Features of horizontal governance
Dodowa is located on the Accra Plains within the Greater Accra Region, just below the Akwapim-Togo mountain range. Formally a town council, it became the capital of the Shai-Osudoku District, carved out of the Dangme West District, in 2012. Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) reports that the district has the highest incidence of poverty in Greater Accra at a rate of 55.1 %, more than four times the regional average, and also has the highest poverty depth (GSS 2015). In the 2010 census, Dodowa had 12,070 residents and the district 50,224; the population of the district was projected to be 55,741 in 2013 which signifies a substantial growth (GSS 2014; SODA 2015). The migration is pronounced in Dodowa; only a third of our household survey respondents reported being born there, and according to key informants, an increasing number of people live in or settle in Dodowa but commute “to the city”, including other major agglomerations in Greater Accra, for work. Among those surveyed, the average household consisted of five people, with a monthly income of 1022 GH₵ (ca. 265 USD); almost a third was spent on food. The median income was 900₵ GH, and the 20:20 income ratio was 600:1360, pointing to a very low equality gap. The majority of respondents owned their house and had an electricity connection. Just over half of household heads had finished primary or junior high school; a third reported being skilled self-employed. One in ten was engaged in subsistence farming or other agricultural activities, which is low compared with the district in general and reflects Dodowa’s peri-urban rather than rural socio-economic characteristics.
Ghana separates the management arrangements for the provision of water into urban and rural areas/small towns, respectively. As the first step of implementing a Water Sector Restructuring Project in 1993, responsibilities for sanitation and small town water supply were decentralized and moved from the predecessor of the GWCL to the District Assemblies. Those became custodians of systems that are otherwise required to be community-managed. The Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) provides facilitation and advisory support. The GWCL, a parastatal enterprise converted into a limited liability company in 1999, is responsible for urban areas (GWCL 2016). The Shai-Osudoku District falls under GWCL’s jurisdiction, and the company has a local office in Dodowa, but in a curious state of being lost in transition, the CWSA also assumes responsibility for Dodowa alongside the Shai-Osudoku District Assembly (SODA). As noted by Norström (2009), Accra has no coherent spatial development strategy; its structure plan does not consider the old villages in the fringe zones or areas that have already developed in a haphazard manner without schemes. Typical for the current growth in peri‐urban Accra, Dodowa is characterized by houses ranging from compound earth houses with thatched roofs to modern villas at various stages of completion, the latter signifying a gentrification about to take place.
The country’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) has a primary concern to address the interests of the urban poor in relation to the GWCL. According to the Commission’s own research, the poor make up just under half of the total population in urban piped system areas and only 15 % of this group has access to “regulated piped supplies”—either directly or via yard taps. The remainder depend on the so-called secondary and tertiary suppliers or buy by the bucket. PURC’s policy is to promote and support initiatives to help the poor gain a direct connection to the piped supply system, based on its findings that this is the preferred method of water access. Accordingly, the ultimate goal of water sector development is, in PURC’s view, to provide regulated piped supply to as many consumers as possible though this is, admittedly, a very expensive strategy. In terms of cost recovery, an incremental block tariff structure is promoted, taking a pro-poor approach to domestic residential customers with application of a “lifeline” tariff (PURC 2005a; b).
The Water Resources Commission (WRC) of Ghana is tasked with management and regulation of the country’s freshwater resources and administrates water rights under the Water Use Regulations, 2001, and the Drilling Licence and Groundwater Development Regulations, 2006. In Dodowa, the WRC is involved in licensing commercial boreholes and local mineral water companies. Groundwater abstraction for domestic use that does not exceed five L/s is exempted from applying for a permit, but is to be registered with the District Assembly. As found during field work, the traditional Chiefs are to be consulted when a mineral water company wants to establish within their communities.
Being water poor and option rich
If PURC’s point of departure is that pipe-borne water is the desirable outcome for all urban poor dwellers, the CWSA is governed by the National Community Water and Sanitation Standards, according to which there should be one public standpipe per 600 people, a borehole per 300 persons and a hand dug well per 150 persons. The SODA, for its part, lists in its yearly budget a vision for extension of piped water to deprived communities, but also that drilling of boreholes and construction of iron and manganese removal plants (through filtration) should be constructed by affected boreholes to benefit those communities (SODA 2015). Over the past decades, various interventions have focused on extending piped water supply schemes in small towns of the district, often following a formula with high-yielding boreholes and mechanized electric pumps transporting the water to a large overhead tank. From the tank, gravity is used to distribute the stored water to various accessible points (community standpipes), at which users can pay attendants for water. The SODA would hold the water systems in trust for the communities, with the latter encouraged to establish water and sanitation (WATSAN) committees to manage the facilities (cf. Sedegah 2014).
