Health and Nutrition: Ghana
Water in Africa
- Africa, Ghana
by Sasha Bennett, Bongo-Soe, Ghana
The water quality has obviously been improved by the installation of boreholes. But even though borehole water is taken from deep in the ground, other factors do lead to eventual contamination. If the boreholes are situated far away from houses, the water is fresher than in boreholes situated in the midst of houses. This is because groundwater is contaminated by waste disposal: cooking, rubbish, and just plain filth. Free-range defecation, which is human waste, around or near the borehole area, can seep into the groundwater and cause contamination. There have also been cases in many district capitals of tiny worms present in borehole water. This is due to dirt in or around the borehole.
Once people fetch water, they store it in covered clay pots to preserve the freshness and to prevent dirt and insects from contaminating the water. The clay pots are big; some are two-and-a-half feet high and store a lot of water. Sometimes water in a clay pot is as cold as refrigerator water! I do not store water in a clay pot. I have one, but I have never been able to use it effectively—whenever I put water in it, it leaks out and attracts lots of mosquitoes and flies.
by Molly Campbell, Amisano, Ghana
Except for the river water, most water in Amisano is fairly fresh. Most people in the village use piped, well, or borehole water for drinking and cooking. The river water is used mainly for bathing and washing clothes. By using the available freshwater, many sicknesses can be eliminated or at least reduced. I remember when our nursery well was completed and water could be drawn. I asked someone if it was good water, and he said with a smile "It is very, very sweet." It struck me as being funny, because I never thought of water as being sweet.
by Nell Todd, Mafi-Dove, Ghana
The boreholes in the town provide safe drinking water. However, many people (especially older people) don't like the taste of the borehole water. They grew up drinking river water because "it's sweet for them," and because it's what their forefathers drank. It takes time to develop new habits and the boreholes have been in the village for only two years. However, those that still drink river water sometimes boil it—this kills all living germs in it. Drinking water is stored in clay pots inside people's rooms. They keep it covered and the clay keeps the water cool.
The most common cause of contamination of the river water is human waste. Because there is a lack of latrines in the village, many people defecate by the river. Rain carries feces into the water and diseases are spread that way.
Bilharzia is one of the most common diseases found in this part of Ghana. Worms breed in snails that live in the weeds, and then the worms enter a person's body through the skin. A person who urinates in the water will pass eggs back into the river, completing a cycle. One of the primary symptoms of bilharzia is urinating blood.
by Amy Wiedemann, Gbefi, Volta Region, Ghana
There are two boreholes in my community that provide clean water, ready for consumption. The promise of clean water leading to good health is still not a strong enough argument to persuade everyone in the community to use the boreholes. All previous generations drank from the river. Some of those ancestors lived to be a hundred years old, while others died young from causes that had nothing to do with water. It's a tough argument. However, now the residents of Gbefi have a choice as to where they will fetch their water. As community and government health initiatives increase, the choice will become easier: either drink clean, clear borehole water from a hundred meters below the surface, or drink water from the River Dayi that contains runoff from the farm, soap suds from the laundry, and plenty of dirt.
The biggest obstacle to increasing clean water accessibility is the cost. Modern, state-of-the-art hydro-technology greatly exceeds the budget of subsistence farmers. However, I think accessibility is the key. If fetching water from a borehole is easier and more convenient than fetching it from the river, everyone will do it without a second thought. Compare it to recycling in the United States. Recycling is beneficial to the environment; no one can argue that. However, 15 years ago, it was a chore to recycle. You had to store all the materials in your house until you had time to deliver them to recycling centers. Aluminum went one place, glass to another, paper to a third, etc., so the process would take up at least half your day. But then came curbside pickup, just like the garbage and color-coded recycling bins outside grocery stores. Suddenly, someone who never considered recycling 15 years before is now doing it faithfully. It became easy and convenient to recycle. I believe the same would be true for people using clean drinking water in Ghana.
by Steve Tester, Odumase-Krobo, Ghana
I am a very lucky Peace Corps Volunteer. I live near the KPONG Water Treatment Facility, so all my water comes from there. This is due to the fact that I live near the school. Even though my water's fluoride levels fluctuate, I have never fallen ill due to contaminated water at my site.
Peace Corps Volunteer Vikki Sturdivant was not as lucky as I was with respect to water. Her water source was initially Lake Volta. The water was contaminated and unpalatable, if not polluted. She has had tests on the water and found it contained Shigella, bacteria (of all sorts), and schistosomiasis parasites.
Obviously the impact on Ghanaians' health is severe. If a worker in the family becomes ill, then it affects the entire family. In some areas, water is treated or filtered, but hopefully in the near future they will have boreholes to provide water.
I definitely prefer my insipid water to rancid disease-carrying water.
by Chris Botzman, Akome, Volta Region, Ghana
The borehole water is clean. Some people will still walk past a borehole and go to the stream, even for drinking water. I have not heard a reason for going to the stream other than it is what they have always done.
People cover their water barrels when they will not be using them. Some of the water barrels are old metal drums. Thus, there are particles from the barrel that get into the water.
by Michael Nelson, Gbani, Northern Region, Ghana
People here have few traditional means to ensure they have clean water. The primary ways are keeping the stream clean and making sure that animals and people do not defecate around there. None of these are foolproof solutions, however, as one can never be certain what is happening upstream. Luckily, though, we are free of Guinea worm and schistosomiasis—health problems that have ravaged other Ghanaian communities.