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General News
Water Crisis Hits Country 3/4/2008

Short of any better adjectives to describe the situation, it can safely be said that Ghana is indeed in the era of what some consumers have described as "water crisis."

The water crisis comes three years into the management contract that was supposed to improve water delivery in the country. Over the past few months the water shortage and resultant rationing has reached alarming levels that have seen even children as young as five on the streets of Accra carrying yellow gallons in search of water.

Last week a car hit and killed a little girl carrying water at a suburb called Y-junction, near La. This newspaper learnt that the little girl had been asked by her mother to go and search for water with a yellow gallon and while she was crossing the road a speeding car crushed her to the ground.

Separate reports from some schools in the Accra Metropolis indicate an alarming level of absenteeism by many school children who spend school hours searching for water. Even those who endeavour to attend classes are reported to sleep while lessons are going on; a direct consequence of spending the previous night searching for water. The water crisis is not only limited to Accra. Reports coming in from as far as Bolgatanga and Bawku paint a similar picture of desperation among the people in the face of shortage of the most essential commodity on earth.

Faced with mounting criticism of its failure to deliver water spokespersons of Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL) have been shuttling from one media house to the other to explain the issues. On one such programme on Citi FM on 24 January 2008 Stanley Martey, the Communications Manager of Aqua Vitens Rand, blamed the water rationing on the dry season. He explained that during the wet season many people do not use treated for other domestic activities like, watering of lawns. "So the pressure on treated water is not too much because people do not consume too much. But during the dry season, even those who have bore holes or wells in their homes are not able to get the water because the water table goes very low and so everybody resorts to the use of treated water in washing vehicles, watering lawns etc."

He said the use of treated water for other purposes other than domestic, puts a lot of pressure on the company, making it difficult for water to get to people who live further away from the source.

As sooner as Martey ended his explanation, angry callers poured cold water on the performance of the company. Ralph from Akropong said "when we talk about infrastructural flaws, we often focus on Accra alone. I can tell you that the whole of the Akuapim mountain range has not seen a drop of tape water for the past months. I think Aqua Vitens is worse than when government was running water supply. I suggest their contract be halted now"

Koranteng from Adenta added "I am a resident of Adenta on a fixed water rate which was based on one day supply a week, the frequency decreased to once in 2 weeks and then once in a month, yet the same rate is being charged."

Martey''s response was that ''AVRL is supposed to handle the operations of Ghana Water Company limited. By operations, I mean the production of water, distribution and let say the commercial aspect of it, sales and collection of revenues and all that. That is our mandate ok . some of the responsibility like infrastructure development is not ours".

Many consumers claim they have not gotten value for money since the take over of GWCL by AVRL on 6th June 2006. This morning, the National Coalition Against the Privatisation of Water will hold a press conference to demand that government takes a second look at the management contract with AVRL.

The coalition is expected to point out that from the look of things AVRL cannot deliver; hence the need for government to abrogate the contract. The coalition will use the botched water contract by Biwater of the UK as a strong case to demand that AVRL be sent home.

In 2003 the World Bank through the HIPC programme convinced the Tanzania government, just like the Ghana government to sign on Biwater to manage Dar es Salaam City water. Failing to deliver its promises, Biwater turned to the government to solve its problems. They requested for more funding for the project and the lowering of the performance target. They also sought for five additional years for the contract, as AVRL is envisaging. The Tanzania government had no option than to cancel the contract because Biwater was not delivering.

As was expected, Biwater was not happy and took the Tanzania government to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Biwater is claiming $25 million as expected profits which they have lost because of the cancellation of the contract. Just this January 2008 under the rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the Tanzania government was awarded £3.5 million. But Biwater is still committed to its suit at ICSID for $25 million.
Source: Public Agenda

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