Water Health Educator
Issues Africa: West Africa
Water in Ghana
by Rebecca Shore
On the Western coast of Africa, Ghana sits tucked away between Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. Although the country borders the Atlantic Ocean and has rivers and lakes, it still has a serious shortage of water for its people. From season to season, the amount of water available changes drastically due to things such as “rainfall variability, climate change, rapid population growth, increased environmental degradation, pollution of rivers and draining of wetlands” (Water Resources Commission of Ghana). This variability causes increased health issues among the Ghanaian population.
According to UNICEF, diarrhea due to water borne illnesses causes almost 25 percent of all deaths in children under five. This figure rises in northern Ghana, where almost half of the people get their water from wells and streams that sometimes contain diseases such as cholera.
Since 1985 an international charity organization called WaterAid has dedicated itself to helping the people of Ghana get out of poverty and disease by providing them with safe water. They have helped Ghana install sustainable water supplies, such as wells, and latrines. They’ve also encouraged the government to look more closely at the struggles of the people, so to help provide safe water to its citizens. In addition to setting up these water supplies, WaterAid has also provided Ghanaians with hygiene education to help them learn how to keep themselves healthy. Over the past 26 years, WaterAid has established itself as a hard working organization in the villages and government in Ghana, by helping the people live better, healthier lives.
Even with the help of WaterAid and other organizations, Ghana still has alarming water problems. Many of these issues come from the companies that privatized the country’s water. In towns and cities across Ghana, the pipes that are supposed to deliver water to each household often dry up. As a result, a large number of the population and often the poorest Ghanaians have to spend a large percentage of their income just to pay companies to sell them their own water back. This problem started about ten years ago when the World Bank encouraged the government to privatize. However, local villagers and activists put up a fight against the government and they came to a compromise by agreeing to allow a company, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited, to manage the current system and the government to expand the current system. Still, the water situation in Ghana hasn’t gotten much better; kids are still dying from water borne diseases every day.
Another issue facing Ghana and its water system is what they call “donkey boys”, which are children that supply a village with water from local streams or dams. This water though, is usually highly infected with disease and worms, but they make money off of hauling containers of unfiltered water back to a community several times a day for people who can’t do it themselves. Often times, donkey boys are in a family business, for example, the father gets the youngest son involved as a donkey boy and the oldest son gets the customers. In the past couple years, UNICEF and the national Guinea Worm Eradication Team have been working together to teach these boys how to properly filter water before selling it to people in the villages. They are also helping fix the pipes that should be bringing water to people’s homes. Today, the number of cases of Guinea worm has significantly been reduced, but UNICEF and these other programs continue to work towards riding nation of the worm all together.
In the end, Ghana has a long way to go to fix its water problems, but they are on the right track with help from UNICEF and other organizations around the world.
The Problem of Living
with Nigeria’s Waste
by Kellie Frizzell
In West Africa, 130 million people occupy the country of Nigeria. Nigeria is best known for its production of crude oil which profits around 10 billion dollars every year. Although the country makes billions of dollars a year off oil, most of its money is lost to oil corruption. As a result, people living in these areas are left with nothing. Nigeria inhabits very poor communities who live in the middle of all this corruption. The communities are built on enormous piles on garbage that consist of waste and sewage that expand for miles. A documentary called Rebels in the Pipeline taped residents of these areas that stated that at one time their home used to be surrounded by just water.
Over the years, waste and sewage began to increase and now they use it like a landfill and continue to expand more structures on top of it. With people in these areas living on less than $1 a day, violence increases as opportunities for jobs start to decrease. Residents continue to add to the waste problem every day. In a community along the Niger Delta, the residents have toilets that are holes in their floorboards above the garbage. When it rains, the community floods causing the waste in the water to rise which leaks through people’s homes and streets. When people are exposed to this much waste, there are many adverse health effects that can cause serious and sometimes fatal issues. The water can contain waterborne pathogens that cause devastating illness if used to bathe, drink, or cook with. Waterborne pathogens can include cholera, schistosomiasis, typhoid, and hepatitis A. It is estimated by WHO that 1.5 million deaths happen per year from contamination of unsafe water. Nigeria is definitely increasing this statistic.
