By Adjomah Xorse Joshua, GhanaWeb
“Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain there would be no life”.
John Updike (1932 - ) US writer (Self-Consciousness: Memoirs)
The world’s population grew enormously in the 20th century. According to UN estimates, 1.65 billion people lived on Earth in 1900. By 1999 the world’s population had passed to 6 billion, and the UN estimates that it will reach 9 billion people by 2050. But the annual supply of renewable fresh water will remain constant. The amount of water available to each person decreases as the population grows, raising the possibility of water shortages and crisis. This leads to higher prices and cost of its supply.
Our world today is presently going through one of its worst economic moments, and I personally think it was due to bad decisions by the “powers” that be, greed, ignoring “very little but important things”, lack of foresight and over a million “financial and economic” factors which I personally don’t care about. There is this school of thought who believes that, the world will experience the worst crisis not economically but environmentally specifically “water crisis” which will affect its supply, climate, vegetation etc. There is another school of thought who believes that, water shortages could also lead to international conflict as countries compete for limited water resources. In 1995 Ismail Serageldin, a top official at the World Bank, declared, “The wars of the next century will be over water” (credit; Encarta 2009).Conflicts over water, for example, have sprung up in the volatile Middle East between Jordan and Israel over The Jordan River which forms part of the border between both countries. The issue of water in Ghana can be compared to the situation where “in the mist of plenty, people still thirst”. Ghana is endowed with so many water resources, but unfortunately every day in and out there has been cries, noise and at times agitations on water, its management and utilization both in rural and urban areas.
A quick look at the title of this article, one will think it was a rendition of the old and very popular kindergarten rhythms which we were forced to memorize and recite every morning. Anyway as to whether kids of these days know this rhythm, is another topic for another discussion. I chose this title, to take our minds back to how we tend to forget very little and very important things which we forget but can make very big difference and impact positively on our environment.
Rainfall is one of the very ‘important’ and ‘cheapest’ commodities and resources in our tropical region and It is surprising to note that season in and out, we experience heavy rainfall resulting in floods and yet both urban and rural communities still complain of water shortage or no water supply at all. One of the ways through which I think Ministries, Departments and Agencies responsible for water management and utilization can solve the problem of water shortage is to harness Rainwater through harvesting.
The need for rainfall harvesting has been necessitated by the need to use a more community based, flexible, sustainable and inexpensive approach towards water supply. The failure of the other traditional approaches of water supply has been due to mismanagement, high implementation cost, expensive technology, decrease quality of ground and surface water, poor operation and maintenance etc.
Rainfall harvesting, has been with humanity since the beginning of time. Since the earliest days of human history, people have collected rainfall and its runoff. At the same time, they developed laws to guide the use of this precious resource. For instance the code of Hammurabi, a set of laws attributed to an ancient Babylonian king, contains several passages concerning water used for irrigation.
More recently, an innovative rainwater collection system allowed the National Wildflower Research Center near Austin, Texas, in the United States of America to amass up to 450,000 gallons (1,700,000 liters) of water annually.
In Ghana, apart from the long trenches made of aluminum sheets attached to roofing sheets of most buildings and directed to a tank, rain water isn’t taken seriously as a major source of water supply. This technology is very popular in the rural communities to collect water.
Every year, the meteorological department records very high rainfall amounts and warns of heavy rains. One wonders why we can’t come up with any initiative or program which is comprehensive and sustainable to make good use of this abundant resource but instead only think of how its damaging effect can be curbed.
