Examining Why Context and Community Input are Essential for Water Resource Transformations
This post is written by Dr. Charity Osei-Amponsah (IWMI-Ghana) and Sandra Hyde (IWMI-Ghana).
Community members of Naaha, in the Upper West Region of Ghana, have long understood the vital importance of water access. Their ancestors were nomadic hunters until around 200 years ago, when they discovered Bubuli Rock — a natural landmark with a sizable water hole — and decided to settle in the area.
A natural well in Bubuli Rock, a natural rock formation in Naaha, the Upper West Region of Ghana. Credit: Lord Kweku Sekyi.
Since then, the rock’s natural well has provided their descendants with water for cooking, washing and drinking. It has also spared the community’s women and girls, who are tasked with fetching water, long searches for safe water. “For centuries, Bubuli has been a reliable source of water for the community,” explains a local resident. “For women especially, it was a lifesaver.”
So important is Bubuli Rock to the Naaha community that they revere it as a deity. In recent years, however, this sacred water source has been drying up. A combination of lengthening dry spells due to climate change, regional water scarcity, population increase and restrictive cultural norms — women and girls are forbidden from fetching water from the site during menstruation — has meant fewer people can rely on Bubuli Rock for their water. The community needed an alternative water source.
The community-dug Dookolee reservoir. Credit: Lord Kweku Sekyi
Community Action for Water Access
This critical need for more water inspired the community to construct a tennis court-sized reservoir named Dookolee in the 1970s. Unlike Bubuli Rock, women and girls can access Dookolee at all times, enabling them to provide enough water for household consumption and farming. The availability of plentiful water and ease of access at Dookolee relieved the community and remains its most important water source.
The as-yet unconnected community water tank for the solar-powered pump. Credit: Lord Kweku Sekyi.
Further advances came in 2016, when the Government of Ghana, as part of a rural development initiative, built a solar-powered pump in Naaha to provide the community with potable water. As well as improving water quality and providing enough water for the whole community, the pump’s installation in the center of the community, rather than on the outskirts like Bubuli Rock and Dookolee, means that it is a much shorter walk for women and girls. This saves time, improves accessibility and safety and allows women and girls to fetch water at any time.
The Need for Community Input
In addition to these benefits, however, the pump also presented challenges not anticipated by the development initiative. The solar-powered pump provides water during daylight hours, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., but stops by sunset. This is a problem, as Naaha girls typically spend daylight hours in the market, at school, or on farms, and so are not free to fetch water from the pump. Conversely, at sunset — when water is most needed for bathing and cooking — girls are free to fetch water, but the pump is no longer working.
The result is that women and girls are still forced to walk the longer distance to Dookolee to fetch non-potable water. A water tank was also provided by the development initiative, which could have eased the problem, but no pipes were installed to pump water from the borehole to the tank.
Queued pans waiting for water from the solar-powered pump. Credit: Lord Kweku Sekyi.
These oversights could have been avoided by consulting the Naaha community. To get the borehole working at every time of day, one community member suggests that “batteries can be attached to the solar panel to store energy when the sun is high, and to power the pumps at sunset when the community needs water most.” He also suggests that “water can be pumped into the storage tank and fetched later through connecting pipes.”
The issues in Naaha show that solving the water crisis is not simply a case of providing technology. It also requires effective governance of emerging transformations of water resources and community input during the planning stage to understand the contextual problems faced by local people.
Understanding Social Transformation Interventions
The Resilience Against Climate Change — Social Transformation Research and Policy Advocacy (REACH-STR) project is trying to do just that. Funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the project seeks to develop and test conceptual frameworks to understand social transformation from the perspective of climate change, migration and gender in the Upper West Region and Sawla-Tuna-Kalba District of Ghana.
Participants at one of REACH-STR’s learning events engage in a group discussion. Credit: Esther Wahabu.
REACH-STR expects that by 2025, local, national and regional decision-makers will understand social transformation interventions that promote sustainable and inclusive rural development as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation practices. Decision-makers should also be able to apply and implement social transformation analysis in their developmental planning processes to ensure interventions are fit-for-purpose. The hope is that this will avoid situations like the one in Naaha from happening again. For more insight, watch this short video.
*We acknowledge Lord Kweku Sekyi for drafting the blog’s original text.