Jenkins (2016) found that only two WATSAN committees remain in Dodowa and that their role and function were not widely known in the communities; residents turned instead to their elected Assemblyman with water-related issues. Field work revealed that the SODA has constructed several boreholes fitted mainly with non-mechanized, child-friendly pumps in communities requesting water supply—six were considered functional at the time of this study, but with high electrical conductivity indicating saltiness. Users also take water from community wells, a few of which dug in the 1960s. Some of what are now GWCL’s boreholes were drilled during the same time, but piped water was only distributed from them from the early 2000s. In an interview with a GWCL representative, it emerged that the company considered treatment chemicals as a large cost—chlorination was only used if laboratory tests showed that the water quality was “less good”.
Including the ones belonging to the public utility there are 9 boreholes and around 45 dug wells in Dodowa. The majority are located in the western part that is underlain by quartzite and by gneissic rock in the east. A number of wells and boreholes have been constructed in the past 5 years, and there are indications that the gentrification results in more private boreholes.
In 2012, the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor partnership (WSUP) commissioned an analysis of water supply options for low-income consumers in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. No less than eleven different options were identified, divided between in-house, compound and communal solutions, with water tanker and boreholes as additional sources. All had different characteristics and different cost–benefit equations (Noakes and Franceys 2014). Similarly, our research in Dodowa indicated that most of those who use GWCL water (56 % of survey respondents) accessed it on what is locally referred to as a pay-and-fetch basis through a neighbour who acts as a middleman, reselling water for the utility from his or her network connection. This individual is either acting as a registered utility agent, put in charge of a public standpipe for premises without connection or is a regular customer with a service provision contract. In the latter case, the contract may be for metered domestic consumption, but informants told us that the service was mostly categorized as commercial. Thus, three different types of rates apply to those reselling water from the tap, depending on how the GWCL classifies the connection.
The final price charged to the end-users can in turn depend on other factors. Customers taking water from a “commercial” tap should in theory pay vastly more than others, but as respondents seldom knew what kind of GWCL contract applied where they fetch their water, this could not be probed into without some difficulty. One factor that may make the end-users willing to pay more is the convenience of being able to get water at any time of the day. Some resellers had installed storage (poly-) tanks by the network connection and fit it with several taps from which customers could fetch water. However, informants encountered during this study complained that it was only possible to fill the tanks at such occasions when the pressure was good and the water supplied for so long time that all those who had queued up could first fill their containers. One reseller explained that her family had been asked to take charge of the taps at two poly-tanks, which involved clearing the debts of the previous reseller. The informant added that as long as the water was provided regularly, they made a profit from selling it on. Another reseller lamented that when it is raining, people do not buy as much as they would otherwise do and the commercial risk had to be borne by her alone.
The GWCL does not charge a connection fee but levies an estimated cost that arises from every new installation. Regarding piped service to the poor, the challenge is to deliver water mains close enough by the house to facilitate low costs for connecting. The minimum price charged according to a study was a prohibitively GH¢150,000 (Franceys and Gerlach 2006).
The water provisioning alternatives for residents of Dodowa are summed in Table 1:
A local “combinator approach” to water access
We found that the vast majority of the residents in Dodowa must apply what is here termed a “combinator” strategy in their daily quest to fulfil basic needs. Water is fetched, purchased or accessed from a mix of sources, sometimes or always with different purposes in mind. The very local context together with the household’s socio-economic circumstances dictates how end-users diversify as a means to adapt and how water from different sources may be utilized.
Households were found to take water for all purposes from a variety of sources. The survey asked about the “main” and “second” source. Except for a main source, which everyone had, the majority (55 %) also reported having a second source—for 70 %, this functioned as a back-up, whereas the remainder complemented the main source. As shown in Fig. 1, residents accessed water from six different main sources. Figure 2 shows that more than a third (38 %) self-supplied from dug wells or boreholes, while 56 % accessed piped GWCL water from public or private taps including standpipes.
As for the second source, 73 % of the water was taken from wells or boreholes, with just over half sourced from dug wells. In addition to the main and second sources, essentially all households reported collecting rainwater during wet seasons. Furthermore, 96 % of those surveyed bought purified, packaged sachet water, and a third also bought bottled water.
Our findings seem to differ in several respects from the aggregate numbers for the district, obtained through the 2010 census (cf. GSS 2014), where for other purposes than drinking only 15 % of the urban households used wells and less than one in ten took water from public standpipes, while altogether 62 % had water piped inside or outside the dwelling. In both surveys, the same proportion reported using borehole/pump/tube well (10 %). In other words, respondents in Dodowa 2015 appeared to rely much more on dug wells, especially such previously categorized as “unprotected”, and on standpipes than the residents of the district’s urban areas did collectively in 2010. In most parts of the township, people were able to enjoy relatively good access to groundwater. The water from the local aquifers was used for all purposes, though less and less so for drinking with the advent of sachet water, purchased from mobile vendors in 500-ml bags.
