Ellie Tang, HSBC Water Programme Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator
In Ghana, the issues of water and sanitation have been overlooked by the government and the public. Open defecation is a traditional practice but also a cultural taboo. People avoided public discussion of this subject, and it therefore has taken a back seat on the development agenda. Coupled with river diversion over time, faeces and effluent are flushed by rainwater into slow-flowing constructed lakes, where people fetch drinking water and fish.
For over two decades, WaterAid Ghana has been working on the ground to provide safe water and sanitation to thousands of people by lining up community partners to provide hardware and software for change, educating communities on hygiene, and lobbying the local government to sustain its efforts. Under the HSBC Water Programme, WaterAid Ghana will expand its coverage to other communities in need. Thousands of miles away from Hong Kong in a rural Ghanaian intervention community, I gained insight into the change we are about to bring:
Meet Love Kissiedu, a 29-year-old nurse who manages the community clinic in Asanyansu, Afram Plains. Love is married with a young child. Like other village women, Love takes care of household chores including pumping water from the community bore hole. The growing village population queues for water every day. The only bore hole there dries up during the arid months. With no other option, the community treks to a remote mountain to fetch contaminated water at least three times a day.
As the only medical professional in Asanyansu, Love is on also call 24/7. Her clinic has no water, toilet, lighting, or medical equipment. Even worse, most people in the community cannot afford health insurance. Most patients suffer from diarrhea, skin rashes, and Bilharzia from drinking contaminated water. Other are bitten by snakes while defecating in the bush. Mothers are feeding newborns with unsafe water. Love tirelessly provides preventative health and hygiene advice and medical treatment in the dark, literally. We cannot rely on her alone to make a change, but providing safe water and sanitation will be a significant first step to turn the situation around.
Imagine a community in which residents do not have access to running water and basic sanitation. Imagine what village women could do with the time they take to fetch water. Imagine if teenage girls didn’t have to skip school during their menstrual cycles or miss another class to fetch water. Imagine the endless possibilities for these women when their basic needs are met. Consider the deaths avoided and public health costs reduced if latrines are available and hand-washing is a norm.
It takes a local heroine like Love to step up and care for a village. It takes a few more functional bore holes and latrines to break the vicious cycle. It takes effective coordination between WaterAid and its local partners to implement these solutions by involving the communities and the government. It takes individuals to raise awareness and provide expertise and resources to meaningful ends.