Ghana’s Water Crisis: Access, Sanitation, and Water Privatization Failure

Rebecca Asamani from Kpando Kope, Ghana recalls not having sufficient or clean enough water to bathe her children or wash her clothes. Not only is there a water access problem already, but in an article written in 2011, it was estimated that Ghana’s water consumptive demand would hit 5.13 billion milliliters in 2020 due to population growth, according to a 2010 Water Resources Commission Report[iv]. Due to increases in population, the demand for water has increased significantly and supply cannot meet the demand. Furthermore, Ghana’s water management history holds stories of both public management inefficiency and privatization failure, demonstrating the level of difficulty of the problem. In this essay, background information will first be provided explaining the current water crisis in Ghana, which will then be followed by a closer look at Ghana’s water policies, ending with a discussion

Ghana’s Water Crisis

Ghana’s water crisis is twofold: it is a crisis of access as well as sanitation. When it comes to access, Ghana is believed to provide treated water to roughly 60% of the urban population and 35-40% of the rural population.[v] In urban areas, however, only 40% of the population has a water tap that actually flows.[vi] Furthermore, almost 80% of the poor in the urban sector do not have access to piped water.[vii] The Safe Water Network, an organization aimed at helping communities create and control their own water markets through their Safe Water Stations, estimates that “29% of all rural and peri-urban hand pumps are broken” in Ghana, “and an additional 49% are partially functioning” in rural communities.[viii] In Ghana’s coastal capital, Accra, it is believed that 10% of the population has no access to drinking water and less than 80% has access to a 24 hour/day water supply.[ix] When it comes to sanitation, close to 85% of Ghanaians lack access to improved sanitation or lack toilet facilities entirely – resulting in open defecation and therefore potentially adversely affecting their surface water supply.[x] Close to 70% of all diseases in Ghana are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation, making this a huge problem.[xi]

Ghana’s Water Laws/Policies

Ghana’s constitution, written in 1992 and considered the fundamental law of the land, does not explicitly establish an institution to regulate water.[xii] The law that now governs all aspects of water resources & management in the country is the Water Resources Commission Act of 1996, which abolished the customary regime of water ownership that previously was held, in which communities and families had more direct ownership of their water. According to the law, “No person is allowed to divert, dam, store, abstract or use water resources, construct or maintain any works for the use of water resources” unless you have permission.[xv] There is no specific avenue outlined in the WRC Act for people to voice their concerns about dissatisfaction with the WRC.[xvi] What is important about the WRC is that it is then broken up into more water divisions, separating organizations who distribute and manage water from organizations that research Ghana’s water supply and non-governmental organizations that are involved as well. For example, water is controlled by Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL), which is responsible for the provision, distribution and supply of water for public domestic and industrial purposes.[xvii]

Population Growth and Privatization

In Accra, it is the combination of population growth and water mismanagement that have caused supply to not be able to meet demands.[xviii] Due to water management being such a big issue all around the country, the government of Ghana went through a period of water . This period began in 2006 after significant pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to be more fiscally disciplined.[xix] Ultimately, Ghana contracted Aqua Vitens Rand Limited (AVRL), a combined company of South Africa and the Netherlands, to take on the job of water provisioning..[xxi] The contract with AVRL was discontinued in 2011, and Ghana returned back to public management under the GWCL.[xxii] To this day, Ghana is still unable to adequately provide water to its entire population, and the issue becomes more complicated when population growth is included in the conversation because demand will only continue to rise.


Stepping away from local, community based management, the WRC Act of 1996 established the national government as the managers and controllers of water distribution in Ghana. In the early 2000’s, a push for water privatization began in order to better meet the needs of water insecure communities. This movement failed in 2011, and Ghana is now back to public management of water, but are now also facing issues of urbanization and population growth, placing a bigger strain on water provisioning. With over 50% of rural communities not having access to safe water and a large portion of urban communities as well, Ghana must continue to reform its management policies to deal with water scarcity and water safety in order to keep the citizens of Ghana alive and away from illnesses and diseases as a result of the water crisis.


[i] “Rebecca’s Community Transformation,”, accessed March 1, 2017,

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] “Ghana’s Water Demand Expected to Rise due to Population Growth,”, accessed March 2, 2017,

[v] Kwesi Owusu, “Ghana Water Sale Slammed,” African Business; London, October 2002, 56.

[vi] Ibid., 56.

[vii] Ibid., 56.

[viii] “Ghana | Safe Water Network,” accessed March 2, 2017,

[ix] Justin Stoler, John R. Weeks, and Richard Appiah Otoo, “Drinking Water in Transition: A Multilevel Cross-Sectional Analysis of Sachet Water Consumption in Accra: e67257,” PLoS One; San Francisco 8, no. 6 (June 2013), 1.

[x] “Ghana Water Crisis: Clean Water Scarcity In Ghana,”, accessed March 1, 2017,

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] G.A. Sarpong, “Customary Water Laws and Practices: Ghana,” accessed March 2, 2017,, 6.

[xiii] Ibid., 6.

[xiv] Ibid., 6.

[xv] Ibid., 6.

[xvi] Ibid., 8.

[xvii] Edward Nketiah-Amponsah, Patricia Woedem Aidam, and Bernardin Senadza, “Socio-Economic Determinants of Sources of Drinking Water: Some Insight from Ghana,” accessed March 3, 2017,, 1.

[xviii] Stoler, 1

[xix] “Post Privatisation Challenges of Public Water in Ghana,” Transnational Institute, June 23, 2014,

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.




“Ghana | Safe Water Network.” Accessed March 2, 2017.

“Ghana’s Water Demand Expected to Rise due to Population Growth.” Accessed March 2, 2017.

“Ghana Water Crisis: Clean Water Scarcity In Ghana.” Accessed March 1, 2017.

Nketiah-Amponsah, Edward, Patricia Woedem Aidam, and Bernardin Senadza. “Socio-Economic Determinants of Sources of Drinking Water: Some Insight from Ghana.” Accessed March 3, 2017.

Owusu, Kwesi. “Ghana Water Sale Slammed.” African Business; London, October 2002.

“Post Privatisation Challenges of Public Water in Ghana.” Transnational Institute, June 23, 2014.

“Rebecca’s Community Transformation.” Accessed March 1, 2017.

Sarpong, G.A. “Customary Water Laws and Practices: Ghana.” Accessed March 2, 2017.

Stoler, Justin, John R. Weeks, and Richard Appiah Otoo. “Drinking Water in Transition: A Multilevel Cross-Sectional Analysis of Sachet Water Consumption in Accra: e67257.” PLoS One; San Francisco 8, no. 6 (June 2013). doi:





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