Water Shortages, Food Scarcity, Funerals, Lights Off – Reflections About Discouraging Experiences

I woke up this morning sweating because the power went out in the village (as did my fan) and to Moses, my roommate attempting to negotiate a bucket of water from a neighbour. Our water tank has been approaching empty for five days and we have been unsuccessful in finding a suitable way to fill it. If the lack of access to clean water is a problem for me, you can imagine the difficulty it would be for others in the village. There are three main sources of water accessible in the village,

New building that pumps water to the town. The door is so high because in the rainy season the water floods that high

Water pipes connected to people’s homes months ago have just had water flowing from them for the past two weeks. I am not sure what the delay was, but water meter installation for tracking usage did not happen until a month or so ago. Even with this, the water was not flowing until two weeks ago. Despite the infrastructure in place, the pipes are only turned on once a week, for an hour to fill your tank. The water meter costs 40 Ghana cedis to install, I am not sure how much it costs to install the piping system and a tank costs minimum 80-100 Ghana cedis. The cost of the pipe water is about 10 Ghana peswas for every 5-6 buckets of water and people outside of town have been protesting. When I ask questions about why there was a delay, my neighbours who are staff at the Agricultural College cannot give me an answer or provide a contact or resource.

Broken down water pumping building built just after colonialism

The Ghana Water Company Limited is apparently to be blamed and they often use the excuse that when there is no electricity they cannot pump the water. But there are still so many questions left unanswered. I also know that in the district capitol only half the village has running water, despite a piping system in place to everyone’s home. How is it that half a district capitol bordering the capitol of the region has running water that is only available to public taps and not those in compounds, despite infrastructure in place?

River where the building pumps water to the town

There is a reservoir with pipe water just across the road from my house. The reservoir is filled, however it has been left empty for a week or two periodically since I have been living here. Women used to come to the reservoir, carrying big metal bins on their head to carry water back to their compounds. One of those bins probably weighs as much as I do. There is a tractor that transports water directly to offices or people’s personal water tanks for a fee of 6 Ghana cedis. However, I have not seen the water flowing from that reservoir or tractor operating in a month or since the pipe water was flowing. This is the water I usually fetch, but the operator of the tractor has been difficult to locate with the excuse that the tractor is broken. However, I also see at least two other tractors being used. No one else can use the tractor except the individual people responsible for them. Apparently, each office building or department is supposed to have a tractor, but I have only seen three different tractors in the area. The District office at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) where I work does not have a tractor. Why does a MOFA office not manage its own tractor? Why do other departments like a laboratory have a tractor and why is only one person responsible for it when they are in high demand?

Women carrying water from the river

The tractors I have seen that are available and working are assigned to go to the dam nearby, which is not clean enough water to drink or cook with. Apparently ‘villagers’ use that water because the transport or tractor services are cheaper. People use that water to make building materials, like cement or bricks from mud. I have been recommended that this water is not clean enough for me to use, so I keep quiet and continue to wonder why I can’t hire one of those tractors to go to the reservoir for me to collect pipe water.

There are open wells in the area that are located in the middle of people’s compounds. In the rainy season (May-October) the well water is plentiful, and people have decently clean water in their own compounds to use.

Well dug for water that community uses

In the dry season however, starting in November, most of the wells dry up and people (women) resort to carrying huge loads on their head from a not so close dam because they cannot afford to buy a water tank or the cost of transport services available. Why is it that something so basic like water required of good sanitation needed of a healthy lifestyle has not been addressed as a priority in a place that is only 34km away from the region`s capitol?

Water has also been a common conversation amongst farmers and their advisors. Dry Season gardening and farming is a real issue in Northern Ghana. As people continue to burn the landscape (if the sun has not already done so) and cut down trees, the climate becomes desert like with dry strong winds, no moisture and poor soil fertility. As one Agricultural Extension Agent announced to me “I have to go save some trees, the farmers do not understand that the Sahel desert is upon us if we continue to cut trees down.”

Holes recently dug for water

People burn the landscape for various reasons. One popular reason is to find bush meat like grass cutta and burning the forest is the local way of hunting it, while bush fires spread like wild fire – literally – because of the dry, desert like climate. Even when I discuss the zucchini garden I want to start in my backyard, the main question asked to me is where will you get water? Something I never thought about, as the Canadian gardens always have water flowing from a hose connected to a tap.

Dry Season in Northern Ghana

Food shortage is a huge issue in the dry season in Northern Ghana and this year many families will suffer from hunger. Some ‘role model’ farmers (the innovators, the risk takers, the business negotiators) are using hybrid seed and the irrigation dams available in the area to farm ‘seriously’ even if they have been advised not to for various reasons. I had one farmer barge into my office yesterday complaining that no one thinks he can grow now as it is too late. He refuses to take anymore advice from MOFA or farm only three months of the year when people in other parts of the world farm all year round. He tells me he is fortunate as he does not need to pay for land or dig a dam for water. He has decided to farm two hectors of hybrid maize (he bought the seed in Accra) and intercrop with water melon because one is deep rooted and the other is shallow. The watermelon vines cover the land maintaining moisture and coolness.

