Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Ghana on 12th March 2020, the country has since recorded 15,013 cases with 95 deaths and 11,078 recoveries/discharges as at June 25, 2020. The impact of the pandemic on the population has been felt either directly or indirectly resulting in businesses and incomes been severely affected with disruptions to social life. As a result, the Government of Ghana has put together a Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) to address the disruption in economic activities, the hardship on the people, and to rescue and revitalize industries.
One of the relief packages outlined in the CAP is the Presidential directive of 3 months (April, May, June) free water program for all Ghanaians across the country. Consequently, the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) issued guidelines for the implementation of the directive in the rural water sector.
On May 28th, 2020, the Asutifi North District Assembly (ANDA), Hilton Foundation grantees and the private sector organized a virtual Webinar under the auspices of the Asutifi North District Level Learning Alliance Platform (AN-DLLAP) to discuss the three months free water program. The purpose was to assess progress of implementation, identify challenges, and propose solutions to optimize the program outcomes and to secure the sustainability of the water systems.
On behalf of the District Chief Executive and ANDA, Mr. James Atta-Era said the District has been working closely with CWSA, ANAM partners, key stakeholders and water service providers to explore appropriate strategies for the execution of the program to ensure that communities have access to water. He confirmed that the district Assembly has collated and submitted the list of all water systems managed by Communities Water and Sanitation Management Teams (WSMTs), Private Organization and NGO’s to CWSA Regional office for validation and onward submission to CWSA head Office. Mr. Atta-Era further indicated that the District Assembly has collated and submitted monthly expenditure within the period of April, May and June 2020 by WSMT’s, NGO’s and private Organizations to CWSA regional Office for vetting and validation and onward submission to CWSA head office. The District Assembly mobilized support from water systems operators to provide free water to people in communities to ensure effective handwashing to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19 in the district.
The CWSA Regional Director for Bono, Bono East and Ahafo, Alhaji Eng. Ahmed Awura said that in response to the president’s announcement, CWSA Chief Executive Officer issued guidelines for the program and directed all the Regional Directors of CWSA to oversee the implementation in CWSA managed Water Schemes and through the District Assemblies who have oversight over schemes within their jurisdiction.
According to Alhaji Awura, CWSA system managers are to ensure regular production of water to serve communities with free water to facilitate hand hygiene in the communities, public and institutions. However, industrial and commercial consumers were exempted from this policy. The Regional Director further said that as part of the guidelines, system managers and water vendors are to ensure water users observe social distancing protocols at the facilities. He mentioned in his presentation that, as part of CWSA guidelines to water providers, big drums, and barrels exceeding the size of the normal containers like the ‘yellow gallon, and the bucket should not be allowed to fetch water at the public standpipes and boreholes.
The Programme Manager of Safe Water Network, Joseph Ampadu-Boakye, who is also a service provider and an ANAM partner stated that since the president announced the three months free water program, the immediate effects had been about 15% to 30% increase in demand for water at the water stations. However, even though they did not expect ‘blanket’ free water for all, the organization had to adjust to the increasing demand for water in view of the essential role in the promotion of hand hygiene practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. Mr. Ampadu-Boakye further added that these services have been provided to the communities without any revenue, so the expenses remain the same and have even shot up in some places because they are pumping more water than they would ordinary pump which is putting a lot of pressure on the systems.
As part of the three months free water policy, Ola Resettlement water scheme, one of the key water providers in the district has been working closely with the ANAM partners and the District Assembly to ensure regular flow of water supply to communities in response to COVID-19. Highlighting their role, Mr. Boamah Richard, the WSMT Board Chairman, Ola Resettlement scheme said that prior to the president’s announcement, the system had already made available an amount of 5,000 Ghana cedi’s and procured electricity to supply water to the people for at least the first one month should there be lockdown. He stated “So, in terms of how the system was going to supply water to communities in the event of a lockdown wasn’t a problem, because the system was prepared to provide free water to the people. Even though we were expecting a lockdown, we knew that when we go into lockdown it will be difficult for people to get water, so we were prepared to give them free water”
Mr. Boamah further added, “Raising such amount to supply water free for three months was quite difficult, even though the system had an amount of money down, we mostly depended on the monies people pay for water service. As we speak now, the system needs to mobilize about 11, 000 Ghana cedi’s to keep the system running because many people have not yet paid their bills for the month of March”
Vida Duti, IRC Ghana Country Director, commended the government agencies and the private sector for putting in their best within the circumstances to ensure free water for all. She however noted that the 3-month free water regime also throws up several issues that the sector should not gloss over, and that it will be a missed opportunity to go back to business as usual without looking at these issues critically to inform the COVID emergency response beyond the free water program.
Stakeholders at the meeting concluded with the following recommendations:
- Government must develop a mechanism which can capture various segments of the population
- and their water access to ease targeting for the free water programme
- Government and CSO’s should establish a communication plan or strategies for consumer reactivation to get them back to pay for water service after the free water programme has ended
- The Government Ministries and CWSA must invest a lot more in crisis management planning capabilities to be more prepared to handle future emergencies
- The need to establish a more robust system for monitoring and capturing information so that we can be more prepared to address any future emergencies
- The need for the system operators to keep capital maintenance account to be able to fall on in case of future emergencies
- Government must leverage on technology to increase transparency and reliability on pro-poor water policy.