Woman gathers water from a river

Water Crisis in Ghana

Every day, more than 844 million people live without access to safe drinking water. These families depend on water collected from sources that are unclean and often far away — a 2018 report found that 1 in 9 people travel more than 30 minutes every day just to access water. Women and girls are almost always responsible for collecting water for their families, spending nearly 200 million hours per day traveling to and from the water collection sites. Scarcity of water, polluted water, and widespread waterborne illnesses resulting from a lack of access to clean water has impacted nearly every aspect of daily life, from education to industry.

Key Takeaways:

  • • Rapid urbanization, deforestation, and illegal gold mining have placed a strain on Ghana’s water supply.
  • • Poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have fueled the rapid spread of waterborne illnesses, the leading cause of death for children under the age of five.
  • • Heavy metals have polluted many of Ghana’s water sources, leaving communities with no alternative.
  • • The water crisis has impacted other issues, including:
    • ✓ Deforestation
    • ✓ Food insecurity
    • ✓ Electricity shortages
    • ✓ Girls’ education and school dropout rates

The Ghanaian Water Crisis

While other African nations often suffer from a lack of water, Ghana’s main problem is polluted water. While occasional water shortages do grip the nation due to severe winter winds (called harmattan), the real issue lies with the decreasing amount of safe water, and families face that hardship year after year. While problems like deforestation have contributed to contaminated groundwater, the largest source of pollution sources have been tied to small-scale, illegal gold mining. Ghana is Africa’s largest producer of gold, and it is estimated that about 35% of the precious metal come from these illegal, small-scale operations. Pollution from the mining process has contaminated water sources across Ghana with toxic heavy metals, such as mercury and lead. These heavy metals are difficult to filter out even when using a water treatment facility, and cannot be boiled out by families collecting the polluted water.

In Ghana’s rural areas, just 11 percent of the population has access to safely managed drinking water. In urban areas, the increase in water pollution coupled with rapid population growth has led to poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Just 13 percent of Ghana’s 31 million people have access to safely managed sanitation services, and 22 percent don’t have access to basic hygiene services like handwashing facilities with soap and water.

The leading cause of death for children under the age of five in Sub-Saharan Africa is cholera and other waterborne illnesses that stem from inadequate WASH. These illnesses cause frequent diarrhea and subsequent poor nutritional absorption, which has caused Ghana’s high rate of child stunting (17.5%) and frequent failure to thrive. For families dependent on heavy metal-polluted water, high levels of mercury and lead causes serious and permanent damage to the brain, nervous system and kidneys, causes developmental delays and learning difficulties, and can even be fatal. Additionally, because women and girls are overwhelmingly responsible for fetching water for their families, they are also often the most affected by waterborne illnesses/heavy metal poisoning and their consequences.

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Children going to gather water

Water’s Impact on Education

In addition to the impact on health, the water crisis has influenced most other aspects of everyday life for the Ghanaian people.  For women and girls, fetching water — even polluted water — takes hours of their day. In rural Ghana, girls will wake up before their family to go collect water from the nearest source. This can be as far as 30 minutes away, and needs to be done at least four times a day. Girls will miss large parts of the school day and their leisure time to go fetch water, leaving them little time to study or play. Even for those who successfully bring water back home, it’s often polluted with heavy metals like mercury and lead or contains bacteria that makes them sick — little reward for a hard day’s work.

As children are often responsible for collecting their family’s water, this arduous task can impact school attendance, or even prohibit them from attending altogether. Over a quarter (29 percent) of all Ghanaian children do not complete primary school, and only 35 percent complete upper secondary (high school equivalency). This number plummets when looking at poor and rural families — just over half of children from Ghana’s rural northern regions complete primary school at all.

What Can Be Done?

For families in Ghana, finding a clean, safe source for water is vital to their survival. The construction of wells in water-scarce communities relieve families of the search for water sources, saving families as much as 200 hours of time per year. This is especial important for the women and girls overwhelmingly responsible for water retrieval: instead of dedicating most of their day towards fetching water, they can participate in other activities like employment, church, education, leisure, and simply being a kid. 

Communities are often locked in a poverty cycle for generations due to the absence of easily accessible, safe water. Community members who spend hours searching, walking to and from, gathering, and even waiting in line are unable to participate in other activities that benefit the community as a whole, like starting a new business or encouraging children to obtain an education. By changing just a single factor — water — a community can break the cycle and begin the journey towards a more prosperous future. 

Clean water also acts as a steppingstone towards community development as a whole. It makes sense: when community members aren’t sick, children can stay in school longer, families can devote more time towards economic activities, and churches can grow their congregation and reach more lives than before. Once the basic need of clean water is met, communities can come together and build each other up.  

Cross Catholic Outreach’s Water for the Poor program was launched to provide dependable water sources in impoverished rural communities suffering from thirst, waterborne illness, and a lack of modern infrastructure. Learn how you can get involved today.

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