During interviews and informal discussions, it emerged that most people had an opinion about sachet water, which had gained widespread uptake and “become a strong habit” in all social strata in Dodowa in the past decade. The literature on the subject shows that in Accra, sachet water is a response to a gap in urban water provision shaped by chronic shortages when rapid population growth exceeds expansion of the local water infrastructure. In a 2013 survey in a poor community with “paradoxical” good piped water access, convenience was given as the top reason for buying sachets (43 %), followed by “better quality” [than GWCL water, presumably] (23 %) (Stoler et al. 2012b, 2015b). The Food and Drugs Authority registers sachet producers and monitors the raw water treatment; use of sachets has been associated with higher levels of self-reported overall health in women and lower likelihood of diarrhoea in children, meaning that the urban poor may reap an unintended health advantage as sachets replace the consumption of stored water that is often cross-contaminated in the home (Stoler et al. 2012a). Highly reputed brands have been found to be generally coliform-free, but the sachet water production is prone to development of bio-film and emergence of potentially pathogenic microorganisms such as Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, which presents a risk to immune-compromised populations (Stoler et al. 2015a).
Our survey suggests that most (60 %) opted for sachet water because it was perceived as cleaner or safer, whereas taste was referred to among a third of those surveyed as a reason for buying it. Only 8 % cited another reason, including it being cold/chilled. However, in open-ended interviews, motives such as “people have got more money today, they want to show off” came out strongly. Though inconclusive in this respect, our empirical findings indicate that few respondents resorted to sachets and/or bottled water as the only source of drinking water. The majority of those surveyed considered the water obtained from their main source as fit for drinking (75 %) and for cooking (97 %), respectively. Only one in five expressed dissatisfaction with the water for having bad taste, being salty or dirty. Furthermore, 8 out of 10 did not treat their water at point of use, 88 % of whom saying they felt that “there’s no need”.
A GWCL reseller expressed her being happy that the utility does no longer provide borehole water, as it was very salty and would not let the soap lather. However, there was no consensus on this view: the vast majority of people interviewed said that they and their neighbours drink the water from it but also buy sachet water. No survey respondents using GWCL water reported that they found it salty, but those interviewed who had access to either a private or a public tap had diverse opinions. For instance, a respondent born in Dodowa held that her water, taken from a public standpipe outside, was salty and “more so today than it used to be. Sometimes it tastes like in the old days”, while in a house across the street with a yard tap, an old man said that “the taste is different now, less salty”. Likewise, the views on how regular the GCWL water supply was and whether there had been any changes in this respect more lately differed. Perceptions of salty taste is individual, but it was perhaps telling that so few of the residents interviewed felt well informed about the water provider’s shift in sourcing water from local boreholes to the Volta River via the Kpong treatment plant. It is not unreasonable to believe that people’s memory may be short: had the survey been conducted while the GWCL still distributed groundwater in the network, many more may have remarked on its saltiness. In short—respondents’ conceptualization about the quality of their water was found on personal experiences and opinions, but does not necessarily mean that it would pass the World Health Organization’s tests.
Public utility takes a turn
Dodowa is located at the foothills of a mountain range. It is built on strongly metamorphosed sediments characterized by gneiss, quartzite and sandstone, with poorly permeable low-yielding weathered and/or fractured aquifers (Kortatsi 2006). From mechanized boreholes ranging from 15 to 80 m depth, the GWCL used to distribute water three times per week in Dodowa. This water did not undergo advanced treatment, if any at all. Chlorination was seen as sufficient, despite users complaining about saltiness, high iron content and soaps not lathering. At water supply interventions elsewhere in the district, NGOs installed iron removal plants at boreholes (cf. Sedegah 2014) and some individuals had invested in such also in Dodowa. At the local mineral water companies, key informants revealed that the groundwater underwent reverse osmosis as one of several steps to treat it. Neither at those companies nor at the GWCL did it seem as if there was a comprehensive picture of the chemical quality of the raw water and what treatment was optimal. No measures for aquifer recharge were seen as required; the boreholes were always yielding.
At the end of 2014, GWCL’s abstraction and distribution from its six boreholes in Dodowa was discontinued because water was instead supplied from the Volta via the Akosombo Dam and the Kpong treatment plant. The Kpong expansion projects involve a new water plant, power substations, transmission pipelines, new reservoirs, pumps and booster stations, constructed by international companies such as Siemens and China Ghazouba Group, funded partly by Israel and the Netherlands and partly with a loan from the Bank of China. Upon completion of all phases, the projects aim to benefit up to 3 million people in almost 70 communities in Greater Accra and the adjacent eastern region (Government of Ghana 2016; Modern Ghana 2014).
A year after the surface water began flowing in the pipes in Dodowa, there were complaints over intermittent supplies. Key informants among GWCL employees had different pictures of whether water “from the Kpong” was only meant to supplement the Dodowa water supply, as the majority of the piped water should be coming from its boreholes, or if the purpose was to cease with groundwater distribution (Jenkins 2016). The company blamed the acute water scarcity on, among other things, the dry season, polluted water bodies and construction works. People in the Accra region are accustomed to the water supply deficit and the utility rationing as a response, and the years 2015–2016 were characterized by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon and associated with drought in Ghana. Nonetheless, water shortage has, in the service delivery discourse, for long been understood in terms of governance failure.