Published on: 15/01/2014
The dry season is here with us again. Water for all domestic use is becoming scarce as unsafe sources (water sources other than handpump) dry up because groundwater table drops during that time of the year. Water-fetching in Agbedrafor community becomes very stressful and a grudging chore of inhabitants queue for long hours and conduct far more strokes on a handpump than normal to fill a 40-litre container.
It's just past 3:00 am in Agbedrafo. The cock has just began to crow for the first session. 'Daavi' (Auntie) Gaaku Dora is already awake. She is thinking of how to get to the only high-yielding community handpump in the community in time to fetch water for her morning household chores before leaving for work. She always tries to avoid the 'petty' squabbles and quarrels that have come to characterise water-fetching in the community, especially during the dry season. To avoid this, she tries to get to the facility on time, before many people do.
Long queues of water receptacles
The Agbedrafo community is located in the Akatsi South District of the Volta Region of Ghana. It has a population of over a thousand people whose major occupation is farming. The community has two handpumps. The first facility was constructed in the late 1950s during which time the population was less than 300 people and the facility yielded enough water for all inhabitants. As population increased, pressure started mounting on the only handpump facility in the community. Prior to presidential and parliamentary elections of 2012, the Member of Parliament through the District Assembly provided another handpump to augment the existing one. This reduced pressure a bit, but did not eliminate the long queues and petty quarrels associated with water-fetching in the community. The new facility however has a higher yield per stroke and so always has higher patronage.
The water users' ordeal
Daavi Dora is a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother of two . She moved to settle in the Agbedrafo community with her husband and children about four years ago. Her only problem has been access to adequate supply of water for family use, especially during the dry season. She laments that "The problem with the water situation is not how early you get to the facility but the difficulties in getting access to fetch". She explains that "even though fetching is on a first-come-first-serve basis, people bring very big receptacles and many containers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for others to get the opportunity to fetch".
In order to regulate water-fetching, reduce quarrels... and ensure that everyone gets served, the management team developed an innovative water-rationing mechanism.
The situation became a source of apprehension, concern and an embarrassment to the Water and Sanitation Management Team (WSMT) managing the facilities. In order to regulate water-fetching, reduce quarrels among women and ensure that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, gets served, the management team developed an innovative water-rationing mechanism.
Mr. Patrick Tengey, a retired educationist, is the chairman of WSMT. He explains "There was always overcrowding at the high-yielding facility due to high patronage which sometimes resulted in long queues and chaos. A situation which could sometimes degenerate into quarrels and fights between the women as to who came first and how many containers they could fetch before others. Some of these had to be resolved at the chief's palace or through other mediation processes". To solve this situation the WSMT came up with an innovative way of rationing the water so that everybody who desired to fetch water gets access. They introduced a coupon system.
Is it equitable?
Mr. Tengey clarifies "A water user purchases daily coupons from the financial secretary of the management team. A coupon is sold to a user for a fetching session – morning or evening. Each coupon cost Ten (10) Ghana Pesewas for 40 litres of water. The serial number printed on the coupon represents a user's position in the queue and settles the problem who fetches before or after. A user then gets a second chance to fetch for a session only after everybody who bought a coupon has been served. This is to ensure that everybody who desires to fetch water is served before a user can have another turn and that takes you through the morning session. During the afternoon session you can come again for another coupon.
Priority is given to the elderly and disabled, whether they turn up in person or send someone to fetch for them.
According to Mr. Tengey "The coupon is issued per person and not per family or household, so if, for example, three people from a household want water, they will all be given the coupon, except that no one person would be given more than one coupon at a time, you only get another coupon after everybody else has been served".
After taking their coupons, water users can go back home to continue with their morning household chores whilst waiting for their turn to fetch. A coupon bearer who will not be available needs to notify the vendor, the number will be skipped when his/her turn comes to fetch. He/she is given the chance to fetch upon return. Priority is however given to the elderly and disabled, whether they turn up in person or send someone to fetch for them. More coupons are given out for the higher yielding facility because of the high patronage.
Complaints and quarrels have stopped
According to Daavi; "Even though the coupon system is a bit tedious and restrictive, it is the best way so far out of the confusion we used to encounter'. As a result of the coupon system she gets one container of 40 litres basin in the morning, which is enough for her family use till the next fetching session in the afternoon. 'What I get in the morning is one container basin and it is enough for my husband and children; I buy some more when I come back in the afternoon. The coupon price of GH 10p is affordable'.
According to Mr. Tengey, the decision by the management team to come up with this innovative mechanism as a result of the numerous complaints has been worth it. For now the usual complaints or quarrels at the facilities have stopped. The coupon system has also ensured transparency and accountability in the sale of water from the facilities. As each coupon has a serial number, it helps to order the queue and ensures equal access to the facilities. It also helps in accountability of revenue generated from the facilities as sales are accounted for based on the number of coupons issued.