A river that runs off of the White Volta

He floods the land during the night as the sun will burn the earth in the daytime. Something other farmers and MOFA staff have mocked him for. This is a farmer who has lived abroad and seen other, more upgraded technologies that even MOFA staff have not been educated upon. If farmers are not being advised on certain technologies in the dry season because they are not as accessible, than how will they know there are alternative ways to farming only three months of the year?

Agriculture as a Business First Meeting with a Women’s Group

The water and food shortages have been causing disputes in the village I live in. The river running along the Secondary School in the area is their only source of water for the school. Since there is a food shortage, the Chief and the owner of the land gave permission for people in the area to collect fish from that river knowing it would pollute the only water source available. Instead of raising concerns to the Chief, the local people barged into fish when the students were distracted with a festival, naturally arousing a reaction from the students. There was a small violent action from the local people against the students and the students retaliated in a somewhat violent manner. Now that there are additional costs attached to the dispute, consensus on what should be done and whether fishing should take place in a limited water source has not been reached. As a landowner, how do you make a choice to use the land for food when people are going hungry or for water when it is the only available water source?

Food scarcity is a serious issue in Northern Ghana and particularly urgent across the region of West Africa. Listening to BBCs Africa Today News Podcast, Mike Wooldridge a broadcaster at BBC reports that there is an urgent and closing window of opportunity to address the drought and food scarcity issue in the West African region. The UNDP claims that the money needed to address the issue is 725 million dollars to scale up existing efforts.

This camel came from Niger where the drought and food scarcity is a major issue. This man fled

The EU who is one of the largest donors in this is collaborating with the World Food Programme (WFP) for providing food assistance to eight million people. The efforts are targeted at feeding programmes for children and pregnant women as a way of limiting the impact of the crisis. The cause of the crisis is a history of poor harvests due to erratic rains and crop pests, which leads to high prices in the market. The drought this year is more intense and historically frequent it is drastically altering yields. As a result, when people face a crisis like this they have to sell off their livestock and all of their family`s resources, which put them deeper into poverty.

Cattle eating off the dry land

In 2005 a quarter of a million people died because of the severity of the drought, 2010 was also a difficult year, but this year is proving to be one of the worst yet. The claim that there has not been enough attention in-between crises and a favourable political climate required to mitigate the consequences resulting from the drought is what causes it. What is a favourable political climate conducive to mitigating a food crisis in the long term? What does it mean to address the issues in-between crises?

That is the pump that takes the water from the dam to the town

Combined with the water and food shortages it is also funeral season for the Dagomba people living in the region – they are one of the biggest ethnic or tribal groups and make up the majority of people in the village I stay in. Funerals usually have hundreds to thousands of people attending with horses and gun shooting in celebration, depending on who is being honoured. It is almost every day that I hear gun shots in salute. The real difficulty is the time and resources these funerals require as all the guests need to be fed. Staff in the office are pulled in all directions, having to attend their own family’s funerals as well as the communities they serve to maintain trust and relationships.

Agricultural Extension Agent

Also, I am not sure if it because of this scarcity or complete coincidence, but more people seem to be dying or growing sick. Five staff in the office this week alone have called to tell me they have to delay the work as a family member has died or they wounded up in the hospital. When cultural practices put farming on hold during a critical point of food scarcity and hunger sensitive to timing and pull government staff and others out of their offices is it appropriate to excuse this?

Moreover, as we speak the lights are still out, reaching more than 24 hours of no electricity. In the mean time my phone and computer battery are dying, and 2pm when it is 40 degrees outside is approaching.

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4 thoughts on “Water Shortages, Food Scarcity, Funerals, Lights Off – Reflections About Discouraging Experiences

  1. First of all, it blows my mind how much your video of Ghana reminds me of Northern Brazil (if you believe in the Pangea theory, take a look at this and you’ll see why: http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-political-map.htm)
    Once again, great reporting. It’s so true how we don’t even think about logistical things like where to get water for a vegetable garden…this is literally #thirdworldproblems!
    I wasn’t entirely sure where you were going with the “innovative” farmer part…maybe you can spell it out for me haha. So, he thinks he’s farming seriously, but in reality the techniques he wants to use will be harmful? Or is it that he has more innovative ideas than even the MOFA staff who are mocking him? Help me out here!

  2. Sky – I could see that Northern Ghana would look a lot like Brazil, never thought of the pangea theory so interesting. Although I am sure much like Ghana, since Brazil is a huge country it is very diverse in climate and geography. I know Ghana is!
    With respect to the “innovative” farmer part, he is a serious farmer, doing everything he can (buying the right inputs, tractor and weeding is on time) and that he is even more aware of the best agric practices than his MOFA counterparts.

    Erin! thanks for the compliment on the writing. The challenges in the dry season are just too depressing not to share. This is exactly my life here. Despite this, I still love it!

  3. Wow! This post provides amazing insight to what is really going on in the world. It is so east to get caught up in only paying attrention to what is happening in America, that you forget to think about what is going on in the world, as a whole. Sierra you are an inspiration for dedicating yourself and doing everything in your power to do what you can to combat this growing issue. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences, and illuminating this issue. You have planted a seed that will surely grow into something beautiful and meaningful. Thank you for opening my eyes to the reality of this situation. I am truly inspired.

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