Ghana, as per its location in the tropics experiences very heavy rainfall annually. It a well-known fact that Aqua Vitens & Rand Ltd & Ghana Water Company Ltd could not provide water to even half of consumers in the capital city due to varied reasons which are well known and I personally do not see the newly established Ghana Urban Water Limited performing better either. Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) which is mandated to provide water and sanitation to rural communities, formed and trained water and sanitation (WATSAN) committees and water and sanitation development boards (WSDBs) to properly operate and maintain (O&M) their facilities to ensure sustainability, unfortunately the agency is battling with lazy and dormant WATSAN committees and WSDBs, which has resulted in many broken down water and sanitation facilities. The cost of providing boreholes fitted with hand pump and mechanized borehole is becoming expensive to install and not to talk of the high cost of O&M. For instance, on March 17th of this year, Daily graphic reported of a mechanized borehole project which cost a whopping GH¢43, 000 was inaugurated by the Tom Herderman family from the Netherlands and AVRL to serve 2000 people in the Avutubisis community near Bolgatanga in Northern Ghana. The question that comes to mind is how many communities can have this project? And even if they can, do they have the capacity to operate and maintain it? So one will realize that, most of the conventional approaches to supplying water has not been very effective, thus the need for us to look at other approaches which will be economical, cost effective, simple, environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Rainfall harvesting has proven to be a very effective and cost effective source of water supply in most of our senior high schools. Bishop Herman College in the Volta region is one example of an institution that has made good use of this technology. Underground tanks are scatted around the campus which collects water for use in the kitchen and for student’s personal use. The school as at 2002 had only one (1) borehole with hand pump which serves a population of over 1,500. A mechanized borehole was later installed in 2002 though. Water from these underground tanks complement what we got from the other sources.
This technology can be replicated in all second cycle and tertiary institutions, ministries district & agencies (MDAs), communities and other establishments. Rain water if treated can serve these institutions and will save us a lot of water wasted by these institutions and also reduce cost.
Rainfall harvesting is very easy and simple to implement in any establishment be it offices, communities, schools etc. It has also proven to be inexpensive and affordable to the poor. The increased availability of low-cost tanks goes to prove its cost effectiveness. There is also the reduction in water related diseases as water quality is usually better than water from traditional sources like rivers, streams etc. Less time is spent in collecting water (particularly women and children) as it is readily available. Rainwater use also reduces the high demand on the conventional source of water supply like the boreholes (hand pumps or mechanized), rivers, streams etc. The need to chemically treat and deodorize toilet water is eliminated because of the acidic composition of rainwater. Rain water is also very economical, since a lot of savings will be made. Excess rainwater can also be used to water vegetables, other crops and other economic activities.
Due to the flexibility and adaptability of the technology of rainfall harvesting the following can be adopted to harness the potential of rain water and ensure the smooth supply of water;
Government through its MDAs responsible for water resources management and utilization should identify area mechanics (there are some existing ones trained by the CWSA to help communities operate and maintain water and sanitation facilities) in communities and train them on the technology of rainfall harvesting. CWSA should ensure that partner organization (POs) engaged as consultants to train and build the capacity of WATSAN committees and WSDBs in rainfall harvesting technology and how it can be effectively and sustainably implemented. GUWL should also start an intensive sensitization campaign through the print, online social networks and electronic media on the need for consumers to save water and rainfall harvesting technology. GUWL can also adopt this technology, considering the fact that it has the technology to store and further treat the rain water for urban supply. This will complement its conventional water supply and ensure that, the high demand it is presently experiencing is reduced. Incentives like affordable tanks, bags of cement and other inputs should be provided to institutions, public and private establishments and communities to encourage them to adopt this strategy. Appropriate MDAs should institute byelaws and accompanying sanctions to ensure that establishments like washing bays, hotels, restaurants, government offices, tertiary institutions etc. whose activities and operations are known to waste water submit quarterly and annual plans to appropriate authorities which they will adopt and implement to save water in their establishments. Finally there should be an effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system to check their consumption level.
In as much as this article glorifies rain water and how it can be harnessed to solve Ghana’s water supply challenges, it does not in any way negates in totality other approaches and strategies which are presently being implemented to ensure that water is provided to all and sundry in the country. The main objective of this article is to project rainwater harvesting as a more flexible, adaptable, cost effective, economical, sustainable and an alternative approach which will complement existing approaches towards water supply. It is also to let consumers know they have a crucial role to play in water supply instead of always depending on the institutions mandated by government.
So the next time you hear your kids singing the popular “rain rain go away little children want to play”, you should keep in mind how very important it is to your survival as a human being. You should rather be singing “rain rains don’t go but if you go, come another day for us to harvest you”.
“The rain begun sprinkling on the dry earth, I wished it could wash away my (our) sin(s) but it (came) on the cold breath of the Southern Ocean there were no forgiveness there” Peter Carey (1943 - ) Australian novelist. He won the 2001 Booker Prize for “True History of the Kelly Gang”