Watsan Forums

Water and sanitation community consultations

As part of our EU-funded water and sanitation project (see project details), we have met with many deprived rural communities to tell them about their rights to water and sanitation, and shared knowledge about the responsibilities of their District Assemblies for meeting communities’ rights by providing water and sanitation services in their communities. We also asked them about their struggles of access. Their stories are both disturbing and sad.

Difficulties with their District assemblies (DAs)

  • Although communities are unaware that they have rights to water and sanitation, some have approached their DAs to ask for installation of these services in their communities. The responses are often fairly meaningless: ‘we have heard you’ or ‘we will come there’ or ‘we have agreed, we will do it’…and then they don’t hear from them again. The communities must maintain the pressure and not give up: this project is showing that sustained pressure does lead to action.
  • Some communities say their Assembly Men/Women have not been taking their problems to their District Assemblies. They suspect the DAs have lots of money but they don’t want to use it on community services projects, so backhanders are given to keep certain people quiet. The Assembly Men/Women say they have been going to the DAs with community members but added that, when the DAs receive requests for may be 100 boreholes and they only have money for 2 or 3, how do they choose?
  • The Procurement Officer of one DA told us that 50% of their DA Common Fund is spent on administration. He was trying to imply that the Fund is too small. However, it could really be that their admin costs are unnecessarily high.
  • Sometimes the job is only half done… One community reported their DA agreed to provide latrines, and they brought cement to add to sand for making the bricks, but the cement wasn’t enough. The bricks weren’t strong so the structures collapsed after a short time.
  • One person commented that the DAs haven’t brought any water facilities, but that it was rather NGOs that have provided all the boreholes, wells and dams in the area.
  • Communities are usually required to bring 5% towards the total capital cost of water and sanitation facilities provided by the DAs. But for very poor rural communities, these contributions are impossible to raise. One community said the DA asked them to bring GHC 2,500 out of a total cost of GHC 15,000 (which is way more than 5%). But when they said they couldn’t raise it, the DA replied they couldn’t help them. How are the poorest communities ever going to get potable water? Other communities reported that, even when they do bring the requisite 5% towards the total project costs, the DAs still say they don’t have the money to help them. Another community said they brought their contribution towards the repair of their dam, and the DA told them to go back to the NGO that provided it in the first place. The DAs are showing very little responsibility or accountability towards their communities, and it is easy to wonder exactly what the DAs’ Common Fund is actually used for.
  • The Budgeting Officer for one of the Municipal Assemblies said that DAs cannot process their budgets without the presence of assembly persons, but also added, however, that they will make their own decisions in the absence of community members and assembly persons. The communities, on the other hand, are not being informed of budgets or budgeting processes. They now know it is their right to know about the DAs budgets and to participate in decision-making about how the money is used, and are already pressuring to be part of the process and to see DAs’ budgets.

Problems with existing facilities

  • Water boreholes are a very good way to secure access to water for remote rural communities because the water is tapped very close to the point of need, which is an advantage over surface waters because it doesn’t need to be transported or piped. However, pump sustainability is a real threat to communities’ continued access to potable water. Several communities said they have boreholes that have dried up over the years or are ‘broken’. One community had four hand-dug wells but all have dried up. Drilling the borehole at the right time of year – ie. late in the dry season – is a crucial factor in borehole sustainability. Also crucial is to form and train a water management committee to maintain the water borehole and pump, and to collect a small user fee (with lifeline tariffs for those with least ability to pay to ensure nobody is denied access to water) for saving towards maintenance and repair in the case of damage or breakdown.
  • One community was given a mechanised borehole by an NGO but the rope had broken, so they were trying to put together money to buy a new rope, but this could only be purchased from Bolgatanga, a few hours’ drive away. They also said the well is insufficient anyway because it dries up seasonally. This illustrates the importance of drilling the borehole at the right time to ensure year round availability of water.
  • Another community that was given a mechanised borehole said the Electricity Company of Ghana brought a bill of GHC 320, which they weren’t able to pay, and now the electricity supply has been cut off so they are not able to use the borehole. A water management committee collecting a small fee could have ensured this had not happened. It also shows that hand pumps are better in very poor communities to minimize costs to the users.
  • Some communities have built dams but they share the stored water with their animals, so it isn’t potable. Also the reservoirs dry up during the dry season anyway.

Communities’ own efforts

  • One community reported that, although it had taken them 10 years to achieve, they managed to save enough money to get their own KVIP installed. This is a major success, but also one that’s very rare.

Indirect problems arising from no water and sanitation facilities

  • School teachers don’t want to live in communities that don’t have potable water or sanitation. Without teachers, children’s education is suffering badly and reducing even further their chances of ever getting themselves out of poverty.
  • Children, especially girls, arrive late at school or don’t get there at all because they have to collect water for themselves and their families, and this can take hours when they have to walk a long distance and/or they have to wait in a long queue before they can fill their buckets. If the children are small, the women fetch the water to bath them, but the same problem arises and the children are either late or miss school altogether.
  • It’s also not easy for men living in communities that don’t have potable water. They said that when they find a woman they want to marry, they can’t tell her where they come from because she will run away: she knows it’ll be her duty to fetch water for herself and her family, and she may have to spend many hours fulfilling that one chore alone if there is no water in the community. Sometimes they have to go as many as four times in a day to a far place to fetch water.
  • Communities use dam water to irrigate their farm crops such as rice and shea nuts, so it undermines their livelihoods when the reservoirs dry up.
  • The women quarrel over the water in the boreholes, especially when they are sharing between different communities.
  • Communities are very aware of the sicknesses caused by lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Specifically mentioned were cholera, diarrhea and malaria.

The communities are praising the water and sanitation project because many of the participants have said they never knew they have rights to water and sanitation, and so found it difficult to really push their District Assemblies to fulfill their needs.  With the new skills they are learning, they know they will be more persuasive and persistent. We are also encouraging them to demand to see DAs’ budgets (through their rights to information), including the DA Common Fund and how it is used, and which projects their DA decides to fund. The DAs often make the excuse that they don’t have money, but some community members suspect they have a lot of money but that they don’t use it efficiently or that they fund projects that don’t really benefit the poorest people.


Become A Volunteer