In order to reduce the amount of waste, the country is trying to increase the use of recycling. A company called Wecyclers collects recyclables from homes in these poor areas and sells them to bigger companies which process or sell them to countries like Asia. With this effort, it should overtime help reduce the amount of waste people have to deal with every day.
Water Crisis in Sierra Leone
By Elizabeth Hanfman
The West African country of Sierra Leone has the seventh lowest life expectancy (56 years) and one of the highest mortality rates. The population is about 6 million in an area about the size of Maine. The climate is tropical and the country has about six to seven months of rain. According to the 2006 Human Development Index, it is rated at 176 out of 177 making it one of the poorest countries in the world. The capital city, Freetown, is located on the Atlantic Coast.
Throughout the country, there is high demand for water for consumption and especially agriculture, which accounts for about 95 percent of water use. Despite the approximately 6 month rainy season, much of the rainfall is too torrential to be collected and the water that is collected and stored is not adequate to last through the dry season.
Infrastructure in Sierra Leone is "obsolete and nearing breaking point." Across the country only six percent of households get drinking water from a piped supply system. Many of the wells and water pumps have run out of water and a number of small water bodies should not be used due to contamination from agricultural, industrial and municipal waste. About half of the population does not use a protected water source for drinking which includes ponds and unprotected wells. In the cities, approximately three-fourths of people have access to safe drinking water while only about less than half have access in rural areas. The causes of water pollution include from by-products of diamond mining, inadequate treatment of sewage and the runoff of agricultural chemicals.
A Country Environmental Profile commissioned by the European Union in 2006 found that basic sanitation coverage in Sierra Leone was estimated to have been reduced from 30 percent of the population in 1990 to less than 20 percent as of 2000. It found that not even five percent were served by a central sewage system, 11 percent used septic tanks and 76 percent used pit latrines.
Sierra Leone experienced a civil war from 1991 to 2001. The conflict led to a migration of people from rural to urban areas, especially to Freetown. The increase in population has caused a strain on infrastructure including available water resources. Also, the lack of housing has led to camps and squatter settlements with poor sanitation. The Guma Valley Water Company provides water to Freetown (Sierra Leone Water Company is responsible for all other locations) but has been unable to accommodate the number of refugees that have come to the city. An increase in water demands, deforestation around the Guma reservoir and the coinciding with the end of the dry season led to the most severe water shortage in Freetown in May and June 2006.
Municipal solid waste (MSW) management in Freetown is the responsibility of the Freetown City Council and their institutional capacity was found to be inadequate to manage this. About 74 tons of MSW is produced a day and only 35 to 50 percent of it is collected and dumped at one of Freetown’s dumps. The remaining waste ends up as litter or dumped into waterways. Two of the city’s dumps, Granville and Brook and Kingston, do not meet the criteria for sanitary landfills. They lack the liner required to prevent the draining of leachate into surrounding water and unfortunately the areas surrounding these dumps are heavily populated and contain numerous bodies of water. In addition to pollution from MSW, sewage treatment is inadequate. Most Freetown residents use pit latrines and it is common in the slums and squatter settlements for people to defecate in bushes and streams. In some places, toilets are constructed by placing wooden planks over streams.contaminated water. One study in the urban area of Bo looked at water access and quality and found only about 39 percent of the water sources examined met the World Health Organization microbial safety requirements which are based on fecal coliform levels. This type of contamination is associated with the greatest health risk to humans. For example, Hepatitis A and typhoid are both spread through drinking water containing fecal matter. Sewage and municipal solid waste contain pathogens, heavy metals and persistent organochlorines which have adverse health effects. Following the severe water shortage of May and June 2006 in Freetown, there was a cholera outbreak which can be associated with the necessity of finding alternative sources of water that may have been contaminated. Also, the torrential downpours of the rainy season, although difficult to collect potable water from, lead to flooding and still water which are breeding grounds for malaria carrying mosquitoes. Flooding also fills wells with waste and contaminates other water sources.
