This blog was originally published on the Winrock International website.
As an intense sun beat down on northern Ghana, a barefoot child scooped drinking water from a drying puddle, a field of corn struggled to grow at the edge of an eroding riverbank, and women journeyed across town with buckets of water on their heads.
Northern Ghana receives 90 percent of its yearly rainfall during the wet season, when there is often too much water. Then the dry season begins, and suddenly there isn’t enough. Since northern Ghanaians depend on water not just for drinking and washing, but also for their livelihoods — agriculture, livestock and processing native shea nut into butter — having enough water to perform these activities year-round requires careful management of this erratic resource.
It was to help in that endeavor that I was huddling with colleagues in the town of Wa, learning the basics of multiple-use water services. As part of the Ghana Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (AgNRM) project, we were beginning a two-week training program focused on the assessment of community water supply and demand. This was part of the multiple-use water services approach, which encourages community leaders and local governments to make informed decisions about water security.
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Multiple-use water services is a holistic approach to sustainable water delivery that reflects the multiple water needs of all households. Traditional water service delivery typically focuses on a single use, such as drinking water or irrigation, which can lead to negative consequences due to the many competing demands for water. Multiple-use water services provides a platform for planning, financing and managing water services to improve health and livelihoods.
Over two weeks in April, AgNRM brought Winrock’s multiple-use water services expert, Megann Mielke, to Ghana to train project staff. I was tasked with injecting AgNRM’s natural resource management themes into the multiple-use water services approach, which offered me an exciting opportunity to understand the complexities of community water management.
As a spatial analyst, I always think in terms of time and space. I thought community water management was all about distances: if you could ensure there were viable water sources spread evenly around the community and in higher concentrations in more populated areas, everyone would have water. Not so, said Mielke as we sat around the table in Wa. Ownership and governance structures often matter more than proximity. The well around the corner doesn’t matter if its owner won’t let you use it.
This is an issue the Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies (CECOTAPS), an AgNRM partner, understands well. CECOTAPS is a local Ghanaian organization specializing in peacekeeping and conflict resolution. “Sometimes there are powerful people who don’t live in the community but they have control over the water body,” explains Richard Forgor, a CECOTAPS representative participating in the training. “This generates conflict between the settlers and the owners.” What Forgor describes is one of the trickiest parts of land use planning in Ghana: the land tenure system. Land and water rights are owned mostly by chieftains, while the people who live on the land, the “settlers,” simply lease it to plant and harvest crops. When the settlers want to improve their water access, they must first seek the chief’s permission.
This is where multiple-use water services information-gathering approach can help. Sustainable water systems must be designed to include all water uses rather than focusing on just one. If the chief constructs a new dam to provide water for his livestock but the settlers don’t have enough water to wash and bathe, both humans and livestock will use the same reservoir, leading to water-quality issues and overuse of a water source that will diminish more quickly in the dry season.
As we pondered the implications of our newly-acquired knowledge about this approach to meet multiple community water service needs that evening back at the hotel, the weather was shifting: a steady wind picked up and flickers of light in the distance became streaks of lightning; thunder claps and heavy rain began to pound the roofs. The wet season had arrived…
This blog appears both on the Winrock International website and the USAID-supported Sustainable Water Partnership website. Read the full post to learn more about water service needs identified during the USAID Ghana AgNRM project’s assessments and staff trainings.