as one of the most important issues of the 21st century.
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of Water Resources Commission, Mr Benjamin Ampomah has called on stakeholders to tackle the menace of illegal mining with much seriousness instead of paying lip service to the problem.
He said water was a valuable resource that played an essential role in human survival therefore perpetrators of illegal mining must be made to face the full rigours of the law.
Mr Abdul-Nashiru Mohammed, the Country Director of WaterAid, said 3,600 children die every year worldwide out of diarrhoea as a result of poor quality of water consumed by them and bad sanitation practices.
She said children lose instructional hours at school because they spent valuable time searching for water while teenage girls stayed out of school because their schools lacked menstrual hygiene facilities.
The country had good water management policies but institutional arrangements are elaborate, which have constrained their effective implementation therefore the WaterAid Country Director called for strict enforcement of such policies.
According to him, there must be serious funding of water management challenges while metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies are empowered to deal with wastewater at the local level.
In addition, he said the assemblies must enact bye-laws to deal decisively with water pollution offenders in order to serve as deterrent to others while the civil society organisations engage with the government, traditional authorities and other stakeholders to find solution to the water challenges.
The World Water Day is celebrated by the international community on the 22nd of March each year, to draw attention to the importance of freshwater and advocate the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
The theme for this year’s World Water Day celebration is: ‘Water and Waste Water,’ therefore provides an important opportunity for all stakeholders to learn more about how wastewater can be a valuable resource to the country’s economy and how it’s safe management would aid in investment as well as the health of the populace and the ecosystem.
Some activities earmarked for the celebration include public awareness creation through radio and television discussions, editorials, writing of feature articles, radio news commentaries and special in-depth news interviews.