On Thursday, March 22, 2018, the international community celebrated World Water Day on the theme “Nature and Water.” The event was used to raise global awareness of how nature can be explored to address water challenges including pollution, threats of new and reemerging diseases, threats to livelihoods, access to sufficient safe water, sustainability of the water resource, and climate change impacting the world today.
In Ghana, a community durbar was held to mark the Day at the Manhean Fish Market near Galilea, Ngleshie Amanfro in the Ga South Municipal Area of the Greater Accra Region. The occasion was used to urge Ghanaians to desist from activities that pollute and destroy water ecosystems and water resources in particular. Members of communities near rivers and water bodies were specifically asked to be careful how they handle natural water resources in their areas.
“We urge fishermen, fishmongers and everyone in this area to be careful of how they handle the water, because your activities are impacting negatively on the resource, which has become polluted. And unless these activities are checked, the pollution level will rise and eventually destroy the resource completely.”
The call was made by a team of school children during the Community Durbar. They were presenting their findings after conducting a test on the water of the Weija Dam that lies within the portion of the Densu River Basin, which passes through the area.
The dam/river is an important source of livelihood for catchment communities of Manhean, Galilea and Ngleshie Amanfro among others. Thus, it plays a vital socio-economic role in the lives of the people. Additionally, it is one of the main fresh water bodies in the country and provides the bulk of raw water treated and supplied by the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) to most parts of the Greater Accra Region.
But as pointed out by the children, human activities including the use of improper fishing methods, farming along the banks, dumping of refuse and faeces, open defecation, washing of clothing, utensils and vehicles, bathing, and watering of cattle are damaging the entire water ecosystem.
The 10 students selected from the Joy Academy School at Galilea, monitored the water to ascertain its health or pollution status. The exercise was part of activities marking World Water Day in Ghana. They used a simple Water Monitoring Kit to check for several things including thermal pollution or temperature of the water, the dissolved oxygen content, turbidity and PH.
Their findings indicated that the PH was 9, which is higher than the required limit of 6.5 to 8.5 and is a sign that the water is acidic; the dissolved oxygen content was 2 parts per million, which is far lower than the prescribed range of 5 to 7 parts per million, indicating the presence of high levels of organic matter such faecal substances; while, turbidity or cloudiness was 60, but should have been zero or clear, and suggests high amount of dirt in the water.
Both the water temperature, which was 32 degree Celsius and air temperature, which was 38 degree Celsius, and showing the level of thermal pollution were within the range of 40 degree Celsius for tropical water.
According to the children, in spite of the fact that thermal pollution was within limits, the overall result “is bad news for this water body,” and is a signal that “the water is stressed.” They maintained that the stress level was unacceptable and should be an issue of concern to all, especially as “there is currently no sign of dragon flies or butterflies around the area.” The presence or absence of these invertebrates is bio-indicators of the environmental integrity of the entire water ecosystem.
As the children presented their findings, one could observe that “they had caught the attention” of the dignitaries and other people present at the Durbar. Perhaps, it had now dawned on them that there is need to take immediate steps to halt negative human activities around the water body, to protect the entire water ecosystem and ensure its sustainable functioning. Perhaps also, they had remembered the death of the once vibrant Korle Lagoon at Korle Gonno, which experts blame on unchecked irresponsible human activities. It is one of the lagoons in Ghana’s coastal stretch that some years ago supported a thriving local fisheries industry.
Therefore, the call by the children on Ghanaians to be careful how they handle fresh water and its ecosystem, is also a call for Ghanaians to move away from the “business as usual” attitude and begin to value and protect natural water ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, mangroves and river banks.
The need for Ghanaians to reflect on the state of our water bodies was the focus of a message by the Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Kofi Adda to commemorate the occasion. In a statement read on his behalf, he urged Ghanaians to begin taking “practical actions to reforest our degraded river banks; restore our lost wetlands; and reconnect our rivers and floodplains to promote recession agriculture to improve livelihoods.”
For this reason, the Minister commended on-going initiatives to demonstrate natural infrastructure as “nature-based solution” for climate change adaptation and sustainable development. These initiatives are developing knowledge on how to use built water infrastructure such as dams and natural green infrastructure such as watersheds for poverty reduction, water-energy-food security, biodiversity conservation, and climate resilience.
His message further said, “It is also heart-warming to note that practical action is being taken to develop public-private partnerships to address the deteriorating Volta Delta through ‘win-win’ result oriented programs of restoring lost mangroves, improving the livelihoods of local resource users, biodiversity, and enhancing coastal defence.”
Mr. Adda additionally reminded Ghanaians be mindful of the impacts of climate change, which includes flooding, droughts, and increasing competition among users of our water resources. He cited the changing rainfall patterns that are impacting negatively on water availability for water-dependent sectors such as agriculture, livestock, and domestic water supply in sustaining livelihoods particularly in the northern regions of the country.
The minister was of the view that “this is an emerging area we seriously have to foster partnerships and cooperation among stakeholders to consider, adapt and promote simple, but important water conservation and utilization techniques and natural infrastructure towards addressing the vagaries of climate change.”
He said the theme for this year’s celebration Nature and Water, “is also a clarion call on us to inspire political, community, and media attention and action as well as encourage greater understanding for us to be more responsible towards water use and conservation.”
The Chairman for the Durbar was Chief Nii Kwashie Gborbilor of Ngelsei Amanfro blamed the current polluted state of the water in the dam/river on the in-disciplined nature of people. He did not mince words when he expressed his disgust at the practice of open defecation and dumping of refuse in water bodies, saying, “all who engage in such practices are mad people.”
Chief Gborbilor said a deeper reflection on the practice of open defecation and the dumping of refuse in water bodies “just doesn’t make sense.” He wondered: “why would people want to dress nicely and keep their immediate surroundings clean, and yet dump rubbish into rivers as well as defecate directly into them or wrap up the shit and throw into the nearest water body.”
He charged the District Assembly to start enforcing the relevant bye laws and arrest all defaulters adding that, “I, Nii Kwashie Gborbilor and my elders are ready to support you to discharge your duties.”
Earlier in the week, the National Planning Committee for World Water Day celebration in Ghana had issued press release to announce the event. It reminded the general public that “nature can only continue to deliver its services where ecosystems are healthy and functioning well. As we use and divert water, we must ensure that ecosystems receive the water they need. Nature is both the source of our water and a water user. Where this is not recognised, biodiversity is harmed and people lose the multiple benefits nature provides. Integral to water security therefore is water for nature and nature for water.”
It is worthy of note that Sustainable Development Goal 6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution. Target 6 states: “by 2020 protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.”
If nations will account for nature’s services and invest wisely, nature will become a source of solutions to the 21st century water challenges.
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang