Let’s save the White Volta River now to avert a water crisis

The White Volta River, which originates from northern Burkina Faso, flows through the North of Ghana and empties into Lake Volta is the main source of raw water for the treatment for domestic, and industry use by the good people of Tamale, and its environs are currently under threat.

Goal Six (6) of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG6), goes beyond drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene to also address the quality and sustainability of water resources, which are critical to the survival of people and the planet.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes the centrality of water resources to sustainable development and the vital role that improved drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene play in progress in other areas, including health, education, and poverty reduction.

The White Volta River, which originates from northern Burkina Faso, flows through the North of Ghana and empties into Lake Volta is the main source of raw water for the treatment for domestic, and industry use by the good people of Tamale, and its environs are currently under threat.

Historically, the catchment which is about 20% of Ghana’s land area (about 49,210 km²) had a considerable cover of broad-leaved trees forming a closed canopy of branches.

However, over the past two decades, the forest cover has reduced considerably due to human activities such as farming, sand mining, and wood logging.

Land use changes within the Basin

A study conducted by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 2020 around the Nawuni sub-catchment of the White Volta River revealed a drastic land use and land cover change between 1989 and 2015.

For instance, the water quantity has reduced from 7.6% to 3.5%, bare land increased from 9% to nearly 21%. Cropland on the other hand has increased from 10% to nearly 59% whiles Close/Open Savanna reduced from 72.5% to just about 17%.

The White Volta River is currently experiencing high levels of siltation and turbidity due to deforestation and sand mining activities in the White Volta River Basin.

This unregulated human activity (including sand weaning activities) threatens future capacity for supplying the required volume of raw water to be treated to serve the good people of the Greater Tamale Area and its environs since the White Volta River is the main source of raw water for Tamale.

Also, the river, which has been rendered shallow, is unable to contain the volume of water that flows into it during the rainy season, resulting in flooding of the banks. If this continues, residents in Greater Tamale and its environs would be hit by severe water crises sooner than anticipated.

According to the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), current potable water demand for Tamale stands at 58,042 m3/day (not accounting for Non-Revenue Water of about 35%) with total daily required production estimated at 89,296 m.3. This means there is a deficit of 31,254 m3/day. Though the treatment plant has a capacity of 45,000m3/day, the average daily production has been reduced to about 32,000m3/day due to water quantity and quality challenges.

Turbidity levels of the white Volta river have continuously increased (up to 205) in the past two decades resulting in increased cost of treatment and levels of treatment water losses (up to 27%). The water losses due to treatment are estimated to be able to serve a hundred thousand more Greater Tamale Residents.

Additionally, the Ghana Water Company Limited reports increased cost of water treatment due to high turbidity requiring more Alum and Lime for coagulation and pH correction.

All these unfortunate and deliberate destruction of water bodies, forest belts, and soil degradation by some individuals and groups for their selfish parochial interest at the expanse of the larger society due to non-functioning or no enforcement of laws and regulations especially the non-enforcement of the District Assemblies By-Laws.

The way forward

Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems and their biodiversity can ensure water purification and water quality standards. Thus government should make a concentered effort to resource, and re-tool Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) mandated by law to protect Ghana’s water bodies.

Also, both actors and non-actors of the governance architecture should be aimed at finding lasting solutions to the water supply challenges in Tamale and surrounding communities by promoting collective investments for source water protection at the Nawuni Sub catchment of the White Volta River through Nature-Based Solutions (NBS). Nature-based solutions represent an effective and financially sound means to address the growing water security challenges facing Tamale city and the environs.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), I believe is key to helping secure clean, reliable natural water sources, and generate other benefits like greater biodiversity, flood mitigation, and climate change adaptation.

Again, Ministries, Department, and Agencies (MDAs) mandated to ensure the protection, and preservation of Ghana’s water bodies should wake up from their slumber and begin to work through the enforcement of laws and regulations prohibiting individuals, organisations, or a group of people from engaging in illegal activities in and around water bodies like it is currently happening in and around Nawuni sub-catchment of the White Volta River and others across the country.

The role of traditional authority is key to stem the tide of sand weaning activities on the riverbanks. Thus the need for all stakeholders working to preserve and protect these invaluable national assets to engage the various traditional authorities to address the issues.

The government, should not lose sight that the natural environment e.g. forests, soils, and wetlands contributes to the management and regulation of water availability and water quality and that strengthening the resilience of watersheds and regulatory arrangements for water access, are a safe way to ensure water security.

Again, we shouldn’t also forget that water shortages undercut food security and the incomes of rural farmers while improving water management makes national economies, the agriculture, and food sectors more resilient to rainfall variability and able to fulfill the needs of the growing population.

Let us remember that sustainable management of water resources and access to safe water and sanitation is essential for unlocking economic growth and productivity, and providing significant leverage for existing investments in health and education.

We should all lend a hand today to save, protect and preserve the White Volta River now to avert the pending water crisis waiting to hit the Greater Tamale Area and its environs.

Let’s act now to protect the White Volta River for a stitch in time saves nine.

By Franklin ASARE-DONKOH

The writer is the National Organiser of Ghana WASH Journalist Network (GWJN). 

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