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Pulitzer Center Update January 4, 2012

Accountability Journalism: Reports on Water from West Africa

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In Accra, capital of Ghana, residents cope with water scarcity while the state water company rakes...

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Multiple Authors
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In Wadata, a neighborhood in Makurdi, Nigeria, water comes from the Benue River. The pump feeding these hoses floats in the river, amid garbage and human waste. Image by Peter Sawyer. 2011.

West Africa has some of the lowest rates of access to safe drinking water in the world. Governments, private contractors, UN agencies and international non-government organizations (NGOs) have spent billions of dollars to address the problem. But success is elusive, and the challenge is only becoming more severe. Populations are growing, people are moving from farms to cities, and city planning is chaotic.

The reasons cited for failure are varied and numerous, from inadequate funds and mismanagement to corruption, lack of spare parts, no local buy-in, and weak institutions. At same time, everyone claims to have the latest and most promising solution to the challenge.

Missing from the flood tide of PR and spin are local, objective voices with international reach that can distinguish high-level rhetoric from baseless posturing and good intentions from good results.

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with journalists from four countries in West Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. In mid-October two American journalists traveled to the region to report alongside them. The results are published in the journalists' home outlets, American media, and here on the Pulitzer Center website.

Ameto Akpe, print reporter, investigates Nigeria's water emergency in the context of the oil-rich country's opaque financial management structure and policies. She highlights Nigerians who suffer the impact of a faulty water system while their leaders, often a stone's throw away, enjoy benefits that could be available to all.

Multimedia journalist Selay Kouassi assesses Ivory Coast's efforts to move beyond the post-election violence of spring 2011. He reports on communities in the western part of the country that have put political and ethnic differences aside to ensure access to safe drinking water despite lack of support from a faltering government-led reconciliation initiative.

In Liberia, radio reporter Tecee Boley takes issue with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel laureate who has served as the Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa since 2009. Local news reports praise the government for bringing water to previously thirsty slums, but visits to these neighborhoods found that residents are still waiting.

Samuel Agyemang, national TV anchor for MetroTV in Ghana, will take his camera to a long-established community in the capital, Accra, that has been without water for two decades and only now receives intermittent service. The director of the water company claims he is raising capital "like nobody's business," but most neighborhoods aren't seeing change, raising questions about Ghana's status as a darling of donor groups. [project coming soon]



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