Shortly after dusk on a Sunday, we walk through the oceanfront part of Teshie, a popular and economically diverse part of Accra. The street is bustling. A cat runs along the corrugated zinc that roofs cement-block homes and businesses. Below, shopkeepers continue their trade past dark while women and children file by with water containers for the evening cooking and cleaning.
There is a water tap here, fed by the Ghana Water Company, the state-run entity that provides water to Accra and all urban areas in the country. For 15 years, water did not flow to this community and its residents walked miles down the road to fetch water of uncertain cleanliness.
Just five months ago, water began to flow through the pipes in Teshie, shortening the walk from miles to yards. The president of Ghana, John Atta Mills, attended the ceremony to open the valve.
Taps that had been little more than a faint promise became a source of income. Those lucky enough to have a tap on their property could charge a small fee to their neighbors for a bucket of water. The community crowds around the water points. With containers filled, residents discreetly slip a coin into the tap-owner’s hand and hoist the load onto their heads to walk back home.
It’s not a complete victory. Water still does not come everyday, but it is a big step forward. Behind the progress is municipal chief executive, Daniel Mensah, who came into power about two-and-a-half years ago. He tells us about the service extension with a mix of pride and bemusement.
It started with a woman who discovered she had a water main in her yard across a small lagoon from oceanfront Teshie. A plan was hatched to lay a pipe across the lagoon to the community.
“The entire project to let people who have been denied water for more than 15 years, it cost us less than 30,000 Ghana Cedis (about $17,200). In less than two-and-a-half years of a new government, they have this,” said Mensah.
Ghana’s water supply system, like many in developing countries, is full of challenges. The urban centers are critically affected. If all the water processed by treatment plants here made it to Accra’s residents (much is lost to leaks), just 62 percent would have access to piped water. That leaves at least 38 percent relying on sources of water that can make them sick, or threaten their lives.
Accra has two sources of water—the Weija and Kpong dams. The Weija dam serves eastern Accra and the Kpong the western end. Engineers working on both dams say that each reservoir has the potential to serve the whole area of Accra. But the dams don’t operate at full capacity. If they did, no part of Accra would ever lack water.
However, most communities rarely get a continuous supply of piped water. Like Teshie, many have not had water for decades. Some residents rely on broken water pipelines in gutters; others have to walk for hours to fetch water, which is often not even safe to drink.
Progress is incremental, but it is happening. Alban Bagbin, the minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing, says that the country will have 100 percent coverage by 2025. That seems optimistic—there is a great deal of work to be done.
The night we were in Teshie, one woman danced in the street with excitement as she told us about the new flow of water. But that water comes just a few times a week. For the rest of the week, it’s life as it has been for the last fifteen years.
Reporting contributed by Samuel Agyemang and Stephen Sapienza.