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“Uncomfortable” periods – Girls in rural north deserve access to potable water

BY: Albert Oppong-Ansah

Nmaah Adongo’s confidence and her self-esteem has improved tremendously in recent times.

The tag, “body odour girl” is no longer associated with the 16-year-old who lives at Kandiga Kurugu community, in the Kassena Nankana West District of the Upper East Region.

At school, market, and home, she now freely interacts with her peers even at, “the times of the month.”

Initially, the name calling made her timid, scared, and uncomfortable at school.
Now, the Adongo’s family, made up of eight, including Nmaah, now have enough water for their house chores.

As the only daughter, she has the comfort to bath twice a day throughout the year, a situation which was impossible before. Whether at school or home she is able to change her sanitary pad when the need be and freshen up.

Equally, access to potable water especially during the dry season is no more a burden for Kandiga Kurugu community members numbering 2,793, as captured by the 2021 Population and Housing Census.
Ms Sandra Boakye, a consultant on Menstrual Hygiene says, access to safe water is essential in maintaining hygiene. During menstruation, females need potable water to bath at least twice in a day.

They need clean water to wash their hands before and after changing their sanitary pads at least three times a day depending on one’s flow.

“This is crucial because the first-hand washing is to prevent the introduction of foreign materials to a person’s intimate area while handwashing after removal and wrapping and disposal of the pad cleans blood stains contracted in the process,” she said.

The lack of access to safe water and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) tools heighten the risk of contracting infections. It is associated with harassment and psychosocial effects.

She describes MHM as using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.

Significant part of the new state of mind of Nmaah can be attributed to access to potable water especially during the long dry season.

Prior to the provision of the borehole by Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO), a youth-led gender-balanced organization, Nmaah and many girls trekked nearly two hours to access water from a stream.

The lack of access to water has forced out many, especially women and girls out of the rural areas to urban cities in southern Ghana.

Water access, which is in a form of inequality, has many resultant effects including migration, a United Nations Research Institute for Social Research and Development (UNRISD) 2022 report titled, “Inequalities in Times of Crises: A Vicious Cycle,” has said.

The story of Nmaah and her community members, are just a handful of about 5.5 million people, mostly in rural Ghana whose livelihood and education are being impacted by the lack of access to clean water.

Access to water is a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal Six) and recognized by the United Nations as a fundamental human right; linked to health, dignity, and prosperity. However, many are without safely managed water.

Often, girls in Junior and Senior High Schools are forced to stay out of school as a result of the lack of access to water during the menstrual period.

Mr Yakubu Asaah Adamu, a teacher, in the Community, tells the GNA that hitherto, girls report to school late due to the hours they spend searching for water.

This, he said, affected their academic performance but there had been much improvement after the building of the two boreholes.

Mr Adamu adds that the school did not have access to water, and it was a challenge when a girl’s menstruation starts while in school.

“Some girls do not know their menstrual cycle. This becomes difficult for them to prepare adequately. Often, some of the girls are, “caught off guard” and they feel shy, embarrassed, and uncomfortable. We are compelled to ask them to go home and that means, they will miss the rest of the lessons for the week,” he said.

Those who’s menstrual periods occur at home also absent themselves until they are done. For now, that challenge has been addressed but there are many communities including Abugpdelikum, Asaakinkeriga, Ageo, in the Kassena Nankana West with the same predicament, which needs urgent attention.

Mr John Godson Aduakye, Upper East Regional Manager of CWSA says ideally, community members must be able to access water in about 300 metres but that is not the case.

He states that most of the subsurface water systems in the region are unable to withstand the high temperature and dries up fast by December, leaving the dependents to struggle for water for about five months.

Although data on the water systems in the Upper East Region show that two out of three persons have access to water, in real terms some of the systems like the boreholes have broken down.
He states that the changing weather conditions are affecting access to water and will pose a serious challenge to rural dwellers who depend on surface water if nothing is done to explore ground water.

A recent World Bank report titled, “Climate risks and opportunities for development,” shows that in Ghana, average annual mean temperature since 1960 has increased about one-degree Celsius.

Globally, climate change has already led to approximately 1.1-degree Celsius of global warming, according to a recent UNRISD research.

These climate extremes have increased in frequency and magnitude, triggering floods, droughts, and heat waves.

Droughts and dry periods have caused significant agricultural losses over the past decade, affecting quality of life, resulting in food insecurity or famines and lost working days and livelihoods.

Under present climate conditions, 13 percent of the population is estimated to be affected by drought, particularly in the northern belt of Ghana.

Ghana’s Nationally Determined Contributions flag integrated water resources management as a policy action, which requires more than 108 million dollars.

Provision of clean water remains the surest means of communities’ living with the impact of climate crisis.

Water and Menstrual project
Mr Desmond Alugnoa, Co-Founder and Project Manager of GAYO’s, tells the GNA that the provision of boreholes to the Kurugu community was a critical component of the Water for Adaptation and Period Poverty Project (W4APP).

It aims at addressing climate change related impact on the most vulnerable including women and children.

Mr Alugnoa states that the effect of lack of access to water, results in crop failure, poses economic stress on families thereby, affecting parent’s ability to devote funds for girls to buy menstrual hygiene materials like menstrual pads.

“Per our feasibility studies many girls in these rural areas have challenges getting sanitary pads during their menstrual period. If their parents’ crops fail it becomes difficult to devote money for pads,” she said.

The homemade alternative materials, which include tissue and old rags, expose them to health-related infections.

The Co-Founder says part of the W4APP, funding is being used to set up a menstrual pad production center using local materials to empower the women and girls.

With funding from One Tree Planted non-profit organisation, Kurugu and its environs have received a life line but the fate of the over five million rural dwellers in the northern part of Ghana still hangs in the balance.

Mr Aduakye calls for consistent investment to harness the abundant groundwater and connect it to communities in the Northern belt due to their unique settlement.
“The situation is dire and high temperature is worsening the situation, so we need to act fast,” he said.

His call resonates with that of Mr Antonio Guteries, the UN Secretary General, in the lead up to the announcement of COP 27 outcome, asking parties to commit funds to address climate impacts.
“We cannot continue to deny climate justice to those who have contributed least to the climate crisis and are getting hurt the most,” he said.

He is of the view that political leaders especially the west know what needs to be done — and there are tools and resources to get it done.

This will enable those at the frontlines of climate crisis like Nmaah and her cohorts in Ghana’s rural north to access potable water and go through smooth and “comfortable” periods.


GNA