Thursday, February 14, 2008

Are we really in Control?

Robert Mugabe is one of Africa's most notorious dictators

by William Ntim-Boadu

Have you been interested in recent developments in Africa? Then I guess you would know by now what is happening in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, then man’s cruelty against his fellow man in the Darfur region of Sudan, Nigeria’s unstable oil industry where the spate of recent kidnappings would make your pulse race and more positively, I am sure you would certainly know about Ghana’s recent golden jubilee anniversary celebrations.

As an African and more specifically a Ghanaian growing up in my country’s capital, Accra, I always got this impression that the foreign media- both print and electronic, preferred carrying African news that played us out as a very backward people until I got religion a few years back.
Not that we are backward in every sense of the word, but sometimes some of the things that happen here on the continent will make your jaw drop in marvel.

Let us look at one subtle but very important resource that my compatriots and I allow to run waste annually. My country has been on tremendous economic recovery since 2002 and we have managed some how to slow this recovery for the best part of this year due to water. Do you think it strange? What connection has water got with economic recovery? My country runs mainly on hydro-supplied electricity and the rains did not come in early this year.

Our major hydro dam-the Akosombo Dam- reached its record lows. Industry has suffered greatly as a result and Databank Group, a reputable Corporate and Public Finance Advisory provider in Ghana with operations in the Gambia put an estimate on the annual cost to Industry at about US$60,000. That is costly given that this was an avoidable cost as all prior years’ national rainfall forecast reports pointed to this crisis at about this time.

Well, so the rains have started and heavily at that and this is where my surprise lies. There have been the usual floods which my countrymen and I have become used to over the years and the equally harsh critique of government for its slow response to provide relief for flood victims.

My surprise? how more than half of the twenty and over million population in my country do not have access to portable treated water and yet each rainy season- as you may already be aware, we have two seasons; the dry and the wet seasons- we are showered with water for close to five months intermittently and virtually all the rain run into streams, rivers and of course some get absorbed deep into the ground without trapping much or any at all for treatment and use or for direct domestic use while we buy treated bottled water for drinking.

Rain water may rank next or for want of a better word, second to treated portable water. A farmer in rural Ghana will be so thankful to have such clean water to help with domestic chores; specifically as drinking water.

Government does not have facilities that trap rain water for recycling and for use by the citizenry and government is not my target here; it is the individual home owners. Take the capital city Accra; the real estate industry has been one of the fastest growing that my fear sometimes is that land in the capital is off the sales market.

The development has fast out paced the extension of social services such as provision of portable water be it provided by a government organisation or by a private provider as is the case in Ghana to all newly developed areas. I marvel at how we have been able to build splash homes on usually large sized plots thanks to the trendy architectural designs of highly skilled Ghanaian architects.

How we have acquired empty water reservoirs both dug-outs (underground concrete reservoirs) and mounted ones in our homes but buy treated water that is carted in mobile water trucks to our homes once about every forty-five (45) days, when rain water runs off our roofs into street gutters where they are available or unto our streets in most newly developed areas a little over one hundred and fifty (150) days- 5 months- each year. Though the rains may be delayed but they certainly come pouring.

Thanks to developments in architecture, roofs gutters can be fitted unto the edges of a building’s roofing to ensure 100% collection of rain water into underground concrete reservoirs. How these gutters even enhance the trendy looks of these properties.

Are roof gutters really a recent development? Not really. I recently visited a church in one of the suburbs of Cape Coast- the former capital of Ghana, then Gold Coast. This Methodist Church was built in late 19th century and guess what, it has roof gutters that collects rain water into reservoirs that I believe was used by the early Christian Missionaries all year round when research about the provision of treated water was still being explored in Africa I would want to believe.

This water continues to be used by the local church’s administrative staff for all their relevant utility purposes.

If this technology has been around this long, why are we not fully utilising it? Is it that knowledge about roof gutters with the accompanying reservoirs is not wide spread in my country?
Is it due to poverty? - the easiest targeted excuse for failing to do anything meaningful for our lives-in a country where recent reforms in the Banking and Financial services sector have seen banks chasing customers into their homes to offer credit facilities? or that we are looking up to Government as we sadly do always, to extend infrastructural facilities for the distribution of portable water to our homes.

Most homes in rural Ghana have makeshift roof gutters though without large storage facilities. So I am shocked when citizenry in urban Ghana complains and criticizes government over issues such as water provision when rain water runs off our roofs for five (5) months each year.

Probably we have not yet considered how self sufficient each individual home will be by exploring this rather cheap technology and indeed the free natural resource-rain water.

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