With the recent tragic passing of President John Atta Mills and the December elections approaching, the Ghanaian government has been making international news headlines. What you don’t hear as much about are the local government institutions that keep the country running. This blog post is about those officials, plauges (?*!? Keep reading…) and offices that help Community Water Solutions do its work in the Northern Region.
Wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself already. Northern Region is a region, like an American state or a Canadian province, in (you guessed it!) the north of Ghana. Actually, its not Ghana’s nortmost region; that distinction is held jointly by Upper East and Upper West Regions, but more about them on a later day. Tamale is the largest city in Northern Region. It’s where our fellows sleep, where our office is located, and where we purchase many of our business supplies. Northern Region is further divided into districts, which are governed by elected District Assemblies. The signboards that fellows see around town, “Iddrisu Haruna, Lawyer, for Tamale North Constituency”, are campaign tools for the December District Assembly elections. Each district also has a building that houses the offices for public works. Environmental Health is the department that I am most interested in, as water comes into play here. Most districts have a Water and Sanitation Team that deal with their constituency’s difficulties in these areas.
If each district has a team devoted to dealing with its local water problems, where and why does CWS come into play? The answer is complicated. Part of the answer has to do with boreholes. Many governments, NGOs and private citizens the world over think that boreholes are the silver bullet to the water crisis. It certainly is the standard approach to water access in communities here. Boreholes and other groundwater access can be a great solution – they can cut down on time hauling water and they don’t have most of the contamination problems that traditional surface water sources have. However, boreholes can be problematic in many places. In large areas of Northern Region, for example, groundwater is extremely difficult to access, and borehole success rates are as low as 20%. Boreholes and pumps are neither cheap nor intuitive to fix and currently a huge proportion across sub-Saharan Africa are in disrepair. Lastly, they are comparatively expensive to drill. Which introduces the next challenge faced by the District Assemblies: funding. The majority of district funding for water projects does not come from Ghanaian tax dollars. It comes from national or regional donations from multinational organizations and NGOS like UNICEF or the EU. This means that yearly funding is tied to donor priorities, which can be tricky. For example, since Ghana is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals for water, district budgets for water projects are getting axed. It also means that one-time expense projects, like boreholes, where you can cut a ribbon, snap pictures, check a box and drive home are more likely to get funded than longer-term needs (like monitoring). Between borehole mania and funding difficulties, it has been challenging for districts to come up with alternative solutions local water problems, but that’s where we come in!
Of course, different district bureaucracies function at different levels of efficiencies. Some districts or teams are able to stay on top of their game even in the face of these challenges. Some, uh, aren’t. CWS is a lean, mean water-treating machine, and we are able to pick up the slack when local institutions just don’t have the capacity to meet all their constituency’s basic needs.
Challenges aside, without the help of district officials, CWS’ would not have been able to expand as quickly or effectively as we have. In turn, we are able to compliment local government efforts with our unique and flexible approach to the water problem here. It’s a partnership we hope to continue well into our future!
For more information about the upcoming elections, check out Ghana Decides, a really cool local NGO that is using all sorts of social media to keep Ghanaians updated about the election!