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Published on: 06/01/2012

District water and sanitation departments and regional authorities in Ghana have a responsibility to to support village water and sanitation committees and the water boards that manage piped systems in small towns.

But the national budget in Ghana allows only US$ 0.50 per person per year for these “direct support costs” and Dr. Nyarko, a senior lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, says that this scarcely covers the salaries of staff who are supposed to provide back-up.

The Ghana team is working with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) and regional staff to try to pin down the right amount of money to budget for, to allow districts and regions to do their jobs properly.

A first attempt to identify the costs failed as the budgets put forward were not linked to specific tasks.

Now, WASHCost Ghana is trying again. The team will meet district and regional staff to provide them with information about the life-cycle costs approach, question them in detail about what they believe their jobs should entail, and reach a consensus about what they lack in terms of logistics and resources. .

Dr. Nyarko says that direct support costs are a key element for sustainable service delivery. “What is happening in the sector is that a usually about a third of the systems are not working at any given time. If we are able to finance the district and regional backstopping, what we will see is that most of the systems will be working and the services will be available.”

On average it costs US$ 80 dollars a year to keep a village borehole and hand pump running. Unfortunately, village WATSAN committees often cannot meet these costs. “We have been to communities where they virtually have nothing in their account to enable them to repair it.”  

WATSAN committees look to the districts for advice on what funds to hold and how to achieve them. One key district role is helping WATSAN committees to persuade the community of the vital need to pay agreed sums for their water.

However, district water and sanitation teams lack the logistics and resources needed to visit communities and to support them.  Dr. Nyarko says that they need access to a motorbike and fuel. Districts should also consider greater use of technology so that villages can use mobile phone text messages to report on finance, spare parts, and break downs.

In the new initiative, the WASHCost team will sit with CWSA regional teams and teams from the district and agree on what they are supposed to do. The team will try to answer: “What exactly are they monitoring, in terms of capacity building? What will they do? And, what will be the frequency?” WASHCost Ghana will then list all the key things that regional and district staff need in terms of computers, transport, and other resources to allow them to do their work.

“The first thing we need to do is to determine how much we need to do a decent job. The second thing is that the districts can put it into their budgets and indicate that if we are able to get X dollars in the districts we will be able to do the monitoring and it will translate into improved service delivery.”

Whether direct support costs are financed by Government or through user fees is a later issue, says Dr. Nyarko; and one that can be tackled when it becomes clear how much is needed and what difference it will make.


Peter McIntyre

6-January 2012.



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