The threat of climate change is a threat to water resources and to human life. Water is the central tenet of climate change with most climate-induced impacts manifesting primarily through the water.
Climate change impacts on water manifest mainly in three ways: too little water (droughts, water shortages), too much water (floods), and too dirty water (pollution).
Some of these impacts have become verifiably evident and a worrying concern across Ghana where communities, both urban and rural, are already facing water security threats.
While these threats manifest differently in diverse communities, key water-reliant sectors such as agriculture, energy, health, mining, and many more have already come into direct interface with the brutish impacts of climate change.
Of particular concern is the link between climate change impacts on water resources and how that affects the efficient provision of reliable sanitation and hygiene services and public health in local communities.
Climate risk is therefore a water security risk with significant ramifications for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services delivery in Ghana.
The good news, however, is that, even though not a lot of attention has been given to the threat of climate change to the WASH sector, WaterAid Ghana, working at the forefront of safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services delivery, has long acknowledged this risk and has remained committed to working with collaborators to explore effective and proactive adaptation interventions.
Climate Change and Water Security
Globally, climate change and water security have moved to the center stage of the sustainable development agenda. This is essential because water is the primary medium through which the impacts of climate change are felt.
Securing the water sector and enhancing water security is therefore imperative for any adaptive response to climate change for which a necessary first step to enhancing water security is the establishment of a mechanism that measures water availability and levels of threats to water security.
UN-Water—the United Nations Agency in charge of water—defines water security as “The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability”.
Against this background, it is therefore not surprising that the promotion of water security has become one of the key elements in the battle against climate change for which the 2030 Global Agenda—the SDGs—have dedicated goals (SDG 6) and (SDG 13) to.
Addressing the risk of climate change impacts on water resources is therefore a foundational imperative for climate-resilient sustainable development.
And, is perhaps, the reason why the promotion of water security (availability and quality) has become top priority for governments and policymakers across the world from both climate action and sustainable development perspectives.
Here in Ghana, the story is no different as water security remains a major priority and a serious concern for the country’s sustainable development aspirations.
Key climate-sensitive sectors in Ghana such as agriculture, infrastructure, health, mining, and many others have already come under the brutish impacts of climate change.
The perennially dry and vulnerable northern regions of Ghana have also come under the brutish impacts of climate change as many communities are facing water security threats with significant public health ramifications.
Climate Change and Water Vulnerabilities in Northern Ghana
There is no doubt that climate change impacts have become pervasively evident across most of Ghana. While impact manifestation varies from place to place, it is also a known fact that the five northern regions of Ghana are more vulnerable to emerging impacts than the southern regions of the country.
This, however, is due to a combination of both climatic and non-climatic factors, which, in their different forms, make people and communities in these regions particularly exposed and vulnerable with little or no adaptive capacities.
A recently commissioned study by WaterAid Ghana on the threat of climate change to water resources in some selected communities in the northern region has established that climate-induced changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures are ongoing realities that are creating water stresses for communities.
With a heavy reliance on rainfall for almost all major economic and domestic activities, local people in some northern communities in Ghana are experiencing significant changes in rainfall and temperature trends in ways that have become negatively impactful to lives and livelihoods.
Water availability and quality remain major concerns as dams are drying up quickly in most communities with consequential impacts on agriculture and livestock production, and broadly on food security.
Water tables are getting lower and, in the process, making it difficult for the few available boreholes to pump water freely and faster. Many communities and households are therefore compelled by the circumstances to spend a lot more time accessing water from distant places.
While water security has been an enduring challenge in most communities in the northern regions of Ghana, there is also no doubt that the condition is currently being exacerbated by changing climatic conditions which are bringing new social, cultural, economic, and ecological dimensions to old challenges.
There is also the public health risk as water insecurity in local communities has increasingly become a major impediment in the provision of WASH services.
Climate Change Risks to WASH Services
Despite the critical importance of water and sanitation services in protecting public health, the resilience of these services in both rural and urban communities in Ghana is only recently gaining the requisite attention.
Even then, such attention, if available has not always come from the perspective of changing climatic conditions and a sound knowledge and understanding of how climate change risks could impact WASH services delivery.
This is in spite of the fact that most of the current national climate change and sustainable development policies have been deliberate about the need to pay attention to both the current and future impacts of climate change on water resources.
The reality, however, remains that not a lot of effort has gone into the science of climate change impacts manifestations in Ghana to understand the nature of impacts, especially as it relates to water resources and its subsequent implications for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services delivery.
Some of the emerging concerns include long dry spells, floods, damage to infrastructure from flooding, pollution loss of water sources due to declining rainfall, increasing water demand due to scarcity, and changes in water quality due to pollution or contamination.
These are water-related risks that are characterized by increasing unpredictability in surface water flows, changes in demand for groundwater, as well as floods, and declining water availability.
Changes may be experienced through short-term, unpredictable events and slow-onset events, or long dry spells due to rising temperatures.
Short-term threats include flash flooding and storm surges which in their different manifestations can disrupt or destroy WASH infrastructure, as well as impact the availability and quality of water.
In all this, the reality remains that climate change is no longer a future risk or a deferred threat; it is a current reality and an evolving risk that is defining how people live their lives in local communities.
Call for Action
If climate risk is water risk, then it becomes urgently important that conscious efforts are made to explore proactive and planned adaptation measures within the WASH sector to build resilience.
WaterAid Ghana remains a leader in safe water and sanitation and hygiene services delivery in Ghana and is committed to working with the government and key stakeholders to provide the requisite leadership in the exploration of adaptation intervention possibilities that assure a safe and resilient WASH sector.
The challenge of climate change and its impact on water resources in Ghana should be a matter of critical concern for all. There is need for public education and awareness creation; there is also need to build the requisite community and institutional capacities to lead climate actions, particularly as they relate to community water resources management.
Written by Dr. Bob Manteaw, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, University of Ghana