The most common cause of death in Sierra Leone, infectious diseases, is from pathogens most commonly found in
Water pollution from industry could have even more of an impact in the future. At the end of the war, only one large scale manufacturing industry, the Sierra Leone Brewery Ltd, was in operation but since then micro financing has led to the emergence of many smaller industries (for example, metal workshops, dying, wood workshops, food industries, butchers, etc.). This can lead to the generation of more solid waste and wastewater that is potentially discharged untreated into the environment or adjacent water bodies. The Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Act of 2000 requires industries to manage their waste in an environmentally friendly way however there are currently no discharge standards. Also, the institutional capacity of the Environmental Protection, Waste Management and Water Sanitation Dept has been shown to be inadequate to monitor and enforce the standards.
Water scarcity and pollution have affected every sector in Sierra Leone, including the tourism industry. In a recent article, the impact of water scarcity on Freetown’s hotels was highlighted as many are unable to get water for their business or it is too expensive. In order for Sierra Leone to improve their economy as well as ensure a healthier existence for its people, they should focus on sanitation and water pollution at the domestic and industrial level. Establishing criteria for wastewater and discharge of industrial waste and working to strengthen the capacity of Water Sanitation, Environmental Protection and Waste Management Institutions are key. Experts also suggest a dam should be constructed at the Orogu River to supply more water to Freetown.
Water in Mauritania
By Elizabeth Hanfman
Located in West Africa, the country of Mauritania has a population of about 3.8 million and it is estimated to grow by three percent every year. It is a poor nation with approximately half of the people living on less than $1 per day. Due to expanding desertification it is currently estimated at 75 percent desert. This has caused many to migrate from rural to urban areas in recent years.
The British risk analysis group, Maplecroft, devised a list of countries with the least secure water supplies. On the top of the list was Mauritania which was rated as being the least secure out of the 160 nations included in the analysis. It was followed by Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Niger, Iraq, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. One of the main reasons was the lack of natural water sources- it has only one year round river, the Senegal, and a small number of oases and wadis. The capital city, Nouakchott, and other Atlantic Ocean beachside towns rely on an underground lake, Trarza Lake, and the Idini well field which have both been shrinking.
Rapid urbanization has taxed the existing water infrastructure in the cities. The price of water has been steadily increasing in the capital while the availability has been decreasing. According to a recent article, a liter of water costs about half a cent and with a family in need of about 200 liters a day this adds up to approximately $1 per day which is not affordable for many of the nation’s poor. The only neighborhoods in the city with a piped water supply are in the most affluent areas and even there the supply is not always reliable. Many of the city’s residents live in slums with very minimal services. The private providers of water to areas with no piped coverage dig their own wells outside of the city and transport the water in by truck. Water is also sold from donkey carts in plastic "jerry cans."
The dangers involved with people digging their own wells include the possibility of collapse as well as the potential for the water to become polluted by sand, dead animals, etc. Other risks of water pollution are due to the impact of rapid urbanization on the environment. Pathogens from the water have been estimated to cost the Mauritanian government approximately US $15 million per year based on 2005 health data. The country’s Ministry of Health reported more than 120,000 cases of diarrhea, 4,200 of cholera and 17,000 of parasitic intestinal diseases resulting in more than 130 deaths in 2005. Many of the illnesses diagnosed at the hospitals are associated with the consumption of unsafe water. According to a 2008 study by the United Nations, only three percent of the water in Mauritania is purified and this is only found in Nouakchott.There have been numerous recent protests over the failure of the government to provide drinking water and other basic services. The Ministry of Water says that to ensure future availability of water to Nouakchott and other big cities, they have started working on a pipeline originating at the Senegal-Mauritania River. Also, as of 2004 they said more than 3,500 water sources were either completed or under construction, however the United Nations reports that some of the projects have broken down because of the lack of qualified technicians to maintain them, communities that have moved or grown and pumps that require fuel that is not affordable.
Concrete water policy, investment in water taps, the involvement of locals in the management of water and the control of prices are all cited as solutions to Mauritania’s water crisis. With the demand for water increasing due to the rise in population and the possible future effects from climate change, the situation could grow worse without a comprehensive plan in place.