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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 August, 2003, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Ghana's water battle heats up
By Kwaku Sakyi Addo
BBC Africa Live! in Accra

The deal is to apply to Ghana's urban areas
Efforts by the Ghanaian authorities to privatise aspects of public water supply and management have continued to meet opposition from the country's National Coalition Against the Privatisation of Water.

The anti-privatisation lobby argues that access to water is a human right.

But the government's privatisation plan has been backed by the World Bank, which has offered an interest-free loan of $150m to re-equip the state-run Ghana Water Company and hire new management.

"What we have in mind is a partnership between the public and private sectors," Emannuel Nkrumah, a water engineer and head of the Water Sector Restructuring Secretariat, told BBC World Service's Africa Live! programme.

"Ghana Water will continue to own the system, but the new management will operate, maintain and sell the water under a 10-year-contract."

Major problems

The deal with the World Bank is to apply only to urban water supply, with rural water hived off to a Community Water and Sanitation Agency. It is the World Bank deal that has aroused the controversy.

All sides admit that something needs to be done to resolve the situation - water supply in Ghana's cities and regional capitals has been a major problem for years, but has worsened over the past two decades due to poor urban development, population growth and Ghana Water's decrepit facilities and unsound management practices.

Attempts to reverse the situation, including a $140m project to improve the system in 1989, failed to get the taps running.

Most homes in urban cities have water tanks to store water because the taps run only for a few hours for two or three days a week.

And in parts of Accra, such as Teshie-Nungua, Madina and Adenta - sprawling residential areas in the south-east and north-east - residents pay anywhere between 500 cedis and 1,000 cedis (5-10 cents) per bucket of four gallons from private suppliers.

The official Ghana Water rate is 64 cedis.


"You can't privatise something as close to air as water, and allow market forces and profit motives to determine who can and who cannot have some to drink," Ameng Etego, spokesman for the Coalition Against the Privatisation of Water, told Africa Live!

Lesotho's Katse dam
Water can be privatised only if there are customers who can pay for it
Chandru Narayan, USA

"We agree that there's need to improve efficiency and root out corruption at Ghana Water.

"But for the World Bank to insist that we privatise before it gives us a loan is plain blackmail. We should use the money to address the management problems internally."

Indeed, Ghana Water's inefficiencies are legendary.

It employs 14 people per 1,000 customers - but according to one international expert, that should be down to about five.

And half of Ghana Water's daily production of 120 million gallons is unaccounted for, lost through leaks and unpaid bills.

"A lot of people aren't paying their bills because they can't afford it, but a private operator driven by profit won't make it cheaper," Mr Etego stated.

However, supporters of privatisation are undeterred.

"Scarcity will make any commodity more expensive - if we improve the supply, the official rate may go up to, say, 80 cedis per bucket; that's much cheaper than the poor are paying right now," argued Mr Nkrumah.

"So how can the Coalition claim to be on the side of the masses?"

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