Published on: 21/06/2012
As the Water and Sanitation Development Team (formerly water board) in a community, would you succumb to pressure from a section of the town folks not to increase the price of water so as to make it accessible and affordable to a lot more users? And if you follow that path do you then fail to meet operation costs and put the sustainability of facilities and services in jeopardy due to lack of funds to maintain and expand? In other words by keeping the price down do you deprive more people access to potable water with less resources to maintain the facilities?
In theory this may seem an easy choice for those following the WASHCost project - I know you will say it will be good to increase the tariff to save more for the maintenance of the facilities. However, this is not such an easy choice for the Water and Sanitation Development Team operating the Nogokpo Water System in the Volta Region of Ghana. And their experience may be like that of many others.
Nogokpo is a community along the main Accra-Lome highway. It is 155 km from Accra the capital of Ghana and 88 km from Ho the Volta regional capital.
The Nogokpo Water System
The Nogopko Water System was constructed by DANIDA in 2004 and handed over to the Water and Sanitation Development Team to manage. The system currently serves 14 communities with a population of about 5000. It has 129 household connections and 50 stand pipes serving the communities.
Mr. Sylvanus Avotrie is the Systems Manager. He says households pay GHC 50 (USD 25) for new connections and GH 1.50 per every cubic metre of water consumed. Those who fetch from the stand pipe pay GHC 1.00 for 1 cubic metre of water, which translates into GHp 2.00 for 18 litres of water.
Challenges facing the Water and Sanitation Development Team
Mr. Avotrie observes the one major difficulty confronting the Water and Sanitation Development Team in the community in relation to its work is the ability (or inability) of the Board to review tariff to reflect current economic circumstances relating to the maintenance of the system and allowances of the workers.
He said , since the system was handed over to the Water and Sanitation Development Team in 2004, the board has only reviewed tariffs once; even that was met with fierce resistance by a section of the community.
Mr Avotrie said ‘when DANIDA handed the system to us, a bucket of water was selling at GH 1 pesewas. It was three –four years ago that the water board and community agreed the increase the tariff at a community meeting. Therefore the 18 litres bucket was reviewed upwards from GH 1 pesewa to GH 2 pesewas. This was communicated to the communities through various means.”
Though the majority of community members continued to patronize the system, a section boycotted it. They stopped fetching from the system and resorted to guinea worm infested ‘unclean’ sources of water.
The residents further reported the increment to the then District Chief Executive (DCE) of the Ketu South District within which the communities are located. He said the “District Chief Executive came down with some journalists from Accra to find out the situation for themselves and stories were published in the media. This created further social and media attention as to why the community will abandon ‘clean water’ from the system for ‘dirty water’ from unwholesome sources. Some of the publications that came out in the press were critical and ‘uncharitable’ to Water and Sanitation Development Team. This, he said was because the media did not understand the issues at stake and their opinions were one-sided, “but the increment was only to meet our operational cost”.
Apparently that is not the only difficulty facing the Board. When there is no power supply from the national grid, the Board is unable to supply water to its catchment areas because there is no stand-by generator to power the pumps.
Appeal for assistance
Mr. Avotrie is looking for assistance for the Board to purchase a generator set. He says ‘we need a stand-by generator set to help us pump water when there is ‘light -off’’.
WASHCost asked if they would be able to maintain a generator set if they had one, due to the low levels of their tariff but his answer was an emphatic ‘YES’. He said ‘we are not making money because the system is not a profit-making venture but to provide water service to the communities; we are just required to be able to cover their operational expenditure’.
From a realistic costing point of view, the amount at which a bucket of water is currently being sold is low. Even though the system is to provide a social service and the Board is not required to be profit motivated, there is the need for it to be able to cover operations cost, pay for minor maintenance (OpEx) and major capital expenditure and replacement cost (CapManEx) and if possible pay for the extension of service to uncovered areas.
However, from the current situation, it does not look like the board can carry out any of these activities, apart from the operations and minor maintenance cost. This is because, according to Mr. Avotrie, the amount of money the board currently has in its account, about GHC 8,000 (USD 4,000), is too small to pay for any major maintenance on the system or carry out any extension of service.
From all indications, the Water and Sanitation Development Team is in a dilemma, should it increase the tariff to be able to maintain the system, ensure their sustainability and extend service to other areas but suffer boycott of water from the system with its resultant effects including guinea worm infestations on the grounds that it is expensive; or to keep the current (unsustainable) tariff but lose the facilities to break downs but still enjoy high patronage from the communities. Which option should the Water and Sanitation Development Team choose?
Victor Narteh Otum
June 21, 2012.