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Beyond the Tono project, why not end the lifetime burden for females?

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari


If as a child you never had to fetch water for the household, carrying it home on your head, then count yourself lucky! Most likely you grew up in privileged circumstances!

It was harder still if the water source was not a nearby communal standpipe, but a faraway stream whose water quality was not even certain!
I imagine that if that was sometimes your lot, then you, too, are happy for the people of Tono and other areas in the Upper East Region, now assured of much more potable water.

As widely reported, on August 5 President Nana Akufo-Addo inaugurated a 45 million Euros water supply project in Tono, a community in the Kassena-Nankana Municipality of the Upper East Region.
Under the project, the beneficiary areas are getting about four- and- a half million gallons of water daily, an increase from the current supply of 1.5 million gallons in the region.

Additionally, the project which had funding support from the Netherlands Government will improve the supply of safe water to some communities in four other districts and municipalities in the region, the Ghanaian Times of August 6, reported.
Whenever I hear of more people getting access to potable water, I see it as a Christmas come early for them, a dream come true at long last, especially for the girls and women there.

Thus the first thing I was looking for in the media reports of the Tono event, was whether the project includes domestic taps, or it’s the same old story of public or communal standpipes.
A knowledgeable source told me that the arrangement is for the urban communities to get taps in their homes and communal standpipes for the rural places.

Admittedly, even in Accra, there are areas which have to rely on other arrangements or public standpipes. However, conceivably, many urban dwellers used to water available at the turn of a tap, will not know of the misery of having to fetch water as a daily chore – though sometimes it could be lots of fun in the company of friends.

It’s an unfortunate, perhaps inexplicable fact of life that somehow from time immemorial, the responsibility of providing water for the household has been deemed the work of girls and women. Although in some cases, young boys, too, are roped in, fetching water has become a mainly female chore; and it’s not only in Ghana.

Even in places where the community supply is not from rivers, wells or other sources, but from a standpipe, the fetching is still the duty of females.

In recent years, one interesting innovation I have seen is the designing of a standpipe with the tap raised to head level, so that the water fetcher stands under it, with their bucket or utensil on their head to easily fill it. This way, the carrier doesn’t need a second person to help lift the bucket onto their head.

Of course for people in a rural area who have had to rely on unsafe water and probably having to go long distances to fetch the water, a communal standpipe is certainly an answer to prayers.

But in this high-tech era of wonderful technological advances to make life, and chores, easier for everybody, why should water-fetching still be a lifetime punishment for females?

In a Ghana where mobile phones, digitalization, Mobile Money, the Internet and social media hold sway, the burden of fetching water from rivers, wells or standpipes should be history!

Isn’t it time to end the drudgery women and children go through in places where there is little or no access to potable water to ensure that the household has water, water to drink, water for bathing?

Sometimes women and children have to walk for miles, looking for water. Some children even miss school or are so tired by the time they turn up in class that they can only doze and can’t pay attention to the lessons.

I suggest that the focus now should be shifting to the provision of household taps.
Commendably, the Ghana Water Company (GWCL) is introducing many pragmatic innovations in their operations, as Managing Director Dr Clifford Braimah announced at a media briefing. These even include drones for “smart metering” for more accurate meter reading, he said, as reported by the Daily Graphic of August 11.

Therefore, it seems to me that it would be appropriate for the Government and the GWCL, when planning new water delivery, or connections, to phase out communal standpipes and introduce a policy of home taps from now on, even in rural areas.

Everybody deserves to be relieved of water fetching stress. After all, GWCL customers are already paying two percent of their monthly bill for “Rural Water”.

As I’ve stated in an earlier column, I’m convinced that if men shared the burden of fetching water for the home, our governments – mostly men – would long ago have seen that extending pipelines to homes is no luxury, but an essential part of development.

Even in pre-Covid times we were being advised by health experts to wash our hands under running water to prevent cholera and other diseases, advice which has of course been a major strategy in the fight against the pandemic.

Thank God for the ingenuity of the inventor of the Veronica Bucket, Ghanaian biological scientist Ms Veronica Bekoe, but that shouldn’t mean standpipes should still be in the equation for women to have the chore of fetching water.

In recent years, the Government has established a number of progressive initiatives to provide needy households with toilets, through funding support. Why can’t there be a similar project to connect taps to homes at a moderate or subsidised cost?

I observed in this space some time ago, that if the argument is that providing taps to poor households would be too risky because they can’t pay, what about the costs the government inevitably incurs when unsafe water leads to epidemics?
Are epidemics more affordable?

Beyond the Tono Project, the Government could at least begin a mandatory scheme to extend water to homes everywhere, whether rural or urban. Why continue this lifetime punishment for females, of having to look for and carry water home, in this digitalization era?
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